Monday, September 12, 2005

One weekend with the iPod nano

iPod nano As I sat in a cafe this morning listening to Anthony & The Johnsons' delectable I Am a Bird Now, I was aware of something missing. The coffee was fine, the bagel fresh and fruity, and the music just as it should have been. Different though was that normally my jeans pocket feels like it's straining to take the shape of my iPod mini, especially when I'm seated. In fact I usually have to take it out and lay it discretely on the table next to my coffee cup. Today though my headphone cable was snaking into my pocket and I had to keep checking that my newest iPod, a shiny black nano, was actually still there (yeah, I know the presence of music should have given me a clue). It's been said hundreds if not thousands of times since Apple announced the iPod nano last week, but I have to say it again: This baby is small. I have to repeat it, mostly because it's been the gist of a dozen slack-jawed responses to the nano over the weekend from friends, family, and casual acquaintances. They love the screen, the jewel-like finish, the (as per usual) sound quality, the fact that I have 5200 photos on the thing alongside my podcasts and latest music purchases; but the first thing they comment on is the sheer lack of mass of the thing. The nano arrived on Friday afternoon. I'd ordered it at about 8PM BST on Wednesday evening, a mere 2 hours after SJ took the stage in SF to announce this and the Motorola ROKR. This alone speaks volumes: Apple knew what the demand for this thing would be like (it's not like I don't have enough iPods already, but like many other 1st generation mini owners I was itching for an upgrade to what's become the most useful iPod for me on a day-to-day basis), and they ramped up their manufacturing and distribution to cope. When I walked past the Apple store on Friday evening stocks of the nano were good, and other Apple dealers had them in Birmingham city centre on Saturday. That'll please a lot of people, particularly the dealers who couldn't get the iPod shuffle for love or money, and resorted to cross-selling onto other brands (I witnessed it on several occasions, even though the customers were fixated on owning the Apple product). After the relatively low-rent packaging of the shuffle and the latest iPods, the nano box feels much more upscale, with rich black satin print and foil block lettering. Similarly to the original iPods, the feel is of good jewellery or perfume, though simpler than the foam-packing of the 3G and earlier models. Here the cable and accessories are together in a sealed bag that occupies one half of the box, reminiscent of a thicker cd digipak. The first impression of the iPod is (of course) how small it looks in the box, and when I dug it out of its little recess I was genuinely awestruck: The nano really is slimmer than a pencil. This is further confirmed when plugging in either the USB (no FireWire) or headphone cable, as the whole device is as thick as either of the plugs. In fact I have headphones on which the plug is actually thicker than this device. Set-up was typically smooth; I already had iTunes 5.0 and didn't need to update any software. The nano ships in Windows format, and the Mac automatically started updating it for native use. This is fine; the bulk of purchasers will be on Windows (boo!) and besides, can you imagine what this would be like in the opposite direction? The instruction manual seems thicker and more targeted at brand-new users than with previous iPods. This could just be how it seems to me, but everything here (from the availability to the software, to the instructions) seems to indicate that Apple are expecting to sell lots of these to people who've never owned an iPod before. That's not to say they're new to mp3, but they may be moving from a shuffle or a rival low-end device. Even the signature iPod design says this. This is a real iPod, with a full feature set, and a classic Apple user experience. I fully expect this model to outsell the mini in a matter of months. So to that feature set: This is an iPod photo, bar the bulk, the remote connector, FireWire support and a double-duty AV jack. Other than that, it's all here. iTunes optimised my fairly sizable image library to fit the screen, my podcasts were transferred automatically as I selected in the settings, and I pulled my latest cd/iTMS purchases across manually. USB 2.0 felt as speedy as the previous FireWire option (there are issues with this of course, but most new users won't feel a thing, and I suspect that dumping FW was the only way to get the size down to this), and the slowest part of the process (other than converting my iPhoto library (go make supper, unless you're on a dual G5) was deciding what to name the device (seriously, I'm running out of names - I settled for nano noir). The decision to go all-flash on the memory front has implications beyond size and battery life: The device often feels speedier, particularly on booting and accessing data. Scrolling through image libraries is especially smooth and, were this AV-enabled, would make the device a no-brainier for portable presentations. That'd add bulk and complexity though: This is an iPod for listening, like the mini before it, and its rapidly disappearing mass makes it a pleasure to carry everywhere. Who needs a combined phone/pda/camera/music player when this little additional luggage gets you such a slick experience? There are lots of issues opening up around the iPod: Apple's ability to innovate in an expanding marketplace (80% market share may not be sustainable, but they seem to be interested in growing the market rather than just shoring up share); the effective customer lock-in that they're defending (much of Steve's state-of-the-iPod address was targeted at showing how they're the only game in town if you want a mature, functioning ecosystem and a base of paying customers); and Apple's wildly out-of-proportion-to-its-size power over the industry (sure the labels carp on about a still-tiny download market, but ask them about profitability and where they think things are heading. I presume that not even Sony think we're all going to buy our albums on UMD). The iPod nano is Apple's response to all of the articles saying how the labels/cellphones/carriers/chainstores are going to eat Apple's lunch. How do you like them eggs, Sim Wong Hoo? UPDATE: I'm picking up a few other interesting takes on the iPod nano, and issues which impact on it, and I'll post them here. Check these out: LameZone: Nano. Amazing. Confessions of an Undercover Geek:My iPod nano First Hand Experience Tech Shout! Samsung builds 16 Gb Flash Memory Chip

Technorati Tags: , , , , , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home