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Apr 232010

If you get yourself one of Apple’s iThingies (an iPhone, iPad, or iTouch) you are officially restricted to installing software onto it from the selection in Apple’s App store. Which is hardly news, as is the news that geeky types do not like this – which is why the iThingies have been “jailbroken” to allow the addition of unauthorised software.

At this point I would like to point out that I am not an Apple hater – I own an iPhone 3G and intend to upgrade to an iPhone 4G (when it comes out). I also use a Macbook Pro as my work laptop. I like Apple products. But Apple gets and deserves some criticism …

Much of the criticism of Apple’s software model for the iThingies has revolved around the continual censorship of the applications allowed into the App store. This is fair enough, and indeed Apple has made itself a laughing stock with inconsistency applied standards with applications rejected for breaching conditions not applied to other applications. In addition even Apple’s published standards can be become more restrictive leading to situations where you can find it impossible to restore an application that you have paid for!

But despite these disadvantages, the App Store method of software distribution does on the surface offer something genuinely advantageous to the average consumer. The applications in the App Store have been verified by Apple as being appropriate for use – reducing the malware problem considerably. One of the regulations is that applications should not be capable of interpreting code (approximately) which reduces if not eliminates the damage a compromised application can cause.

But a single source of applications is limiting and potentially dangerous. Indeed it can even be considered to be a restriction on trade as Apple is the gatekeeper (and insists on a rather large toll) for any developer who wants to develop for the iThingies. Perhaps ordinary consumers do not care about this especially when you consider that many applications have a very reasonable cost.

But it is still of some concern. The restrictions make experimentation more difficult.

But perhaps more seriously it prevents tinkering by ordinary consumers. This can be an advantage but is also a significant disadvantage as the very people who developed the iThingies would have tinkered with consumer devices as children on their way to becoming developers. By restricting tinkering by children we restrict the size of possible people who go on to become the techies of the future.

The obvious counter to this are the existence of other devices that are far more open – even equivalent devices to Apple’s iThingies such as the various Google Android devices. But if Apple’s App store model is successful enough (and it certainly seems to be heading that way), we could find ourselves with the same model being extended to not only competitors to Apple’s iThingies, but to more general purpose computing devices – netbooks, laptops, desktops, or even servers.

We could end up in a situation where the only devices you can buy are devices that can only run software sanctioned by the vendor. A dangerous possibility.

Sep 092007

Rather than look at what is right about the new iPod Touch as everyone else seems to be doing, what about looking at what is wrong with the new device ? There is apparently plenty to like about it, but there are a few problems. Some of which only apply to certain kinds of possible customer of course.

Where Are The Higher Capacity iTouches ?

8Gbytes and 16Gbytes are quite large for a flash-based device, but this is Apple’s flagship media player … compare the price with the iPod classic! So what options are there for something a bit more usable for those who like to carry all (or nearly all) of their music with them ? Obviously making a 32Gb or 128Gb model would require more flash chips than the single-chip based iTouch, and would cost a bit more. But why not give consumers the choice ?

Several years ago I said that the lowest capacity flash-player I would be interested in would be 32Gbytes or more. With an appropriate choice of encoding format I could still fit my full CD collection into a 32Gbyte player; not much chance of getting it into a 16Gbyte player!

What About SDHC Slot(s) ?

Apple seems to concentrate on the market segment who replaces their media player every couple of years, and their products show this … no easily replaceable battery, and no expandable storage. Now there are plenty of people who will buy new iPods as soon as they are announced, but there are also plenty of people who are more inclined to buy a player and stick with it until it breaks. This includes the poor who cannot afford to replace their player every two years.

Adding a bit of ‘future proofing’ to the iTouch is hardly going to stop the gadget freaks from replacing their player regularly, but will make things a bit better for those who do not (or cannot). Why not have a screw fastened case that allows the user to get at 2-4 SDHC slots (perhaps one or two already filled with the standard flash memory) so that they can grow the player themselves ?

Where Are The Audio Codecs?

Apple’s firmware for the iPods (and presumably iTouches) supports a very limited set of audio codecs; just compare with the list of codecs supported by Rockbox (an opensource firmware that runs on many Apple iPod players and many others as well). If a bunch of hackers working part-time can produce software that can support so many audio codecs, why can’t Apple?

Most people do not care (or even know) about audio codecs, but some do. As an example, I usually use the OGG format which is widely believed by audiophiles to offer the best quality at the lowest bitrate. In non-geek terms, that means I can fit more tracks on my iBox (a rockboxed-ipod) without compromising on quality. If I were to switch to an iTouch I would have to re-encode all my audio files to MP3 (or AAC) which would take an age and I would be able to fit even less on the player.

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