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iPontificateiPods, Beemers and Walkmans

by - August 30th, 2004

Last time out, I ranted about why I thought the iPod was such cultural sensation. This time, I want to talk about a couple of iPod related topics that probably have crossed your mind as well.

First, Apple has admitted that there needs to be improvements to using an iPod in the car. Duh.

Last week, I said that ninety percent of the time my iPod is connected to a home stereo shuffling my music collection, as apparently many others are as well. Actually, that figure is probably more like 75%, while it spends 25% of its time in my car. I have a Griffin iTrip that does a wonderful job broadcasting music to my car stereo.

To those of you audiophiles ready to point out that FM has less dynamic range and frequency range than CDs, to that I say, "Get bent!" Actually, while you are technically right, a car is generally a terrible place to listen to music. The acoustics are bad when a car is standing still, and downright horrible when cruising down the road. I defy you to tell a difference in a normal car on the freeway. To those of you with a six-figure Mercedes, or a Civic with a stereo that costs as much as a Mercedes, to you I also say, "Get bent!"

Even though I like my iTrip, there is room for improvement. For example, I still have to take my hand off of the wheel to skip a track. Enter Apple and BMW, who have teamed up on a solution.

I use that term loosely. When I saw how the thing actually worked, I couldn't believe it.

It's a freakin' wire that dangles into your glove box that connects to your iPod. Thank you very much, but I have enough scratches on my iPod already. (Apparently, I foolishly left it out in the atmosphere.)

All it accomplishes is that you can now advance and repeat tracks from the steering wheel controls. You gotta be kidding me. The adapter just allows the iPod to emulate a CD changer. Since the stereo itself is unchanged, there is no track info on its display, and since it was designed for CDs if you happen to be on track 102 in a playlist, the stereo stupidly reports that you are on "Track 02". At least with my iTrip, I can check track info directly on my iPod. Kind of hard to see into the glove box while driving.

I figure there has got to be someone out there working on my vision of an iPod friendly car stereo. I say remove the cassette player and replace it with an iPod deck. You simply insert your 3G, 4G, or mini, FireWire connector first, into a cassette-like hole, and a motor pulls it into place, where it powers up, charges and displays track info on the stereo's front panel.

"Wait!" you may be saying. "Those iPods all have different dimensions!" But they all have the same FireWire port on the bottom that is basically centered on each model. A simple sleeve that either is inserted into the iPod hole or slid around the iPod would do the trick. Preferably it should be able to do both, so that if all you have is a mini, then you just slide it into the player like any other model. But, if you are like my family, with two iPods, then sleeves that stay with the iPod would make it easier to swap iPods with one stereo.

Now, someone build that, please. And make it snappy.

I also wanted to talk about Sony's deceptive advertising with regards to its Network Walkman. Originally, I felt this was important enough for an entire column, but since the Walkman is a wretched little thing that no one is buying, I will just give it a mention here.

Sony claims its 20 gig player will hold 13,000 songs because its ATRAC codec has superior compression than Apple's AAC, which only allows 5,000 songs on the 20 gig iPod. Apple disagrees, saying that Sony is encoding music at 48 kpbs, yielding much lower audio quality, to achieve those results. To back up their claim, Apple points out that Sony sells music at 132 kpbs on their online store.

(Apple sells 128 kpbs AAC encoded music from iTMS, and bases its iPod capacity on this.)

A quick Google search led me to many blogs that have run many tests on these encoding schemes, and they tend to back Apple. AAC and ATRAC seem to be about equal in sound quality at the same bitrates. File sizes seemed to be comparable as well, but I am not an expert on the pros and cons of ATRAC vs. AAC, and this is not what this is about.

It is about Sony's deliberate deception of the consumer in order to try to take some of the iPod's market share. I guess the consumer isn't so dumb after all, Sony.

Sony also claims thirty hours of battery life for the Walkman. This is also incredibly misleading. Both Apple and Sony say that in order to achieve maximum battery life, you shouldn't use the backlight, the equalizer, or press the next or repeat buttons.

That last one is important. Both machines use 32 megs of solid state memory as skip protection and as a buffer. That means as you proceed through a playlist, every so often, the hard drive spins up and refills the buffer, spins back down and waits to do it again. The hard drive is the biggest drain on the battery by a long shot, and pushing the forward and back buttons forces it to spin up more often.

If you do the math, Sony claims that its songs take up about 40% of the space that Apple's do, bogus encoding aside. Apple claims a battery life that is 40% of Sony's. Coincidence? Hell, no!

If you are cramming two and a half times as much crappy-sounding music into the buffer, then the hard drive has only to spin up 40% percent as much, providing, oh, let me guess, about two and a half times the battery life.

I would be very interested in some real world tests of this, so if you have a Network Walkman, and you purchase music from Sony's store, let us know how long the battery lasts when listening to that music.


Sony Network Walkman owners?

Is there anybody out there?

C'mon, there has to at least one of you. Maybe you just don't want to admit you bought one.

I know I wouldn't.

is an Idiot. He is the co-founder of IWS Interactive, a New York (and now Houston) based development company for Macintosh. Now he spends his time writing about, developing for, and getting clients to buy Macs. Oh, yeah, and he recently had a kid. So his days are filled with taking care of little Jack, then playing with his Mac. He wouldn't have it any other way.

You can send your comments directly to Gary, or you can also post your comments below.

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