Keep Your Eye on the iPod

Your children and their friends won't stop talking about them. Your patients are using them in the waiting room. In all likelihood you've seen the frenetic television commercials and...

Your children and their friends won’t stop talking about them. Your patients are using them in the waiting room. In all likelihood you’ve seen the frenetic television commercials and colorful print ads. But still you may be wondering what exactly is an iPod. What does it do? Why would you want one? If you’re a music fan, after reading this article the more pertinent question to ask may be “Why wouldn’t you want one?” Lucky for you, your audiophile friends at MD Net Guide have tested out this digital, portable device that is leaps and bounds beyond the Walkman and Discman. We’ve done the legwork for you to answer these and other questions about the technology that may well help in leading to the demise of the music CD and CD player. We’ll tell you what the craze is all about (more than two million sold before January 2004), how to operate the device, and what problems we encountered during testing.

So, What Is That Thing Anyway? Some Kind of Tape Recorder?

Various models of the iPod allow users to store and play from 4GB (iPod mini) to 40GB (fourth generation iPod) of music, which translates into a storage capacity of 1,000 to 10,000 songs at a price of $249-$399 (compare specs for several models in the accompanying table). This means you can take, on a product that fits in your pocket, a digital copy of your entire CD collection with you wherever you’d like. That’s right: no more piles of CD cases junking up your car, no book of CDs to flip through on the train or plane, and no product to insert and eject from a player. Further, the iPod offers eight (mini) to 12 (40GB) hours of continuous playback with one complete battery charge (quick charges to 80% capacity take just two hours—one hour with the mini—and full charges take about four hours). And, since your music is stored digitally, you can use your iPod to arrange and play music by artist, album, song title, and/or genre. You can also organize tracks into playlists, allowing you to select your music according to mood or situation. And that’s not all; iPod users can play one of four games and import their contacts, calendars, and important documents for referencing on the go. Sounds great, you say, but how does one get all this information and music onto the iPod?

iTunes and Transferring Songs

With the purchase of an iPod comes computer software that must be installed onto your Mac or PC. Part of this software is the program iTunes, a digital music player and organizer that allows for quick transferring/importing of music from CDs or music stored on your computer (legally downloaded of course; iTunes connects to the iTunes music store, which features a catalog of more than 1,000,000 songs, all available for $0.99 apiece) in a variety of formats (eg, MP3, AAC, WAV) into a “library.” Songs in iTunes can be organized in the library alphabetically by title, artist, length, album title, genre, etc and into playlists of your naming or ones set as defaults by iTunes. After you install the included software, format your iPod, and import some songs into the iTunes library, you can automatically transfer all songs to your iPod by attaching it to a FireWire or high-speed USB port on your computer (cables are provided for both options). During automatic transfer (the default setting), all songs on the iPod that are not also in the library stored on your PC or Mac will be deleted. To avoid the risk of unwanted deletions, you can set your iPod to manually transfer only those songs or playlists you select. File transfer is very fast (five seconds or less for an entire album). Once you’ve organized your tunes to your liking and transferred them to the iPod, disconnect the device from the computer and get to know and love your new toy.

Playing Music

Simply touching any part of the Click Wheel—which consists of the Menu, Next/Fast-forward, Play/ Pause, and Previous/Rewind buttons as well as volume control and item scrolling, the latter two performed by sliding a thumb around the wheel—or Select button will turn the iPod on (unless the Hold switch is engaged, locking the iPod’s controls and allowing buttons to be pushed without any effect, while your iPod is jostling around in your pocket or purse). These are the only buttons you’ll need to know on the sleek, cleanly designed iPod.

When the iPod powers on, the main menu appears; scroll and select your way through the lists until the song or collection of songs you want is highlighted. Click the Play or Select button and enjoy hours and hours of uninterrupted, high-quality music. After listening to about 20 of your all-time favorite songs in a row, you’ll understand what all the fuss is about, and the time you spent to organize everything will seem well worth it.

With the music still playing, you can scroll and click your way through the menus to set the music to play in a shuffle format (songs selected at random), rate songs for the top-rated playlist, and search through other artists, albums, and songs. Trust us, there’s plenty to keep you busy.

Built-in Features

Keep yourself amused while listening to your favorite music by playing one of the games loaded on every iPod. Select from solitaire, parachute, a music quiz, or a Pong-like game. Rather listen to soft music that puts you to sleep than play games? Set the sleep timer, and wake yourself up with the alarm. Too busy for games or sleep? Transfer your contacts, calendar, and important documents—from Word documents with the mini to Excel spreadsheets and Photoshop files with the 40GB model—to the iPod for referencing (unfortunately, document editing is not an option on the currently available iPods).

Wait There’s More

The versatility of the iPod is expanded greatly by the slew of available accessories, most of them working with the mini as well. The inMotion iM3 ($179.00) supports all iPods and is a paperback-sized, portable, battery-operated stereo system that lets everyone bask in your musical good taste without the need for big, bulky speakers. Run-ners who don’t have anything to clip their iPod mini to can use the iPod mini Arm Band ($29.00) to keep their new best friend tightly secured. Travelers can transfer their vacation photos from their exhausted digital camera memory card to the iPod (not the mini) with the Belkin Media Reader ($99.95). Globe-hopping docs will be grateful for the World Travel Adapter Kit ($39.00), which includes six AC plugs with prongs that fit different outlets around the world.

