“Almost thou persuadest me . . .”*

For Mother’s Day this year, the daughters and I bought my spouse an iPod Touch. We got a nice laser inscription on the back, something that made her misty eyed. This was a carefully considered purchase; if I’ve learned anything about tech over the past decade, it’s that you have to match the right device to the right person.

In my spouse’s case, this meant finding something that could handle her contacts and appointments and allow her to play games. That’s what she’d used PDAs for in the past. I also decided it was high time to add a music player to that mix. While she already owned an mp3 player, like most such devices, it simply wasn’t user friendly. Frankly, an iPod is the only portable music player I’ve seen that normal people can actually sync with their computer. My spouse is certainly computer literate—using many different types of software on both Windows and Mac machines—but when it came to her mp3 player, she had to rely on our at-home daughter to transfer files. I knew a Touch would solve that problem.

Actually, it turned out to be a better purchase than I could have imagined. The pleasure on her face the first time she synced her music was alone worth it. And the games! She immediately discovered wonderful little apps to fill free moments at lunch, the doctor’s office, or even in her recliner of an evening. She quickly learned to connect her Touch to wireless networks for Web browsing. The machine is, for her, a perfect mix of entertainment and usefulness.

It didn’t take me long to become jealous. Her Safari can handle Web sites that my beloved iPAQ 111‘s IE can’t (like our online banking interface). She has apps available—like Stanza and Vampire: Bloodlines—that aren’t made for Win Mobile. When she turns her machine horizontal, its motion sensor automatically adjusts the screen, displaying album covers in iTunes, for example. She has a fishing game that requires a casting motion, and then on-screen reeling once there’s a strike. To enlarge a Web page, she can spread two fingers across the screen, or pinch them to reduce it again. The Touch is just wicked cool!

I began considering a switch myself. I’d need a word-processor, however. A little research suggested there might be apps to do the trick. (Writing poetry doesn’t require as robust a program as a novel does.) The one thing missing from the Touch is a microphone for voice memos. I often compose lines this way while driving; and a microphone would also allow Skype use via WiFi at home and work. (There’s a Skype app for the Touch.) Recently, I’d picked up a Lubix bluetooth earphone set with a built-in mic; it worked great on my iPaq; maybe it, and my Stowaway Bluetooth Keyboard, could be connected to a Touch. Apple had just announced an OS upgrade that added bluetooth! I could introduce my spouse to the freedom of wireless earphones (you have to try them, to understand the pleasure of losing that tether) and set her up with Skype, and maybe segue to a Touch myself.

Let’s talk about that OS upgrade for a second. This was my first hint of irritation. The original OS was designed to disable the bluetooth chip built into the Touch. For $10, you could now purchase a new OS to unlock that chip.

Who sells you a car and says, “We’ve disabled the trunk—it doesn’t open—but for an additional fee, we’ll unlock it for you”? Apple. That’s who.

But what the hey. It’s only $10, right? And if it made my spouse happy, it’d be worth it.

Not so fast. We tried out the new OS and my Lubix earphones last night, to discover a second frustrating surprise. Sure, the Touch picks up the earphones just fine now. But not their built-in mic. Turns out the OS upgrade doesn’t support any bluetooth mic input. So if you want to voice record, or Skype call, you gotta jack in.

Stated so simply, that may not sound like much to gripe about. But this is an iPod, remember. I’ve been gushing over how user friendly it is, how beautiful and ergonomic and all. Then I hit this wall. It’s a wall I often forget about with Apple products. Seduced by their appeal to the common person, I forget that beyond their initial priceyness, they often want to charge you something more for what would seem to be a basic feature.

More importantly, I forget that Apple’s pretty, pretty toys too often fall just this short of helping me with serious business. I so want to love them, but I need a more mature relationship, something that can do more than sing.

—Les

*Acts 26:28, KJV

3 Comments

  1. If you want a PDA, get a PDA. Apple tried, it was called a Newton and we all know how that went. Egg freckles! The iPod is more of a mobile entertainment device and for me it’s a complementary device to my MacBook. So is my iPhone. When I need the power of a computer, I use my computer, not a phone or PDA.

    I readily admit how tight Apple is with the keys to the kingdom unlike Microsoft (hence, the “I Love You Virus”). However, I have no idea why Apple is tight with BlueTooth, it certainly isn’t money because Apple got out of the peripheral business (printers, scanners, etc) years ago. It could be something like tethering which isn’t Apple’s fault but AT&T. Personally, if it isn’t a Wii or PS3 device, Bluetooth is rather lame.

