8 Ways to iPod your car – from ultra-cheap to ultra-sophisticated

September 3, 2008 at 10:05 pm | Posted in Commuting, iPhone, iPod | 31 Comments

Pioneer DEH-P400UB with direct iPod controlToday I’m going to describe various ways to connect your iPod to your car stereo, so you can blast music from your iPod through your car speakers while driving around town.

The beauty of using your iPod is you can transport a huge music collection on a very small device. There is no need to continually change CDs or tapes (does anyone still use these?).  You can clear out your glove box, center console, or boot and get rid of that CD sleeve you’ve strapped to your sunvisor. When you park, it’s easy to pickup your music collection and take it with you, eliminating one of the most common targets for thieves.

I’m going to start with the least sophisticated (read cheapest) and work up to the most sophisticated (costs more than your iPod). Feel free to skip over options you’re not interested in.

1. No Integration (free)

The cheapest way of listening to your iPod in the car is simply to place it on the seat beside you and use the earbuds. If you use the standard Apple earbuds, you’ll still be able to hear plenty of road noise, horns, sirens, etc to make this a safe option.

Pros

  • Costs nothing
  • Excellent sound quality

Cons

  • Only one occupant can listen
  • Not easy to control playback while driving
  • Earbud cable often pulls and can get tangled with the seatbelt when exiting the vehicle
  • Not convenient if you’re frequently getting in and out of the vehicle

2. Connection with an existing radio cassette player ($19.95)

If you have an old car stereo that plays tapes, you can purchase a special connector that fits into your cassette deck. It looks exactly like a regular cassette, except that it’s got an audio cable coming out one end that you can plug into your iPod or MP3 player headphone jack. Your car stereo thinks it’s playing a cassette but it’s actually receiving the audio signal from your iPod rather than magnetic tape. All control of the audio playback is done via your iPod. Don’t expect to be able to fast forward the cassette and have the iPod recognize this command.
iPod cassette adapter

Pros

  • Cheap
  • Easy Setup
  • Reliable

Cons

  • Average audio quality
  • All playback control must be done through your iPod
  • iPod in plain sight and needs to be removed every time you park your car
  • Requiring a mechanical device to playback digital audio just seems wrong

3. FM transmitters ($80-$120)

Griffin RoadTrip iPod FM TransmitterFor existing car stereos that don’t have a cassette deck, an AUX-in port (see option 4) or a CD changer port (see option 5), this is your only option short of chucking out your old car stereo and replacing it with something designed this century. These devices integrate your iPod with your car stereo using its FM tuner. They contain a very weak FM transmitter that will broadcast the sound from your iPod on a free FM channel. You tune your car radio to this channel and hey presto, you can hear your iPod. The biggest problem with these units is finding a free FM channel. This can be a real problem in some cities. There are a huge number of these devices on the market. They plug into your car cigarette lighter for power. The better ones will also charge your iPod at the same time. There are a couple of models available (Griffin RoadTrip ($29.99 on special now) pictured, MediaGate iKit for example) that include an integrated iPod holder, making for a very tidy solution. The better ones also allow you to set up to 3 channel presets. This makes it quick to find a free channel for your current location, helping overcome the problem of congested FM channels.

Pros

  • Low cost
  • Easy Setup
  • Charges your iPod

Cons

  • Average audio quality
  • All playback control must be done through your iPod
  • iPod in plain sight and needs to be removed every time you park your car

4. Connection via AUX-in ($90+)

Car stereo with Aux-in jack Most modern car stereos will offer at least an AUX-in jack on the front face designed specifically for accepting audio from an external source such as an iPod or MP3 player.

Belkin mini stereo cable To connect your iPod is dead easy. You just need a stereo audio cable ($8-$20) that runs between the AUX-in jack on your car stereo and the headphone jack on your iPod. Cables come in different lengths and some have retractable mechanisms. If you’re buying a retractable cable, make sure you get a quality one or the retractor is likely to fail very quickly. If you have a first generation iPhone you will need a mini cable like the one from Belkin pictured, as the iPhone’s headphone jack is slightly recessed (this has been fixed in the iPhone 3G so you can use any stereo cable). This method will give you very good sound quality at very low cost.

Some car stereos have an AUX-in jack but it will be located on the back, hidden out of site. For these models you will need to run a cable to the front.

