Apple, the iPod Isn’t Finished!

by Gregory Ng Jan 16, 2003

What’s on my iPod wish list? Full color screen? Video playback? Solitaire? Try none of the above. If I wanted a color screen, I would buy a Palm Pilot. If I wanted video playback, I would get an iPaq. A Gameboy Advance would be perfect for games. The iPod is about music. That’s what it started out as, and that’s the way it should stay.

iPod forums around the internet are flooded with suggestions for new iPod improvements and accessories. But I feel Apple still has more work to do with the iPod before these third-party companies do the work for them in a cheaper, uglier way. I have compiled a short list of suggestions of how to fix and improve the iPod. My criteria are that the fix be feasible, address a current problem, and be in the spirit of the iPod vision.

Suggestion #1: Get Rid of Gaps Between Tracks
This issue has come up in many user forums. With albums where there are no gaps of silence between tracks the playback is interrupted by obnoxious pockets of silence. This occurs across many genres of music including classical, jazz, and electronica. This also occurs in live recordings where crowd noise and applause connects the ending of one song to the beginning of the next. I personally find it most annoying on some electronica albums. I have already started getting into the next track when suddenly there is a spurt of groove killing silence. Ideally, I would like to hear the album the way I hear it on my home stereo, but I would settle for cross-fading between songs. Why is it that you can cross-fade in iTunes but not on the iPod? By the way, Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon sounds horrible on the iPod because of this very issue.

Suggestion #2: Encoding Double Albums
This is probably more of an iTunes issue but it meets the criteria. When you put in a double disc album in iTunes, it will tag it under the Album Name column as “Album Name (Disc1)”. The thing that bothers me is that I would like to hear the double album continuously and because of this I can’t. This is not a problem when the double album is the only album for that artist, I just play all, but when it is not the only album, I need to re-tag the album to be the same. This now presents a track numbering issue as you now have 2 songs tagged 1 of X. Now it will play song 1 disc 1, then song 1 disc 2 unless I renumber them all. Playlists will work as well but I personally save my playlists for various artists compilations or mixes that I have compiled. Is there an AppleScript that addresses this issue?

Suggestion #3: New Headphones
I am not an ear bud kind of guy. I prefer my leather-lined DJ headphones but they aren’t too practical on my commute. The ear buds that came with the iPod are certainly of ample quality for the casual listener, but I think Apple should release an upgrade to them. Preferably headphones instead of ear buds. They should stay white in color to match the iPod and should be branded with the Apple logo in some way (not branded like those ugly Rio headphones, branded in the Apple way). I am not saying they should come standard. The current ear buds are already better than the foam earmuffs the other MP3 players come with. I would be willing to pay extra to upgrade my headphones. After all, the sound is only as good as your earpiece. I love walking around with my white iPod headphones, letting other iPod owners that I am one of them too. Having a good set of Apple-branded headphones would let people know I am a proud iPod owner while increasing my listening satisfaction.

Suggestion #4: Battery Replacement
Another hot issue flooding user forums like the one on iPodlounge.com, are people complaining about battery loss and rumors flying about Apple’s stance on the issue of battery replacement. There are many products that I feel, if taken care of (and barring any unforeseen tragedies), should last forever. With the $500 iPod price tag, this should be one of them. Like the trusty old Discman, although I no longer use mine, it still works just as well as it did the day I bought it. There has to be an Apple Approved method of replacing the battery. The line given of “By the time the battery dies, you will be upgrading anyway?” is insulting. We the consumer, should make that decision of when to upgrade, not Apple.

Suggestion #5: A better Case
When I first bought my iPod the packaging first dazzled me. Then when I opened it and set eyes on my iPod, it was all I could see. I couldn’t bear to take my eyes off of it. After my initial euphoria wore off, I looked at the carrying case. Was this a joke? I was holding in my hands the most beautiful MP3 player on the market with its sleek lines and breathtaking shine and Apple is giving me something to cover it up? That’s like taking a supermodel out on a date and making her wear a potato sack. It astonishes me that Apple would produce such an amazing product and then seemingly slack off with the design of the case. Many cases on the market including the Groove Jacket (my personal fave) have proven you can protect your iPod and still enjoy its beautiful design. And like the ear bud issue, it is not like Apple has a better model available for an additional cost.

