A few months with an iPod Touch

There’s a well-worn cycle with tech toys.

  • You think they’re bloody great for the first few days.
  • You convince yourself that despite the drawbacks you’ve found with the product, it’s still a jolly good buy.
  • A few weeks later, you discover the full potential of the device with some odd workarounds that take quite some time to do, but make your product do some really cool things.
  • A week later, you work out how to automate most of the workaround, which makes you feel even cleverer.
  • A few weeks later, you stop doing the ridiculous workarounds because they take far too long to wait for the automation to work.
  • A month later, you consign the product to a drawer.
  • Six months later, you discover the product again and get all excited.
  • Six months and one day later, you realise exactly how much of a crock of shit it is, and throw it back in the drawer.
  • A year later, you sell it on eBay for a fraction of the cost you initially spent.

This is generally my cycle.

I’ve spent probably many hundreds of pounds on tech toys that I thought would be great but the dim reality dawns once I play with them. Nevertheless, half the fun is hacking these tech toys to do what you want.

An Intel MP3 player, that required an arcane piece of software to be run every time I wanted to put some music on it, and for me to sit and wait as it slowly transferred over USB1. No podcasts at the time, but plenty of free content broadcast over the air on DAB Digital Radio, for which I had a computer-based tuner which allowed me to take the bitstream, then manually re-encode it into MP3 (since MP2 wasn’t supported), and then allowed me to manually copy it over.

A Compaq iPAQ, USB TV tuner, Sky+ and Windows Media Encoder combo that would, once I’d programmed it carefully using a DOS batch file and co-ordinated hitting buttons on the laptop and the Sky remote, record those programmes I’d flagged in Sky+, encode them into Windows Media format and copy them onto the SD card which I could then the next morning take and place into my iPAQ which would then allow me to watch the programme I’d recorded on the tube.

Similarly, a USB-based DAB tuner which I managed to get networked on a Bluetooth connection to my iPAQ, allowing me to listen to (and control) DAB Digital Radio in any room in the house. Before I realised that it was infinitely easier to get a DAB Digital Radio.

Anyway, this is an awfully long preamble to saying, quite simply, I’m only on the first point with my iPod Touch. I still think it’s bloody great.

Now, true - I’ve “jailbroken” it, so now I have a ton more applications on it. VNC allows me to control the machine over there that’s playing music. I also have the Mobile Mail application (and the maps application) which should be on the iPhone; and it works perfectly when it sees a wifi connection - checking and uploading my email automatically. The ‘terminal’ application, which allows a full Unix session, is pretty cool to show off with (though moderately useless otherwise).

But I’m using it as I did my iPod Nano - automatically filling it and training it to play me great music, as well as getting some great video podcasts, like the aforementioned Mahalo Daily (if I mention it again, maybe Jason Calcanis will pop back and make another nice comment), the slightly surreal Tiki Bar TV, and the always excellent Onion News Network, a delicious pastiche of network news.

It is also, as mentioned earlier, an excellent web tablet - not least because websites have done such a good job of reformatting their content to work with the device. From Facebook, to BBC News (they’ve done some nice tweaks recently, I note), to Google Reader - content owners are taking notice of this little device. (Visit this website on your iPod Touch or your iPhone and you’ll notice that I could hardly resist myself.)

If you’re looking for a good Christmas present - perhaps even for yourself - you can’t go far wrong.