With entry level car stereos sporting AUX-in jacks starting at around $90, you may be better to completely replace your existing stereo, rather than going for an FM-transmitter or cassette adapter solution. You’ll end up with much better sound quality. Just remember that the new car stereo will need to be fitted. If you’re technically adept, you can do this yourself. There are a number of sites that offer step by step instructions on removing and fitting car stereos for most makes and models of car. Some are free and others charge around $5 for the instructions. To have it professionally installed will usually set you back around $80-$100 depending on your car. Try to negotiate a reduced installation fee when purchasing your stereo.

Griffin Tuneflex AuxYour iPod obviously won’t be able to draw any power from the AUX-in jack, so you may want to invest in a car charger if you’re going to be in the car for long periods of time. The Griffin TuneFlex Aux  ($49.99) doubles as a charger and holder (very similar to their FM transmitter product but without the transmitter). Note the way the audio cable neatly plugs into the cigarette lighter connector, keeping it out of the way.

Pros

  • Good quality audio
  • Low cost if existing stereo has AUX-in

Cons

  • All playback control through the iPod
  • iPod in plain sight and needs to be removed every time you park your car

5. Connection via CD-changer port (69.98£)

Xcarlink iPod CD Changer AdapterMany stereos have a port on the back that’s used to connect an external CD-changer, located under a seat or in the boot. This is the case for both factory-fitted and after-market models. Xcarlink make an adapter that allows you to connect your iPod through this port. Not only does it provide great audio quality, but you can control your iPod through your stereo and steering wheel controls. You can select tracks, rewind, fast forward and adjust the volume. You can even select playlists using your steering wheel buttons. It does all this without disabling the controls on your iPod.

One of the things I particularly like is that it will automatically pause playback when you switch to another source. Great when you’re in the middle of a podcast and want to switch to the radio to hear the news.

Finally it charges your iPod and provides a pass-through port so you can still use your CD-changer.

The biggest drawback for iPod owners is this unit doesn’t support Apple’s AAC music format. It does support MP3 and WMA music formats but if you already have a huge collection of music in AAC format it’s something to consider.

Pros

  • Great quality audio
  • Playback control via your stereo and steering wheel buttons
  • Works with many existing stereos
  • iPod can be stored out of sight
  • Charges as you go

Cons

  • Does not support Apple’s AAC music format, only MP3 and WMA.
  • Only works with stereo’s that have a CD-changer port

6. Bluetooth-enabled car stereos ($260+)

Sony MEX-BT2600 Car Stereo with Bluetooth ConnectivityThere are a number of car stereos appearing with built-in bluetooth connectivity. Not only does bluetooth allow your to make and receive hands-free phone calls through your stereo, you can also use it to stream audio from your MP3 player.

With the iPhone’s built-in bluetooth this would seem like an ideal option for iPhone owners. Alas the iPhone doesn’t support A2DP (Advanced Audio Distribution Profile), the protocol that makes streaming audio possible. Frustratingly, Apple hasn’t rectified this limitation in the new iPhone 3G. There is a purported workaround but it’s hardly ideal – it’s a mono signal and the sound is also played through the iPhone’s external speaker at the same time.

BD-905 iPod bluetooth adapter
You can however bluetooth-enable your iPod (and iPhone) by purchasing a bluetooth adapter ($75) that plugs into the docking port of your iPod from 8bananas.com, a Sydney-based company.

This device works by converting the audio signal from your iPod to a bluetooth wireless stream that your bluetooth-enabled car stereo can receive and play. This approach has a couple of distinct advantages. Firstly it allows you to play Apple’s AAC audio format, including DRM-protected tracks. Secondly as it’s your iPod doing the playback, features such as shuffle, repeat and the ability to remember the current position in a podcast or audiobook are also supported. Sound quality is a lot better than that provided by FM transmitters as bluetooth doesn’t suffer the same interference problems. Expect to get similar audio quality to that provided by an AUX-in solution.

Finally you can also control playback wirelessly using your car stereo controls, thanks to AVRCP (Audio/Video Remote Control Protocol). You can select the next/prev song, pause/resume and start/stop playback.

Bluetooth is a good option if you’re looking for a solution that supports both hands-free phone calls and music playback. You can even use this unit with a set of wireless bluetooth headphones.