Apple, please make these changes. I don’t want to accessorize my iPod with non-Apple items, but you have left me no choice.

Am I alone here on these issues? Did I leave anything out? I welcome your comments.

Comments

  • I’d like to see more audio formats supported. For one reason or another, Quicktime can play/rip AAC, iTunes can play it, but the iPod can’t. The confusing part is that Apple is pushing it as the successor to MP3, but you can’t use it on their MP3 player. Also, lots of people are looking for Ogg Vorbis support.

    Matt had this to say on Jan 16, 2003 Posts: 2
  • For double discs, just use the “Disc x of y” ID3 tag. It’s already built in to the iPod and iTunes 3.

    You’ll still have to rename your tags so that the album name matches but you definitely don’t need to renumber tracks.

    Method: Select all the tracks of “Disc 1” and cmd-I to open the batch tag editor for the selected files. Then change the disc tag to “Disc 1 of 2” and rename the album without the “(disc 1)” suffix. Do the same for all of the tracks of the second disc.

    Now iTunes will play all of disc one, then all of disc 2 in order, and “shuffle by album” will play the two discs successively as well.

    tonton had this to say on Jan 17, 2003 Posts: 1
  • How about bluetooth? It would be great to connect the Ipod via bluetooth to the PowerBook when needed, and to be able to listen to iPod music via bluetooth headsets - which of course should be compatible with bluetooth cell phones! That way it would be possible to answer incoming calls without having to change headphones.

    Further more - that would allow me to listen to iPod music together with my girlfriend, on separate headsets. Tech-romantic huh? wink The possibilities are endless..

    Guldstrand_Sweden had this to say on Jan 17, 2003 Posts: 1
  • I definitely don’t want my iPod to be a personal organizer (it will never replace my Palm), nor a portable game console. I would, however, like it to integrate with iPhoto (and possibly iMovie) as seamlessly as it does with iTunes. But even before that happens, I would like to see Apple take the music-oriented features from great to exceptional. Some of the things missing (aside from bugs like the battery indicator):

    1. Crossfade - allow me to specify a time between tracks, from negative (crossfade) to positive (silence). iTunes has it…why doesn’t the iPod?

    2. Dynamic playlists - let me add and remove songs from playlists on the iPod.

    3. Ordered song lists - unless you’re viewing the songs for one album, song lists (such as all songs for a given artists) should be sorted alphabetically, not by album and track number as they are now.

    4. More navigation tools - if I’m listening to a song I should be able to quickly access all songs by that artist, from that album, or in that genre without having to go back to the top menu and search through the menus.

    5. Truly smart playlists - smart playlists should update on the iPod as I listen to songs, not when I resync to my Mac.

    6. Upcoming song list - give me a choice between full details for the current song and minimal details along with a list of upcoming songs.

    7. Add “Decade” to the list of Browse categories.

    These are just a few ways that Apple could enhance the firmware without having to change the hardware. And, as I mentioned before, they would help take the iPod from being a great MP3 device to being an exceptional one.

    Craig

    Craig Patchett had this to say on Jan 17, 2003 Posts: 1
  • Regarding Suggestion #2 Encoding Double Albums
    Since iTunes 3, when encoding double albums there is a new option to identify multiple disc albums and the encoding goes 1-01, 1-02, 1-03, etc. then 2-01, 2-02, 2-03 etc. so that songs will appear in the album list in the proper order unlike what Hadley has suggested. It is no longer a problem. Aparently Hadley didn’t notice this change in the program.

