If you are not already sporting one of those Hong Kong-sourced unlocked iPhones, then the recently launched iPod Touch serves best as an introduction to Apple’s futuristic new “multi-touch” user interface. This introduction will cost you Rs17,700 for an eight gigabyte (GB) model, or Rs23,600 for the 16GB version.
You may find personal media players that have more features, higher quality audio and video performance, as well as many more gigs of storage, but you won’t find any other product that will excite you as much as the iPod Touch interface. Remember Tom Cruise in Minority Report using a visual interface to flick, toss and drag files as if they were real world objects that have mass and inertia? Well, on the iPod Touch, you don’t even need two hands—zoom photos with a pinch of the finger or spin through your music collection in Cover Flow with a flick of a thumb or tap an artwork to flip it over and reveal the album playlist.
On the iPod Touch, there are only two buttons—the one on the top powers on the device and the second one, below the display, takes you to the start-up “Home” screen from any application. Every other element of the iPod Touch is controlled by its multi-touch screen, and there is no remote control. A few intuitive gestures are all you need to manipulate the user interface: Touch an icon to launch an application. Touch to select a list item. Touch and slide a control. Touch a virtual keyboard, where you touch the keys with your fingertip to type. With a long list, or a series of photos, or a pile of Cover Flow albums, you can flick and toss the virtual objects. It simply makes any traditional portable music player user interface look clumsy and, hey, it is immediately addictive.
The iPod Touch interface (above and above right) has been modelled on the iPhone
The iPod Touch has a glossy, black face, just like the iPhone, but it has a shiny, chrome back like the older classic iPods, and it feels as expensive as it looks. The only external interfaces are a standard iPod dock connector and a standard 3.5mm mini stereo plug. The iPod Touch provides a 480x320 pixel screen that makes photos and videos look sharp and good. Video format support is unaltered from the H.264/MP4 files playable on 5G iPods, as well as the third generation iPod Nano and the iPod Classic. The standard iPod variety of audio formats is supported, and iTunes handles transfers from your Mac/PC. In fact, the iPod Touch is nothing but a shiny paperweight until it’s connected to iTunes 7.4, or later, and taken through an initialization process that requires your electronic acceptance of Apple’s legal terms.
One of the first things I wanted to try was connecting to the Internet, something no iPod I ever owned could do. I painlessly connected to my wired equivalent privacy (WEP)-protected wireless network as the iPod Touch brings up a neat status display showing name, signal strength and open/locked status for any networks within range. The Safari browser on the iPod Touch isn’t the same as Safari on the Mac. Most notably, it lacks Flash and support for Java applets.
On overly-complicated, Flash-heavy websites which seem to be the norm these days, the little Touch with its little screen and tiny processor definitely feels slower, even given a good wireless Internet connection. That said, however, it’s quite amazing to access the Internet on a tiny device such as this, with its unique user interface, and the key seems to be finding simple Web pages that are well suited to the browser limitations. For now, it’s fun to explore the device’s capabilities.
The iPod Touch’s wireless feature is obviously aimed at selling iTunes content. On the iPod Touch, the iTunes store shows “featured” and “top ten” musical selections, as well as genre categories and a search box. As on the Mac, you can preview selections for 30 seconds before buying. A novelty at best, as we still cannot buy music from iTunes in India, and anyway most of us already have a large collection of music plucked out of the ether, right?
The photo browser may perhaps turn out to be the favourite iPod Touch application for us family people. It opens to the albums you’ve downloaded, displaying thumbnail images when you choose an album. You can play a slide show or touch an individual photo to open it, and the images look great on the iPod Touch screen, and photos rotate to stay right-side up, no matter how you orient the iPod Touch. The video player works well enough with the movie trailers downloaded from apple.com/trailers. You touch a video screen to show or hide playback controls and there’s a volume slider with pause/play, plus buttons for shuttling forward or back.
The music player has Cover Flow and List views. Cover Flow is the fun mode flicking through artworks and you click on an album to get a song list, then choose one song or another by touching it, and a button on the lower left lets you pause and resume playback. This is where I missed a dedicated volume control, either on the device or on the headphones, as you will have to reorientate the Touch to a vertical position to access the volume controls on the touch screen.
Since it is an iPod, I was quite happy to see a 3.5mm headphone jack to which I could fix my preferred set of earbuds. However, the other people who tried out the Touch commented that the headphones supplied with the device were noticeably better than the earlier ones. Audio is standard iPod quality, and things could have been improved with the inclusion of a graphic equalizer for custom EQ curve.
A special YouTube application makes sense, given the Wi-Fi capability, and since YouTube would probably have every single music video ever made or, for that matter, any video of your preference—for free. Playback controls are the same as in the video player, but there are also bookmarks and history, plus feature selections and search. Rounding out the iPod Touch application suite is a simple Calculator and a World Clock, plus Calendar and Contacts applications that download data via iTunes from your Address Book and iCal.
Contacts can be added and deleted, and those changes are synchronized by iTunes back to your computer. No built-in mail browser means that even though you have Wi-Fi, you can’t set up an email account. The calendar, strangely and inexplicably, is incapable of adding events. And there’s no note-taking application at all. For hard core business productivity, a more traditional organizer will probably remain the preferred choice but, hey, this is an iPod, remember?
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