Good music and driving go together like doctors and free loot at medical conferences, so it’s only natural that there exist a couple of gadgets that will enable you to use your iPod in your car. The Sony Car Cassette Adapter ($19.95) allows the iPod to play right through your car’s tape deck (a tip from us to you: don’t leave these in your car on a hot day). And if you don’t want to worry about the battery running out, plug in the Belkin iPod Auto Charger ($19.95) that pulls power from a car cigarette lighter outlet. Want something a little less cumbersome that leaves the tape deck available? The iCarPlay Wireless — FM Transmitter ($69.00) “plays iPod tunes wirelessly through your car radio while charging your iPod.” And you wouldn’t want to leave your iPod just sitting on the passenger seat, would you? The Belkin TuneDok Car Holder ($29.95) holds the iPod in place by utilizing any car cupholder.

When you get home, bring the iPod in from your car for use as a stereo in your house. The iPod and iPod mini Docks ($39.00) connect to powered speakers—making a space-saving stereo—or to your computer for easier file transferring. And you can control it from across the room with the NaviPod IR Remote ($49.95). If you’re looking for a sleek, stylish stereo with great sound quality, check out the Bose SoundDock ($299.00), which comes with a remote and charges the iPod while docked.

From the Editor:

Encountered Problems

Now that I’ve spent all this time convincing you that the iPod is the greatest thing since sliced bread, I hope the following won’t burst your bubble: set up and installation may not go as smoothly as the User’s Manual would have you believe (shocking, I know). When I opened up the box containing my new iPod mini—with a smile ear to ear mind you—I couldn’t wait to get started, having heard all the hoopla about how great iPods are. After waiting the necessary hour for the battery to charge to 80%, I installed the software and registered the mini with Apple. I imported some songs from a CD (Milli Vanilli’s Greatest Hits, of course) into the iTunes library, and thought I was ready to go. I connected the iPod mini to my computer using the high-speed USB 2.0 cable, and the icon for the iPod mini appeared in iTunes, notifying me that my office computer recognized the new device. The songs appeared to transfer to the iPod (according to the display in iTunes), but when I disconnected the iPod, the songs were not actually on it—the iPod was still empty. I tried uninstalling and reinstalling the software several times, each time with the same results. Each time the software was installing, I was notified that the iPod needed to be formatted, but clicking on the appropriate button to do so did nothing. I clicked the button offering the option of formatting my iPod later, but of course the option to do so never arose again during the installation process. After hours of troubleshooting using the not-so-thorough user’s guide and visits to several Apple and iPod tech websites and forums (www.ipodlounge.com, www.ipoding.com, and www.ipodgarage.com are good ones), I gave up and took the iPod and accompanying software home. I consider myself to be moderately adept at computer troubleshooting and was still completely frustrated with this process. On my home computer everything ran smoothly, and I was listening to music on the iPod mini within minutes.

I brought the iPod mini back to work and finally broke down, calling Apple Tech Support (800-275-2273). During my first call, I explained my issue, and received the suggestion to reset the iPod—which I’d tried before—and try transferring the music from my PC to the iPod again; this proved unsuccessful, and the Apple Tech Support staff member I spoke to didn’t wait to see if it was successful, telling me to call back again if the problem persisted.

I was reluctant to call tech support again; I’d learned that iPod purchasers only receive one call within the first 90 days with their purchase, after which one must pay a flat fee for each problem ($49) or purchase the two-year, warranty extending, unlimited calls Apple Care Protection Plan for $59 ($47 for those who can prove they are students and teachers). But, the following day, I called again and was lucky enough to speak with the very helpful Kyle, who spent 47 minutes with me because I was still attempting to resolve the same issue addressed in my initial call. After a much more thorough, yet puzzling, investigation of the problem that lasted 30 minutes, the stumped Kyle contacted a product specialist who suggested that he ask me if my computer was on a network; it is, and this proved to be the problem. The drive name for the network is “E,” the same name set as the default for the iPod. Kyle explained that iTunes was trying to transfer the music to the network. After walking me through a couple simple steps to rename the iPod drive, I attempted to transfer songs again, which was finally a success. So, let this be a warning to those who may plan to use their iPod with a network-connected computer.

The only other problem I have with the iPod mini is anatomy-related. The earbud headphones that come standard with the iPod and iPod mini, in my opinion, are very uncomfortable. Also, the wires for the headphones tangle very easily, which I found to be an unnecessary nuisance. I suggest purchasing headphones that rest outside the ear; if you own them already, you’re certainly not going to need them anymore for your Walkman or portable CD player.

What’s to Come

Certainly, in my opinion, the pros greatly outweigh the cons of the iPod and iPod mini, which are the future of portable music entertain-ment. With the 40GB iPod and a large, expanding number of websites—such as WalMart, MTV, Audiogalaxy, Napster, and many non-pay sites—offering digital music downloads for very low prices (or even for free, not that we encourage that), there may soon come a day when CDs go the way of cassette tapes and records. There are already several competitors on the market with digital, portable music players, such as Sony’s line of Network Walk-mans and VAIO Pocket Digital Music Player, Dell’s DJ-20, and the Archos Gmini XS200. It’s only a matter of time before other companies jump into the mix, increasing competition and further advancing the technology. And I imagine that it won’t be long before you can get a digital music player, PDA, cell phone, portable television, camera, and camcorder all packaged together on one device.