iThink and therefore iM not an iPod tool

Despite deeply-embedded contrarian impulses, I've never been one to be avant-garde and go against popular opinion on purpose when it comes to tech. Effete tech elitists often turn their nose up at whatever is mainstream, like Windows. Not me. Microsoft, Sony, Dell: I'm a big fan. My hate for Apple goes way back to when I figured out that the all-controlling monopoly in the computing world is run by Jobs, not Gates. But in general I've always been wary of the minority or the extreme minority players in tech markets, maybe for fear of getting Betamaxed again.

(Full betamaxed disclosure digression: One Christmas my parents got me a much wanted video of Huey Lewis videos. In case you haven't seen, the Huey Lewis videos of the 80s were like short films more than videos with full blown plots, character development, humor, coherency, etc. Very excited, was I, until I realized that the tape was VHS and we had a Betamax. My parents then expended much effort to copy the VHS to Betamax which, even then, smelled of ripe irony.)

But now, apparently, I'm opting for the minority player in several tech categories. In all these cases I've noticed that the more popular choice seems to have a high hype-to-quality ratio, while the options I choose favor quality over marketing. I have an Xbox instead of a PS2 because the PS2's graphics look like I'm playing it underwater. I have Dish Network satellite TV instead of DirecTV because it delivers better bang/buck. If I were to get satellite radio, it would be Sirius instead of the more popular XM because Sirius carries all the NFL games and I've been impressed by it when I've heard it.

Finally, I have a Creative Zen Micro mp3 player instead of the vaunted Ipod for what'll generalize to quality issues. As you know, the Trackball demands to take reality as it comes and not fool oneself. So take my mp3 choice. iPod is wildly successful, well on it's way to becoming an icon, like Kleenex. This may not last forever if the brilliant iTunes store is forced to let you download music to players other than iPods (and you thought the Internet Explorer bundled in Windows was a slam dunk antitrust violation!). I didn't dismiss it out of hand, despite my Apple-hatred. However, Apple's usual totalitarian fingerprints were on the iPod: higher price, less memory and very low customer service orientation (iPods have built in rechargeable batteries which, when the first ones died after 12-18 months, Apple's response was: go buy a new one. Only after sustained customer vitriol did they change course but they still don't want you to open the back, because they think you're just too stupid to replace a battery).

And finally, there was the nose-in-the-air effete elitism. iPods, like most Apple products, are supposed to have this great interface and design. You're supposed to fork over extra bucks for it and be thankful that Apple cares about aesthetics and convenience to you. Their motto is thattheir products "just work" partly because of superior design. This is a bunch of crap, just a corporate branding scam, as I found out with the iPod:

Several times I tried to operate an iPod in stores. The click wheel, with the typical menu, play/pause, next and previous buttons built in to it, totally confused me. First of all, I couldn't figure out how to get the wheel to understand 'play' as opposed to scrolling the wheel itself.

Second, moving your hand in circles to effect upward and downward motion is counterintuitive. Like rubbing your belly when you want to raise your hand. Is clockwise up or is clockwise down? Lefty-loosey righty-tighty suggests...that up is loose and down is tight? That may work, if your brain isn't wired in a way that it's bothered by the idea that a song playlist is looser in the beginning and tighter at the end. Neither does the motion on a clock: clockwise means more time is passing - is that the same as making the cursor go down? Time left in the day is decreasing that way, and decreasing is downward motion. But what if I'm counting the passage of time and therefore clockwise indicates that more time has passed? That would suggest that clockwise should mean up. Why should I have to remember how this fractured metaphor works?

If you think I should have spent another five minutes trying to figure out the 'right' way to use it, you're wrong. If it were properly designed, I should have gotten it in five seconds. I should have gotten it before I even touched it. Why spend extra money on this?

Now take the Zen Micro. You want to go up, you run your finger up the up/down strip. Guess what you do to go down. The play/pause, previous, next and menu options are in separate buttons around the strip. The whole interface backlights in blue neon when touched. To boot, the menu option is an icon instead of the word 'menu' and you can have the player work in like 6 million forms of communication. How did the Apple geniuses get skunked on such a simple interface?

And the battery. Apple begrudgingly now offers to replace the entire iPod when the battery is dead, for just $66. Send in the old one and they'll send you a new one. Of course that means you'll have to unload all of your files to some place safe, then reload them all from scratch into the new one, whenever it shows up. What Apple is trying to tell you is just upgrade to the newer iPod, because you have to reload all your files either way and why pay $65 bucks to keep old hardware, when Apple ejaculates new models every two weeks? Replacing the dead battery and letting you get on with your life is just not that important to them.

Now the Zen Micro, like everything else that has run on batteries since the transistor radio, allows you to replace the dead battery yourself. It's about $40 and available in stores. So does the tiny iRiver flash mp3 player I gave my wife after I got the Zen Micro - it takes one AA battery. So I'm $26 and several days of mailing packages and countless offloading/reloading hours ahead of the poor iPod-abused tool. Now, the Micro's battery life is two hours shorter, but so far I haven't dreamed of needing the 11th-12th hours of continuous music play that the iPod has.

Somehow all of these quality-driven tech decisions have lead me to the odd end of the tech spectrum. I'm still a Windows guy, I haven't fled to Linux or bought a Mac (there'll be a Trackball Mac attack in the future here). But maybe opting for the trackball and the ergonomic keyboard were just the first indications that I am not a devout mainstreamer. But what makes me see the value of a trackball and the non-iPod mp3 player while everyone else is running their circles up and down?


Bulworth said...

You're geeking me out, man.

I mean, throw me a friggin bone here.

mizerock said...

I have a Sony MiniDisc recorder - but almost never use it. I guess I bought it too early, now that have super-MiniDiscs that play 40 hours (?) of songs, unlike my MiniDisc 1.0 that fits about 1.5 hours of compressed music. It converts all songs to a proprietary Sony format that can't be used elsewhere. Sure, it's easy to replace the batteries (2 AA lithium), but they only hold a few hours of charge at a time. Can you see Even Lamer than the Apple plan?

The new iPod shuffle that Santa brought me is now attached to my ID chain and I take it everywhere! The iTunes store makes it easy to get the latest PodCasts (free!), so I use it all the time.

When my battery dies, I really doubt I'll buy another iPod, though. Nor will I be looking to get a Sony Super Mini Disc (has that format officially lasted even longer than Beta, mysteriously?). I guess I'll be calling up the ToT to find out where to get a new Zen!

mizerock said...

I still have my parents Betamax. Can I borrow your Huey Lewis video?