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iPontificateiPod Photo Redux

by - November 30th, 2004

After my last column, I received a pantload of responses about the iPod Photo. A lot of readers were wondering why in the world the new iPod Photo could not be used in the field as a storage device for digital cameras. Some readers thought you should be able to omit the computer altogether and go straight from camera to iPod to slide shows for friends and family.

I gotta admit, I love this idea. And I have a feeling that it has crossed Apple's mind as well (although they can't be too happy about omitting the computer, so don't hold your breath).

Turns out that a little digging as on how the iPod Photo really works shows that the current technology in the iPod will have to change before we can do either of those things.

A lot of folks figured it would be a simple thing to do away with the Belkin Media Reader and go straight from camera to iPod. There is a difference however. The Belkin Media Reader simply reads five different types of media, and each type always works the same, the same way all hard drives work the same, whether built by IBM or Hitachi. The media reader simply reads the media and data is poured into your iPod.

Different digital cameras handle data differently. So a USB connection from camera to iPod requires that drivers be available for each type of camera that might be connected to your iPod, and that the iPod properly load the appropriate driver at the right time. Remember how iPhoto supported more and more cameras over time? More and more camera drivers were being developed.

This is not an impossible task, but will require some modifications to the iPod OS, most notably the ability to autosense many different devices as they are connected. Then it has to load a driver to properly handle the data that is on the camera before it can move that data.

I say that we just might see this feature sooner than later. There is more than enough room on the iPod to hold all of those drivers, although users may wonder why the operating system on the iPod Photo uses so much more of its hard drive than its visually-challenged brethren. Keep in mind all you would be able to do is store pictures taken until you could get to a computer and download them. Until we see a significant change in the technology used in the iPod, that won't happen.

When you use iTunes to sync your photo albums to an iPod, it compresses the pictures and hides them in iPod's secret directories that you can't access directly from the Finder. At first, it might seem that this is to conserve disk space on your iPod, but there happens also to be a checkbox in the photo sync window that will copy your full-size images as well. If you check this box, the full-size images are copied to your iPod, but not used for display on the iPod. They are only accessible through the Finder when your iPod is in disk mode.

So one thing seems clear: this compression is necessary because the iPod's relatively puny processor would choke like the Buffalo Bills on anything but highly compressed images. The iPod will have to be a very different beast to have enough oomph to deal with the multi-megabyte images that today's digital cameras produce.

The complaints that photo sync takes much longer on a Windows PC might just be caused by a compression algorithm that is AltiVec enabled. If that is true, then I applaud Apple's attempt to ensure that the experience is better on a Mac, if only a little. Even though the iPod is a big part of their business right now, I don't see Apple forgetting for a second that its bread and butter is the Macintosh.

And who knows, one of these days I may actually write a column about Macs again.

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.

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