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iPod Declared Inferior by Computer Expert

Published August 16th, 2005

Like zillions of others, I’ve got an iPod. But, unlike every other mammal on the planet, I don’t think it’s all that great. Frankly, I don’t get it. What’s the big deal? I’ve had MP3 players before and I think they’re terrific, but the iPod, frankly, is inferior to all of them. It’s just a hard disk with a Play button….
Jim Turley (, editor in chief of Embedded Systems Programming, a sister publication of EE Times. [Full article, such as it is, here.]

Ipod DartsIt wasn’t too long ago that stupid reviews like this one had me worried that once again consumers were going to be corralled away from superior technology and toward the inferior solutions so favored by Microsoft and its band of brothers. After all, during its first few years, the iPod was so daringly different from the much cheaper flash-RAM mp3 players that dominated the market that it wasn’t at all obvious it would achieve the success and market dominion it has today.

The whole concept of a hard-disk-based mp3 player is one that Apple pioneered, and until last year, most Windows-only technology pundits were convinced that Apple could never succeed against the steady onslaught of would-be imitators that were built to promote Microsoft’s proprietary media solutions. My, weren’t they surprised! Apple wouldn’t have won if they had stopped innovating and let the iPod stand still, but that didn’t happen. (See John Gruber’s prescient August 2004 article “Why 2004 Won’t Be Like 1984.”) And now the competition is running out of steam, looking more and more like sweaty, limping sprinters trying in vain to catch up to the race leader who never seems to tire.

There are folks like the idiot Turley (quoted above) who simply can’t understand what happened.

  • Didn’t people want an FM radio player built into their iPod? (No. That’s a stupid idea.)
  • Didn’t they want to be able to do voice recordings? (Well, yes, but not at the expense of a more complicated user interface. The iPod’s extensible architecture lets you add this functionality if you want it.)
  • Don’t they want video on little tiny screens? (Maybe, but it’s not a top priority.)
  • Don’t they want to be able to choose what software they use to manage music on their iPods? (Why? iTunes is so amazing that no other mp3 jukebox software even compares. Besides, do you really think that people who buy Windows-only mp3 players use anything but Microsoft Media Player? Ha!)
  • Don’t they want to be able to use online shopping services other than the iTunes music store? (Apparently not… Apple’s iTunes music store pioneered the new form of shopping and remains the best in the business.)
  • How about a camera with your mp3 player? (These guys just don’t get it, do they?)

Turley’s “opinion” can be taken as an insult against the 20 million iPod fans, if you care what Turley thinks. But frankly, it’s a huge compliment to the buying public that they were able to see past the cheap manufacturing, inferior user interfaces, unnecessarily complicated functionality, and typical-Windows-multistep interaction with their computers to realize that Apple was offering something far superior. The public also somehow managed to see past the FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt) spread so hysterically by Microsoft and its manufacturers about Apple’s music format. It makes me very proud to think that so many people (many of them Windows users) didn’t buy into the lies about AAC and iTunes, and realize that Apple’s audio format is the truly open one (after all, it’s not Apple’s format… it’s an industry standard) that’s capable of being used in any way imaginable. Microsoft is the company with a proprietary format that must be licensed from a single company (guess who).

So, after the iPod’s and iTunes’ roaring success of the last 2 years, I’m beginning to relax a little bit.

Which brings me to Turley’s truly hysterical anti-iPod campaign. I just can’t resist tearing the few “facts” in his argument to shreds. Keep in mind that this guy is supposed to be a geek… I mean, he’s supposed to be sophisticated about computers and electronics. After all, he’s “editor in chief of Embedded Systems Programming” magazine. Presumably you need at least a few IT credentials to have a job like that.

As I said, Turley doesn’t offer many facts in his brief tirade, relying almost totally on his “opinions.” But let me clear up the few “facts” I could identify:

  1. It’s just a hard disk with a Play button. No, Jim, it’s not quite that simple. Perhaps you missed some of the more obvious features: Hypertext notes (e.g., the Bible on iPod), Games (yes, you can now run Doom on your iPod!), Contacts and calendars, podcasts (of course maybe Turley doesn’t read technology news), disk mode (one of the best portable firewire drives around!), photos and slideshows (if Turley knew about the Playboy offerings he might want another look…), remote control, FM broadcasting, etc. Also, the iPod doesn’t have a “Play button.”
  2. With no controls, you can’t screw it up. Jim, the iPod does have some controls. See that round wheel thing with the button in the middle? Most people figure it out very quickly, but I can imagine that people who prefer a dozen buttons where one will do can’t grasp the concept that two little controls can do so many things so easily. Sorry you missed that, but the iPod does, in fact, have very sophisticated controls.
  3. In no time at all, I’d erased all the content I’d laboriously downloaded onto my iPod. Twice. Actually, I’m not listing this “fact” here to refute it… I’m sure a klutz like Turley did in fact manage to do this. What I’m taking issue with is his characterization of the process of downloading content to an iPod as “laborious.” My dictionary defines “laborious” this way:
    requiring considerable effort and time : years of laborious training | the work is very slow and laborious.