    Multimedia had this to say on Jan 18, 2003 Posts: 11
  • As for your Issue #1, you can get rid of the gaps between tracks when encoding in iTunes. Just use the “Join CD Tracks” option. So, when you convert “Dark Side of the Moon,” just select all the tunes from Side one, do Join and the gaps be gone.

    mikem had this to say on Jan 18, 2003 Posts: 1
  • I wish Apple didn’t try to make the iPod a personal organizer b/c features like the Clock and Calendar with Event Alarms are draining the battery a whole lot faster than it should. Before the 1.2 updater came out, my iPod could retain its battery charge for days, even weeks, without ever having to recharge. Now, if I only use it for an hour and then let it sit there unpowered for a couple of days, the battery is already drained. That’s pretty bad for the battery b/c once it’s drained, it won’t ever retain its charge like it used to, even if Apple did something with a new updater. The battery basically becomes bad and can’t be replaced without really having to risk breaking the iPod and shelling out a good amount of money.

    I was happy with the iPod being just an MP3 player.

    MChieh had this to say on Jan 18, 2003 Posts: 1
  • Mikem,
    When you “Join CD Tracks” do all those tracks become ONE track? Is there no longer a way to listen to a particular song from that CD without scanning through a single “track” to find the place where it begins? Or do the tracks still have individual start and stop points within the joined set?

    Thanks for the clarification.

    Multimedia had this to say on Jan 18, 2003 Posts: 11
  • I’d really like to see some iSpeakers - small but high quality portable speakers for my iPod. they should be able to be powered from the iPod battery but also able to be externally powered too. I know that there are many reasonable sounding computer speakers around, but nothing seems to be portable(ish) or styled like an iPod

    Tintin had this to say on Jan 20, 2003 Posts: 1
  • Just to clarify the whole gaps-between-tracks issue…

    Right now, there are two glaring errors in the way the iPod handles tracks.
    First and foremost, it isn’t capable of playing tracks back to back without an audibly silent gap inbetween (as mentioned in the article). This renders any album with song transitions nearly unbearable to listen to, especially mixed electronica sets and live shows.

    Now, a lot of people have tried to work around this annoyance by ripping their albums as one long, unbroken MP3 (using the handy new feature in iTunes), so as to preserve the seamless nature of their albums. Doing so eliminates the ability to jump directly to specific tracks on the album, and you don’t get any song title listing as a result either, but at least the thing is listenable.

    Unfortunately, Apple was dumb and made a RAM buffer that doesn’t work. See, in order to keep the hard drive’s activity to a minimum (preserving battery life), the iPod is designed to load a bunch of song information into its built-in RAM; it can let the HD stop spinning yet continue to play music for a while. The concept behind the buffer is that sometime before it runs out of song information (about 4 or 5 tracks worth, roughly), the HD will spin up, re-fill the RAM with the next few minutes of audio, then spin down again.

    But it doesn’t do that. It waits until after the buffer has run out of audio to spin up the hard disk, creating a lengthy (1-2 seconds) pause in playback while it does so. Most people don’t notice this, because most tracks are smaller than the RAM buffer (which is 32MB), and the iPod gets a chance to refill it at the end of each track anyway (see above). But if you’ve got anything longer than about 15-20 minutes (depending on your MP3’s bitrate)—say a particularly lengthy symphony, or an entire album ripped into one file (as provided by iTunes itself!)—then you get horrendous interruptions in playback.

    Why was Apple dumb? I have no idea. What I do know is how to code a proper buffer, and it’s perfectly obvious that they could (and should!) fix it in the near future.

    I hope that helps make some sense of it all…

    ephraim had this to say on Jan 20, 2003 Posts: 4
  • 1) the gaps between tracks are a limitation of the mp3 format, not the iPod. i worked for Fraunhofer, i should know! certain mp3 codecs can work around it, with some limits still existing….

    3) i actually like the earbuds, though i didn’t think i would. carrying my Sony MDR-V600s around is just not practical. the earbuds are low profile, which is exactly what i want when i’m carrying a $500 musicplayer through downtown Boston. also, more expensive headphones would drive up the price, when many iPod owners will be perfectly content with the earbuds.

