• The New iPods: The Great FireWire Cable Controversy

    February 26th, 2005

    Buried in the description about the new iPods was the fact that they only ship with a USB 2.0 cable. I mentioned this in passing in my original report on the product introduction, but it deserves more attention, because it was bound to generate complaints from Mac users who feel neglected, and don’t want to be forced to pay an extra $19 for a FireWire hookup.

    Now I can see both points of view here. Apple wanted to get the prices as low as possible, to stay ahead of the competition. The iPod doesn’t exist in a vacuum and there are lots of predators out there ready to unseat the market leader at the earliest opportunity. If Apple isn’t going to provide a lot of new features, extra storage space, battery life, and a lower price have to serve as a compelling alternative.

    And this isn’t the first instance of shedding extras. High-end iPods used to ship with both a Dock and carrying case. Now they are options. Then again, that case wasn’t terribly good, and third parties have far better alternatives. Besides, it helps the growing profits of the cottage industry that has grown up around the iPod.

    And USB 2.0? Well, it makes sense if you consider the fact that more iPods are sold to Windows users than Mac users. That’s a major reason why the product took hold so quickly. And PC boxes ship with standard USB 2.0 these days; FireWire remains a rarity. So Apple played to the majority, not to mention the fact that all recent Macs also have USB 2.0, but remember that Mac OS X 10.3.4 or later is required.

    If you have an older Mac with the slower USB version, you’ll receive a warning that “A HI-SPEED USB device is plugged into a non-HI-SPEED USB hub.” Whoops! Time to buy that FireWire cable. Now I understand the Mac user who embraced the iPod long before a Windows version came out might feel a little, well, neglected by the change in standard equipment. In the scheme of things, though, there are probably more important things to be concerned about, and none of them relate to Apple Computer or any of its products. Like the rest of your life, for example.

    However, I can see a source of confusion here. You buy a new iPod, gets ready to link it to your Mac and find the expected FireWire cable to be missing. Apple is going to get more than a few phone calls about this, because I assume most dealers, other than those at Apple’s own retail outlets, aren’t going to be proactive about this.

    Of course, as more and more Macs with USB 2.0 are delivered, this, too, shall pass. For now, I expect the message boards to be filled with a lot of sound and fury. But get over it. Even if you have to buy an extra cable, the new iPods are still cheaper than their predecessors, and you’ve got to appreciate the extra battery life.

    But that’s not all: It seems the Mac rumor sites may be losing their luster. Sure, they accurately predicted that new iPods would be introduced on February 23rd, but the devil is in the details, and there were some notable mistakes. For example, color screens are still confined to the iPod photo; they were not added to the mini as some predicted. In addition, Bluetooth is still an unfulfilled dream; I’d rather see Wi-Fi anyway.

    Now one online commentator said these errors were proof positive that “The Apple rumor mill cannot be trusted.” Now I wouldn’t necessarily go that far, because some of the rumor sites have actually come pretty close to the mark in a surprisingly number of instances. And even when they fail to deliver the goods, they remain entertaining. After all, we all love gossip, right?

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