Skip to Content
Skip to Table of Contents

← Previous Article Next Article →

ATPM 7.11
November 2001



How To



Download ATPM 7.11

Choose a format:

Beyond the Barline

by David Ozab,

Too Much Hype

Well, it happened again. Apple started the hype machine rolling over a new, top-secret product. All that they revealed was that it would be “the next big thing,” but “not a Mac.” Then the rumors started flying. “It’s a PDA/TiVO/game console/AirPort-connected/Postage-stamp sized handheld that costs under $200!” Anything less would be a disappointment. Then, after all the hype and anticipation, October 23rd finally came, and Steve Jobs unveiled Apple’s new iPod MP3 player. The Mac community responded with a collective groan.


This is what all the fuss was about?

The blame has to fall squarely on Jobs’ shoulders. He throws about terms like “revolutionary” and “stunning” and phrases like “never before possible” and “nothing like this before” so cavalierly that almost anything Apple’s engineers come up with will pale in comparison to his hype. No, the iPod isn’t revolutionary, and it isn’t cheap (Steve still manages the former from time to time, while leaving the latter to his buddy, Michael Dell), but it is a small, light MP3 player with lots of space and a blazing transfer rate. So what are its strengths and its weaknesses?

It Has FireWire

Perhaps Apple’s biggest innovation is incorporating a FireWire interface in an MP3 player. This gives iPod two distinct advantages. First, the transfer speeds are dramatically improved. 5 GB of MP3s makes more sense when you can load them in a reasonable time. USB is way too slow for large numbers of audio file transfers, even those in the highly compressed MP3 format. Second, the FireWire cable also carries power, so your Mac can recharge your iPod while it’s synchronizing your music.


This is worth at least some fuss.

It’s Also a Hard Drive

What if you don’t have a hundred CDs encoded on your hard drive ready to load onto iPod? You can use it as a portable FireWire hard drive as well. A 5 GB FireWire hard drive the size of a deck of cards is pretty cool, too.

It’s Not Only Small, It’s Light

The point of MP3 players is portability. At 6.5 oz., iPod has set a new standard for portability. It also meets Jobs’ definition of “sex appeal,” which he used in January when comparing the Power Book G4’s form factor with the Sony VAIO’s.


It’s not perfect. It costs a hefty $399, placing it out of the range of the average teen or twenty-something who would be Apple’s most likely customer. It only works on a Mac, and only on either Mac OS X 10.1 or Mac OS 9.2.1. If you’ve been hanging out with OS 8.6, 9.04, or even 9.1, waiting for the dust to clear around OS X, you’re out of luck (though I suppose the drive would still mount, and you could transfer the files manually). It also lacks a line level out (though an RCA adapter will get around this limitation) and, most significantly, an audio input.

What’s So Important About An Audio Input?

At the moment, iPod is just the latest, and priciest, in a long line of MP3 players. With an audio input and portable microphones equal in quality to the audio output and included headphones, Apple would have a device that would compete with MP3 players, MiniDisc recorders, and even portable DATs. That’s a lot more value, and would warrant the $399 price tag.

How Does iPod Compare?

Finally, let’s get an idea of how iPod stacks up against the competition. A comparison like this is far less than complete, as it cannot take into account the intangibles of the individual owner’s taste and temperament, but it’s a good starting point.

Company Apple Creative Archos
Model iPod Nomad Jukebox Jukebox 6000
Price $399 $249 $299
Capacity 5 GB 6 GB 6 GB
Data Storage Yes No Yes
Size 4.02" x 2.43" x 0.78" 5" x 5" x 1.4" 4.5" x 3.2" x 1.3"
Weight 6.5 oz. 14 oz. 12 oz.
Multilingual Yes No No
Audio Formats MP3, AIFF, WAV MP3, WAV MP3
Interface FireWire USB USB
Memory Cache 32 MB 8 MB 2 MB
Audio Output Stereo Mini-plug Stereo Mini-plug Stereo Mini-plug
Headphones Included Not included Optional
Line Input No Yes No
Battery Life 10 hours 4 hours 8 hours
Power Adapter Yes Yes Yes
Mac OS Requirements 10.1 or 9.2.1 8.6 8.6
Syncs with iTunes2 Yes No No

There are other players in iPod’s price range with 20 GB of storage (such as the $349 list Neo), but who wants to take the time to transfer 20 GB via USB?

Initial Opinion, Sight Unseen

Among MP3 players with similar capacity, iPod has the decided edge. It’s the first FireWire-enabled MP3 player, it’s small and lightweight, and it also has the extra bonus of synchronizing with iTunes2 (due out this month). But will it sell at $399 in a tight economy? Only time will tell.

Also in This Series

Reader Comments (4)

Elliot Jordan · November 4, 2001 - 12:02 EST #1
Speaking as a member of the target audience of the iPod, I agree that it's way too expensive. It's an awesome product, maybe not revolutionary, but very cool nonetheless. If it's a choice between this and tuition, however, I think I'd have to pass on the iPod.
anonymous · November 8, 2001 - 00:27 EST #2
Who is the iPod aimed at? Is it aimed at college students? Obviously not. Is it aimed at rich kids in a Mac household as a Christmas present? YES! Is that a large enough audience? Nope! Well, I guess we forgot about those people that don't mind buying an iMac for $799 then adding on more than half that price for an MP3 player! It's funny to look at the online Apple store and see NEW IMAC, $799 and NEW MP3 PLAYER, $399. Does anyone else notice something wrong with that? It's like NEW CAR, $30,000 and NEW BICYCLE, $20,000.
Robert Emslie · November 8, 2001 - 09:42 EST #3
Why this price? Apple carries other brands of MP3 players in their brick-and-mortar stores. I guess pricing the iPod at $299 would whack the competition and they'd sell a lot fewer of the other brands. I think they want to keep their selection in each digital device section, low-pricing the iPod would defy that logic. And I'm sure they're bound to announce a special $349 Christmas offering! Microphones? I guess Apple will supply a whole choice of Apple- and third party-branded Firewire microphones along with the iPod: mixdown boxes, multiple line-level inputs, whatever. Imagine using your iPod to record a 4-track jam session. I mean a real 4-track AIFF that you could master in Cubase VST, for instance. Think out of the box, friends. Apple axed the 5 1/4" floppy, the floppy drive itself, legacy inputs, and analogue audio input! The last item seems as a brainless amputation, but consider this: mainstream audio will kiss old analogue wires goodbye anytime soon (Sony heralds this with the iLink in a lot of mainstream and pro equipment) and Yamaha is promoting the new mLan system to replace MIDI AND classic audio connectivity. What is mLan is based on? Firewire! Check it out on Yamaha's site. It only promises good things for the development of Firewire audio!
Bruce Johnson · November 14, 2001 - 18:36 EST #4
Look at the specs on competing devices. Yeah they're cheaper, they're also twice the weight, and use USB instead of Firewire connectivity--more than twice the wait. The iPod synchs with iTunes and has an enormous RAM cache which figures into the extended battery life. Also, where on earth is everyone getting the idea that teenyboppers and twentysomethings are the primary target for these things? As soon as Toshiba can make bigger drives this size, the iPod will get a bigger capacity, since they're the only ones with drives that small.

Add A Comment

 E-mail me new comments on this article