    Now, let’s see… how do you download content from iTunes to an iPod? Oh yes, you just connect your iPod to your computer and wait a few minutes (depending on the size of your music library) for iTunes to do the work for you. You can hardly characterize this as an “effort” at all, let alone “considerable effort”. To enjoy skewering this thought just a moment longer, let me add that even if you did manage to wipe out your iPod’s music library, the process of restoring it also requires virtually no effort. You just select the playlists from iTunes you want to synchronize with iPod, and let the two do their beautiful symbiotic thing once again. Jim, just be more careful next time… OK?

  4. I could go on and on about how iPod only copies files one direction (from your PC to your iPod, never the other way)… Yes, Jim, you’ve got that straight. From the music industry’s viewpoint, that would be (or could be) stealing. After all, so the logic goes, you can only get music onto your iPod from your computer, so… why would you want to move it back if it’s already there?

    Turns out, though, that there are some legitimate reasons why you might need to do this. For example, your hard drive goes kapluie and you want to restore your iPod collection to a new hard drive. Perfectly legitimate. Fortunately, there are a gazillion free utilities out there that let you move songs from your iPod to your computer’s hard drive. Oh… but I forgot. Turley doesn’t know how to do an internet search or download and install software on his computer. He’d rather just complain about a missing functionality that you can be sure Apple would like to add, but that it simply can’t and still stay friends with the music industry.

  5. iTunes warning dialog

  6. [The iPod] obliterates all your content should you casually plug your iPod into someone else’s computer… Um, no. It actually takes a pretty clear act of stupidity on the user’s part to get this to happen. When you plug your iPod into someone else’s computer (whether casually or not), a big warning message pops up that asks, “Do you want to change the links to this iTunes music library and replace all existing songs and playlists on this iPod with those from this library?” (see screenshot) You then get a big “No” and “Yes” button to choose from. Now, who else in the known universe thinks Apple could have made this choice any clearer? If you’re the impetuous kind who just hits the Return key whenever a dialog box gets in the way, notice that Apple has made “No” the default choice. Apple’s engineers and user interface designers are geniuses at keeping computer idiots out of trouble… they provide the model for how to keep stupid users from damaging themselves accidentally with their computers. But it’s hard to program around the computer idiots who don’t know that they are idiots, like our friend Jim here. Poor Jim… wiped out his iPod library and had to go back home to “laboriously” restore it. Maybe next time he’ll read the dialog box.
  7. iTunes advanced preferences

  8. [The iPod] makes you keep a duplicate copy of every music file on your computer, wasting 20 Gbytes of disk space. Why only 20 gb? Heck, my music library is well over 100 gb nowadays! If what Jim says were true, I’d have an issue, too. But fortunately, it’s not. Jim is just misinformed (see how nice I can be?) You see, there’s an option you can set in iTunes preferences that reads “Copy files to iTunes Music folder when adding to library.” I actually figured out what this meant right away, and of course I didn’t want iTunes to do that. Now, in Jim’s defense, I have to point out that the option is one of several in the “Advanced” preference tab. You can’t expect sophisticated computer experts like Jim to look at the Advanced preferences, after all.
  9. Jim concludes: Alas, these and other glaring mistakes-which afflict no other manufacturer’s products-seem to trouble the general public not at all. They’re all enamored of iPod’s sleek white exterior. Yes, my friends, we have entered the age where high-tech electronics are sold based on the color of the plastic. Can anyone see the factual error here? I see a hand in the back there… Yes, you sir. What do you think Jim’s mistake is? “Well, for one thing, not all iPod’s are white.” “Also, they aren’t all made of plastic!” Yes, that’s true, but it’s not the mistake I was thinking of. Anyone else? Yes, young lady, what’s your take on Jim’s mistake? “White is not a color.” Yes! That’s it! Gold star for you, my dear.

In conclusion, let me read an excerpt from the “mission statement” for the column Jim writes for Electronic Engineering Times, where this opinion piece appeared. Here’s what Jim is supposed to be writing about:

“Embedded Insights” column provides thoughtful analysis of trends within the embedded industry. In this column, Jim Turley writes about what’s current in embedded systems, new development tools, and what’s weird and wonderful in the embedded world.

Although I suppose you could say that this article is about what’s “weird” in the “embedded world” (whatever that is), it’s a bit of a stretch, don’t you think? The good folks at Electronic Engineering Times might want to find themselves an analyst who can actually analyze. And one of the first things you need to be able to do to analyze software and hardware is to figure out how it works.

With the iPod, most everyone who uses one understands how it works right away. This leads me to conclude that almost anyone in the consuming public is probably more qualified to write this column than Jim Turley… don’t you think?

P.S. To Microsoft et al… I hope you didn’t pay Jim too much for this piece of drivel. In any case, now that his credibility is completely gone (I mean, who’s going to take advice from a guy who can’t figure out how to use an iPod?), I assume you’ll have to remove him from your list of reliable FUD’ers.

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