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ATPM 14.01
January 2008





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by Mark Tennent,

Where Next For iPods?

Can iPods Get Any Smaller?

If you’ve ever driven a Honda V-TEC engine you’ll know what I mean. The engine loves to rev, as Vicki Butler-Henderson’s squeals testify. At about 5000 revs, the camshaft switches, the engine growls, and the seat kicks you in the back. That annoying white van glued to your rear bumper becomes a rapidly shrinking dot in the rear-view mirror.

It was with some trepidation that I switched to an oil burner recently—the sort Garrison Keiller sings about, with all the fluffy bunny rabbits in the advert. At least the engine was designed and built by Ikuo Kajitani and Kenichi Hagahiro, the same blokes who created the V-TEC and Honda racing engines. Instead of a clever camshaft their diesel has a low compression ratio with a turbocharger that redlines at a more relaxed 5500rpm.

The engine is larger than any I’ve had before, in a car much smaller than I normally drive. The funny thing is I find it harder to reverse. I can drive a Toyota pickup backwards through the gateway, round the flowerbeds, pass a couple of cars, to park an inch from the fence. I’ve done three-point turns in double-decker buses and reversed trailers round corners, but back a little hatchback up the drive and I make a right hash of it. It seems for me the smaller cars get, the harder they are to use.

Just the Reverse

This is almost the opposite of iPods. They started out as heavy lumps of stainless steel with large hard disk storage space and a small screen. In five years they have evolved to be 50 times smaller with a fifth of the memory. I’ve bought three iPods yet own only an original first generation. My MP3 player of choice is a Dixon’s-own Matsui running for weeks from an AAA battery. It has all the iPod facilities, plus recording and costs about a tenner. Who would mug me for that?

Our latest iPod, purchased for my partner, is the Nano. If you’ve never played with one, they are pure science fiction. Slim slivers of plastic, much smaller than a credit card, and a screen large enough to watch films. Its 4 GB of memory is ample for modern compressed recordings. Just what can Apple do with iPods now that they have shrunk the players so small? Each generation makes the previous look like house bricks by comparison.

The Way Ahead?

Heston Blumenthal OBE, purveyor of scrambled egg and bacon ice cream and snail porridge, in his €150 tasting menu, also offers “Sound of the Sea.” This features (not much) seafood, foam and edible sand, served accompanied by an iPod playing sea noises. Personally I prefer to open a window when I get fish and chips, or better still, walk along the beach feeding chips to greedy herring gulls. But then, the English Channel is within 50 yards of our office, something we might regret when melting icebergs bring it closer still. But is Heston showing the way ahead?

If iPods get any smaller they will be too difficult to operate and with a screen not worth watching. It is doubtful there will be a dramatic lowering in price, something Apple has no history of. MP3 players are on the market already, priced at a couple of quid retail. Single-use functions such as Heston’s might have a part to play if they get cheaper still, especially if they can play videos. Estate agents and car sales could send their stock complete with virtual tours to prospective buyers. Ikea’s instruction sheets could become digital.

Wireless connectivity would mean we could dump earphone cables. Every iPod user has suffered neck spasms as their iPod drops from their pocket while still attached to their ears. I am reliably informed the Nano’s earphone tug is almost negligible compared with an iPod mini’s. Digital TV and radio reception would be good but are unlikely while there are too many competing standards around the world.

Perhaps the solution will be add-on dongles. Buy a basic iPod then plug in the extras you want, such as roll-up widescreen, Bluetooth, or whatever.

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