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.