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10 Days

October 11, 2007

That’s how long it’s gonna be until I finally get my internet connection! That has no connection to the rest of this post, but it makes for a less abrasive title than my original choice, which was two words, the second of which was “Apple”, and the first of which was four letters.

I bought an iPod.

I didn’t want to. I was shying away from the nauseating trendiness and monopoly that Apple have over the portable music player market, and especially the need to install iTunes on my computer as a prerequisite to using it. I’d been living quite happily with my Zen Neeon MP3 player until a few months ago, when the little knob thing which is used for every single function broke off inside the unit. I tried to be all Kiwi DIY about it and unscrewed all the screws, only to find that the bits had actually been glued together as well, and so it was impossible to open without really breaking it. So, I figured it was time for a new MP3 player.

Japan is like the technological capital of the world. The only problem is, it’s also possibly the most aesthetically-concerned country in the world. The electronic stores are full of tiny, sleek, trendy-looking MP3 players with colour screens, movie-playing abilities, and faces you can change to colour-code them with your handbag (applicable to both guys and girls), but if you want one with a capacity of over 1 or 2 GB, you’re pretty much out of luck.

I was out on the weekend a while ago with my friends, and one of them had to go buy an iPod Shuffle for a gift. I refrained from holding back on a rant about how utterly backwards a music player is which doesn’t even let you select what song you want to listen to, and just tagged along to the shop to have a look myself. Turns out Apple’s just released their latest version of the iPod Nano. I guess they couldn’t think of another trendy name that was smaller than Nano, so they’re just calling this Nano III. I have no idea what Nano II was. Anyway, it’s about the size of my fingernail, and holds 8GB – and for a comparable price to the other 2GB models around – so I got it. In a funky light blue colour. Everyone else seems to have one so they can’t be that bad.

I figured that since iTunes was necessary to use it, they’d give you iTunes when you bought the iPod. They don’t. In fact, they don’t give you anything. Not even an iManual. Just the player in a little plastic box. To get iTunes, you need to download it from the internet. But I don’t have the internet. So, after buying their damn machine, I was utterly unable to use it until I could schedule in a visit to my friend’s house to use theirs. I went there, navigated their godawful site, found iTunes and downloaded it. Then took it back to my place, and installed it on my computer. Or tried to. iTunes won’t install unless you have Apple QuickTime – the worst video player in history – also installed on your computer. Apple are determined that you can not use their player unless you convert your entire computer into as close to a Mac as they can manage.

It was going to be a while before I got QuickTime, and I noticed that this tiny wee thing was going to be easily damaged. I was especially concerned about the large screen, which takes up most of the unit, and looks like a prime target for scratches and knocks. So, I went to a store and bought a little rubber skin for it. The skin was reasonably priced. It also has a gaping hole where the screen is. It’s entirely useless in doing anything other than changing the colour of my iPod.

So, a week or so after buying the iPod, I managed to get hold of QuickTime. I took my computer along this time, and stayed connected to the internet when I tried to install it since I was certain that for whatever reason, that would be necessary. To install QuickTime and iTunes took about 20 minutes. The little progress bar thing filled up and then started again an infinite number of times. I’m sure it was registering every aspect of my life with Apple Computers, Inc. I’m also sure that if it weren’t, I would be unable to install it.

Finally, I had everything installed on my computer necessary to use the iPod, so I went home, and tried to use it. I connected the thing to my computer, and ran iTunes. After iTunes attempted unsuccessfully (as I was no longer connected to the internet) to access the iTunes Online Store for a few minutes, I was finally able to try and use it. (By the way, it tries to access that store every time I run it, and there doesn’t seem to be any way to turn that off.) The program itself was clear as mud. It took me about 15-20 minutes to work out how to use it. There was, of course, no help available within the program – you have to visit the Apple website for that. Basically, what you have to do, is within a certain part of the program, load songs into your iTunes Library (in an irritating one-by-one fashion), and then once your iTunes Library has the songs you want, you have to “Sync” (a hip way of saying “synchronise”) your iPod to your iTunes Library. Your iPod will then have the same content as your iTunes Library.

This means that one-by-one addition and subtraction of songs from your iPod is, simply put, a pain in the ass. You have to load up iTunes, wait for it to connect to the iTunes Online Store, watch it fail, then add or remove songs from your iTunes Library, then Sync your iPod to it. Also, removing songs at all is pretty damn awkward. I did it once, but I can’t remember how. The further problem is that if you try to do some Syncing, and the songs in your iTunes Library are not currently in the same location on your hard drive as they were when you first added them, then when it tries to Sync them onto your iPod, it can’t. And it will bring up an error message telling you about every song that has an inconsistency. So, if you get songs from a friend’s computer, or from a disc you own, it will fail to find those songs every time, and give you an error message. And you can’t delete them from your iTunes Library (assuming you could even work out how), because that would then remove them from your iPod as well.

Imagine you’re listening to an album. That album ends. What do you want to do next? Listen to another song, of course. Will the iPod simply roll onto the next album? Of course not. Your only options are to listen to the same album repeated, or silence. If you want to listen to another album, you’re going to have to select it manually. That’s not too bad, except for the fact that the iPod arranges every single song you put in according to these little “ID3” tags, or whatever they’re called. The little bits of info which attach to an MP3 file, listing the title, artist, year, and album of the song. Depending on how you get your music, those files are probably all filled out, or perhaps none are. In any case, once they’re on your iPod, they’re sorted according to those. Say you only have one song you like by a particular artist. And you have many such songs, all by various artists. Can you just listen to them all? No. They’re all sorted into different categories, based on artist and album. If you want to listen to them all, you’re going to have to manually select each song each time by backing out of the current artist’s folder, and finding the artist for the next song you want to listen to. And what if the ID3 tag is empty? Then you will be listening to Audiotrack01 by Unknown Artist on Unknown Album. Even if you change the file on your computer later to include that information, it won’t be updated on your iPod until you remove it from your iTunes Library, Sync your iPod, then re-add it to your iTunes Library, and Sync your iPod once again.

One last thing that pisses me off is the movie-watching option. I have a plethora of video clips on my computer, in a whole host of widely varying formats. Most players I have on my computer can play most of them. QuickTime can play a few (not that I’ve ever used it for anything other than to test these files, and as a prerequisite to installing iTunes). Out of all those files, the total number that I have successfully managed to put over onto my iPod is zero. None. It won’t play a damn thing. Does anyone know a movie format that will actually work? Even the sample QuickTime movies don’t. I’m at a total loss here.

I can’t believe that such a big and influential company who has been in this portable music player business for so long can have made such a completely user-unfriendly system. It’s designed for one thing, and one thing only – and that is to ensure Apple’s dominance in your home. What a bunch of pricks. The only good point to come out of all of this is that I’m getting loads of street cred from my fashion-conscious students whenever they see me with it, and get cries of “Waaa…. Nyuu i-poddo!”. That makes me cool.

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