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  • The Mac Music Report: The iPod Features You Don’t Want

    September 24th, 2005

    Last I heard, there were over 1,000 accessories available for the iPod. Many carry the “Made for iPod” label, which means they have been certified by Apple to be compatible, and the manufacturers have to pay a royalty for the privilege. These accessories cover the gamut from simple car adapters, to loudspeakers, FM transmitters, remote controls, FM tuner and recording modules, and lots of decorative stuff. You want a fancy case to keep the plastic and steel smudge free, no problem.

    I realize, though, that some of you would like to see some of these features incorporated into the iPod itself. Why not a simple line in feature, for example, so you could make your iPod a recording device without the aid of a third party adapter? There’s been talk about the prospects of adding a satellite radio, or just a simple AM/FM tuner, so you could check out the latest news and talk shows, or a commercial-laden music show if you tire of your own collection. What about the FM transmitter, so you could connect to a home stereo or car radio? Why should you have to attach an extra appendage to gain these capabilities?

    Look, for example, at the competition. Take the Creative Zen MicroPhoto which, like Apple’s products, has a color display and the ability to display your photos. It also includes an FM tuner with 32 presets and you can record broadcasts too. Or consider the Zen Vision, which includes not just a voice recorder, but the ability to play movies on a 3.7-inch screen. No squinting allowed

    Why doesn’t Apple include these extra features?

    The real question is whether you want your iPod to have such features? From the sales figures, the answer is, for the most part, no. It’s fair to say that customers aren’t exactly lining up to buy Creative’s music players, which is why its financial picture doesn’t look all that good. Despite its efforts to compete with Apple with a wider variety of products and more built-in features, the message isn’t getting through. Of course, adding features might be considered the Microsoft way, more and more with every software release, the better to entice you to buy the product.

    At the same time, do you really want to pay extra money for features you don’t want? Right now, there are three iPod product lines and simple choices to make, such as storage capacity and perhaps color. That’s it! Compare that to Creative catalog, which lists, in addition to the Zen MicroPhoto and Zen Vision, a Zen Micro, Zen Neeon, Zen Sleek, Zen, Zen Touch, Zen Nano Plus and Zen Extra. I challenge you to figure out which model is which from the names alone.

    What if Apple did add an FM tuner to an iPod, an FM transmitter, or both? What if you wanted your iPod without those accessories? Should Apple establish a special build-to-order iPod, so you can stuff it with the extras you want? And what are you willing to pay for the privilege? As Steve Jobs said during a press briefing at Apple Expo, “We are very careful about what features we add because we can’t take them away.”

    As you no doubt realize, the iPod is not so much a digital music player as an entire experience, which also includes iTunes and the iTunes Music Store. It’s the combination of all these elements working together, whether you use a Mac or Windows, that puts the iPod way ahead of its competition. Creative, you see, is selling hardware, not the software you use to manage your music library or download more songs. For that, it has to depend on Microsoft and its partners, such as Napster or Real. Though some tech pundits criticize Apple’s closed eco-system, it has the benefit of assuring you a reasonably seamless user experience, and that’s something that can’t always be said for the competition.

    In addition, when Apple decides to add features to the iPod, it clearly wants to make them “just work.” Can you say that for an FM radio, where reception quality will vary from place to place. If a station is static-ridden, do you blame Apple, being in the wrong location, the station, or all three? Satellite radio? Don’t get me started. Just take, for example, a Delphi MyFi player on your travels and see how often you feel the urge to curse aloud because of the spotty signal quality.

    Besides, those portable satellite players generally cost around $300. How much extra would you be willing to pay for an iPod if Apple added such a highly flawed “enhancement”?

    This isn’t to say that a future iPod won’t contain terrestrial and satellite radio receivers, voice recording, FM transmitters and all the rest. For now, those extra capabilities are the province of the various companies building iPod accessories. No doubt as technology improves, Apple will cherry pick the features that will just work and add them to future models. But it won’t happen overnight, and I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for a video iPod.



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