    4) the battery drain issues are probably a result of people thinking they can do the 1-hour quickcharge and never charge the thing up completely! almost all rechargable batteries, NiCad batteries and the like, exhibit the same problem. and i bet that “trusty old Discman” probably cost you $50 in batteries by the time you got your iPod. the fact that i can use the iPod for 8-10 hours without the battery dying is incredible. what’s more, it will not be made obsolete by a bad battery - you can find replacements if you look hard enough. if you fully charge it, the battery will last a LONG time. as for wanting it to last forever, that’s just unrealistic. if it’s not the battery, it would be the hard drive, or the LCD…

    5) with about 50 different cases on the market for the iPod, do you think Apple wants to irritate the makers of those cases by providing the best possible one? that’s a very Microsoftian thing to do. it will do Apple well to keep those third-party accessories dealers in business. the case that comes with the iPod does what it’s supposed to do - keeps it clean for a while until you get a better one smile

    i would like to see support for open formats (OGG!) and an audio-line in… the gapless playback would be nice, but it’s not crucial. maybe Ephraim’s suggestion about coding a better buffer to take care of the gap could be suggested to someone at Apple?

    wes had this to say on Jan 20, 2003 Posts: 12
  • There are certain MP3 encodings that produce erroneous dead space at the beginning of the audio track, but I’ve seen quite a number of working solutions Sonique (for Windows) has had gapless playback ability for ages, and there are a number of plugins available for WinAmp that produce the same result. Certainly Apple could also pull this off with little effort.

    And the gaps that occur amid long-file playback are *not* attributable to the MP3 format; this is clearly a result of poor buffer implementation.

    As far as I’m concerned, gapless playback *is* crucial, as over 200 of my albums are mixed electronica sets. Every one of them is effectively ruined when played back on the iPod (or in iTunes, for that matter). Considering the fact that Apple has marketed its products with big-name DJs like John Digweed, it’s pretty ironic that we can’t even play their music properly, wouldn’t you agree?

    ephraim had this to say on Jan 21, 2003 Posts: 4
  • I couldn’t agree more. It’s nice to know I am not the only electronica person who is pissed at how many years we have had to put up with the dreaded pause between tracks in portable playback.

    I have more like 1,500 electronica albums without gaps between tracks.

    But who listens to us?

    Multimedia had this to say on Jan 21, 2003 Posts: 11
  • i agree with your comments on the buffer coding, ephraim. and i agree that certain players are able to take care of the gaps between tracks, but as far as i know, that’s accomplished through detecting the leading and trailing silences that are inherent in most mp3s (as a result of the codec used). most codecs add silence at the beginning and end of the file as a result of some behind-the-scenes math that’s done to accomplish the high level of compression - i could point you to some scredible sources that explain this phenomenon.

    irrespective of this issue, the iPod doesn’t offer gapless playback even with WAV files - there’s still a pause of < 0.5 sec with files that have no real trailing/leading silence. so even if you had mp3s with no silence at the start/end, there would still be the buffer problem. i would even say that this is how most encoders operate.

    so i just want to point out that these are two separate issues - even with a better buffer, many mp3 encoders would still create files that aren’t truly gapless. using a gapless encoding method AND fixing the alleged buffer issue would solve the problem, but it doesn’t work the other way around.

    wes had this to say on Jan 21, 2003 Posts: 12
  • Yeah, like I said, there are two distinct problems with the iPod’s track playback: the gaps *between* tracks, and the gaps *within* tracks.

    The latter can be remedied with a proper buffer, and so can the former, albeit with a few tweaks to detect and remove bits of silence (as you described). Neither are particularly difficult problems to solve, engineering-wise, as has been proven many times over by other MP3 players on the market Apple really has no excuse.

    ephraim had this to say on Jan 21, 2003 Posts: 4
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