Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Whose iPod is It?

I lost my Sansa MP3 player while on vacation. I was seriously considering until Christmas to replace it and asking for an iPod Touch but Apple's recent antics with the iPhone have scared me away. While I understand why they did some of their actions their attitude still leaves me cold.

First there is the "iBricking" of the iPhone. A recent firmware upgrade disables iPhones that have been "unlocked" from AT&T. I can sort of understand this. They got a great deal from AT&T. Apple gets a portion of AT&T's monthly charge for the life of the contract. The update might not have even been Apple's idea. Someone from AT&T might have called Steve Jobs and reminded him that it was supposed to be impossible to switch from AT&T. There might even be a penalty clause in their contract.

But there are reports that there are flaws in the update and some phones that were never unlocked are also nonfunctional. That's not good.

Then there is Apple's undisguised greed. They started out by charging a lot more for the phone than they planned to sell it for. Why? Because they knew they have a devoted core that would buy it at any price. Once they worked through that core they lowered the price down to the real one.

This also shows up in the way they handled ringtones. Apple wants you to pay twice for each ringtone. First, you have to buy it from iTunes, then you have to pay to have it converted to a ringtone. Some people figured out how to get around this but the steps are too technical for most people. Regardless, Apple has changed the firmware around a few times to lock people into Apple ringtones. I can't image why they would bother except for the possibility of losing a few dollars licensing.

Beyond all of this, there is the insistence that every aspect of the iPhone should be controlled by Apple through iTunes. The phones have at least 8 gig but none of it can be accessed by the user. You cannot run third party applications on it. There are ways around this and Apple disabled them with the last update, also.

Supposedly the embargo on 3rd party software and storage is part of the AT&T contract. They didn't want a virus getting into the phone system. I might buy that if it were not for the iPod Touch.

In theory the iPod Touch is an iPhone without the phone part. I'm not sure if it is also missing the camera, Apple's web site mainly talks about the new features (the ability to buy music at Starbucks). So you might think that Apple would run more things on the stand-alone iPod than on the iPhone, right? Wrong. Some features are missing. At minimum you cannot update your calendar. Also, these are the only two units in the iPod line that will not let you use as a general purpose USB drive.

What I would like is a music player that lets me store files locally and access the web. The iPod only does some of this and I suspect that I would get frustrated before I got my money's worth.

In the meantime I picked up a Sansa Express. It's tiny - arounf 25% longer than a USB drive. It has all of the features of the bigger one except the screen for pictures and movies. Since I mainly use it for music, that's fine. It doesn't have the scroll wheel so navigation is a bit slower but otherwise it works just the same. One nice touch - it has a built-in USB plug and a short extension in case it doesn't fit. Like the other Sansas, I can use the Media Player to synchronize music or just copy and paste.

There is a reason that Sansa jumped to the #2 slot in MP3 players in a year. They don't have the cult appeal of Apple, they just work.

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