    As for the restrictions about iTunes, where have you been? The DRM ended earlier this year so there is no more restrictions on burning, etc. Again, the RIAA PR machine worked its magic on you making you think it was an Apple decision to have DRM, it wasn’t. Think about it. If Apple loved DRM and only wanted iTunes Store-based content on your iPod, then you wouldn’t be able to rip your own CDs you paid for to have sync’d to the device or free podcasts. I’m a huge music lover. My collection now exceeds 2300 CDs so I’ve never depended on the iTunes Store to fill the five iPods I’ve owned over the years (I’ve always managed to sell them used).

    You say Apple sells to emotions. That sounds like Microsoft Sour Grapes™ 7 (better than Vista). All I know is the proof being in the usage. I get more accomplished with my Mac than I ever could with a PC. When I worked at University Towers, the hours put into maintaining two 486s was more than eight Macs. I’m way past the emotion like the GDW Days, I’m 40 now, I need results not commercials with people getting bribes in a parking lot or a guy in a shark tank saying he’s a PC. If there’s an emotion involved, it’s more often coming from the Anti-Mac crowd. My favorite one is the Ubuntu diehard who goes on about how easy it is to use. . .…if you’re a 17-year-old kid with all the time in the world to read support forums. I wonder which OS he uses when his Ubuntu is down?

    Just the next time you need an Apple product, write me. I can’t make you love it 100% but I can save you at least 15% so then I’ll be satisfied if you love the difference!

  2. Heya, Mag!

    I suspected this post might bring you out. Thanks for the comment. :-)

    Re “Apple bashing,” I’d say the first four paragraphs are glowing praise! My spouse loves her Touch. I’m jealous. Wish I had one, but the fancy show horse just won’t plow like I need it to.

    Re the OS upgrade cost, I figure the bluetooth shouldn’t have been disabled in the first place. That’s my point about the locked trunk.

    Re buying accessories, note that I already own the earphones (and keyboard) for my Ipaq; just hoped to use it (them) with the Touch. And I’m still disappointed that no bluetooth mic is supported by the hardware and/or OS.

    I am platform-agnostic, by the way. Which tends to mean that Windows lovers think I hate Windows and Mac lovers think I hate Mac. (And Linux lovers suspect I secretly love Linux.)

    Re “business,” let me put it this way: Apple sells itself to the emotions. No one else makes products that look as good, feel as good, or operate as smoothly. Apple is the hip, ergonomic side of the Force.

    But when you sell to perception like that, you gotta expect me to feel frustration that the only way to have a mic is to buy an iPhone. I don’t want an iPhone. I don’t want its calling plan.

    There are other such Mac practices I’ve come up against that have built an overall perception of “If you want to make that work, it’ll cost you extra.” Off the top of my head: The MobileMe charge; the old .Mac account charge; the four-copy limit on iTunes; the fact that in an office of 20 networked Macs, sometimes I can listen to another person’s music, and sometimes I hit a song that isn’t “authorized” on my computer.

    These are all things I expect from Microsoft, because they never said they’re anything but business.

    But I *feel* like Mac offers to be my friend. Then it slaps the back of my head when I’m not looking.

    In any event, I’d LOVE the Touch to be my new PDA. But without the working features I need, it’s just another expensive toy, and I’ve run out of pockets.

  3. Lester,

    A little fact-checking might help you with your Apple-bashing. Then again, why not, picking on Microsoft is too easy and tiresome like Michael Jackson’s funeral coverage.

    The OS update would’ve been free as they used to be but due to Sarbanes-Oxley, nobody can supply customers permanent modifications without collecting money. iPhone users get it because they’re paying AT&T every month. It isn’t Apple’s decision, it’s the law now. You’d get the result with a Blackberry.

    You could’ve asked me regarding the accessories or did some homework before buying those things, an Apple Store is a good start. Heck, I can get you a discount.

    To continue with your automobile analogy, you’re blaming the car maker for a repair/modification made at the local oil change chain which isn’t in the specifications.

    Apple’s products are not perfect neither, my job would certainly be much easier if they were (I’d still have tons of work due to misperceptions) but they’re still ahead of the curve. Hence, all the knock-offs: Palm Pre, Sansa, Zune, etc.

    I am curious as to your further definition of “serious business” and a “more mature relationship” when it comes to computers and MP3 players in a friendly, spirited debate. I know this post will be seen as defensive by those who hate Apple, etc. However, I would like to set the record straight because I recall your frequent griping about Macs at GDW.

    I for one will stick with my “dancing clown” product over the alternative: a game station that collects viruses and has word-processing kludge’d in.

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