  • Supports hands-free calling and music playback
  • No cables
  • Easy setup (if bluetooth enabled stereo already installed)
  • Control playback from your car stereo

Cons

  • Moderately Expensive (if you don’t already have a bluetooth enabled stereo)
  • Can’t charge your iPod while travelling as the bluetooth adapter plugs into the iPod docking connector (in fact as the bluetooth adapter is powered from the iPod, the battery will run down quicker)

7. Car stereos with direct iPod control ($278+)

Made for iPodMost car stereo manufacturers now offer models that support direct integration with your iPod using either a standard USB cable or a dedicated iPod cable. They are designed so that all control of your iPod is done using the car stereo controls. They usually have a rotary knob that doubles as a traditional volume control and provides the equivalent of the iPod click wheel.  Using the knob you can scroll through your music library by playlist, artist, album, song, etc, just as you would on your iPod. Functions such as repeat, shuffle, fast forward, rewind, pause are also supported.

Direct control units disable your iPod controls while it’s plugged into the car stereo. However Pioneer do provide a Passenger Control Mode so that a passenger can switch control back to the iPod in order to control playback using the iPod itself.

Varying amounts of information about the currently playing track is displayed, depending on the size and sophistication of the stereo’s display. The top of the range model from Alpine (pictured below) will even display album art on it’s full colour LCD display.

Alpine iDA x001 iPod enabled car stereo

Audio quality should be excellent as information is transferred digitally to your car stereo. Pioneer even use a technology they call ‘Advanced Sound Retriever’ which they claim helps restore the high frequencies lost during digital audio compression.

These units will happily play Apple’s AAC encoded music but not DRM-protected AAC. This is the downside of running digital all the way to the head unit itself and just serves to illustrate why DRM is such a bad idea.

Like the AUX-in jack, the iPod connector may be located on the front or back of the unit. USB connectors tend to be on the front and dedicated iPod connectors on the back.

Unlike the AUX-in jack, you’re much better off having the iPod connector located on the back and having the cable running to your glove box. The glove box provides a good place to hold your iPod while travelling and also means it’s safely out of sight. Great if you’re in and out of the car all day. You don’t need to be able to reach your iPod anymore as all control is done through your car stereo. Having the connector on the front means you have an untidy cable sticking out of your stereo and you still need to find a place on the console to store your iPod. The exception to the above is when you have an iPhone. You’re going to want to take this with you whenever you leave your car, so you want it to be easy to plug in and remove.

Popular Brands with Direct iPod Control

Alpine
Kenwood
Pioneer
Sony

Pros

  • Excellent audio quality
  • Great control via your car stereo
  • Practical, tidy, out of sight solution (for models with cable running to the glove box)

Cons

  • Moderately Expensive (if you don’t already have an iPod enabled stereo)
  • Will not play DRM-protected AAC tracks

8. Cars with built-in iPod integration ($15,000+, includes car)

Car manufacturers are uniquely placed to offer thoroughly integrated iPod support. They have the power to alter the form and layout of the dash and console to give the driver easy access to playback controls and position large, well placed displays to ensure the driver’s eyes never leave the road. Sadly most have done little if any such design, while still claiming to offer full iPod integration.

Full iPod integration often ends up meaning the new car buyer has the option of purchasing an overpriced ‘integration kit’ so they can connect their iPod to the inferior model car stereo that comes factory-fitted with their new car. This kit provides nothing more than that provided by after-market stereo solutions (see 7 above).

If you’re considering purchasing an integration kit from your car manufacturer, think again. You’re almost certainly better off ripping out your existing unit and purchasing a decent after-market stereo that includes iPod integration as standard. It will be cheaper, you’ll have more choice and end up with a better sound system.

If you are looking to purchase a new car, make sure the dealer includes full iPod integration at no extra cost. It’ll cost them almost nothing and keep in mind that even to you it’s only worth $278 – $350 depending on whether you can install an after-market car stereo yourself.

Some car manufacturers have taken iPod integration seriously. Unfortunately this comes at a price. Still it’s nice to dream. Take a look at this offering from BMW to give you an idea of what can be done (click on the picture to see an interactive flash demo).

BMW iPod integration

Note the dedicated controls on the steering wheel, the rotary wheel below the gearstick and the large, eye-level display clearly showing a list of songs.

Pros

  • Excellent audio quality
  • Great control via your car stereo
  • Practical, tidy, solution

Cons

  • Inflated price if not part of the initial car purchase
  • Most manufacturers do the bare minimum. They could be so much better.

Conclusion

As you can see there are many ways to integrate  your iPod with your car stereo. The only solutions I don’t recommend are the cassette adapter and FM transmitters.

Stereos with an AUX-in jack are a very cost effective solution and provide good audio quality.

The Xcarlink adapter is worth investigating, especially if you have a factory-fitted stereo you don’t want to throw out. It’s disappointing however that this unit doesn’t support AAC encoded music.

You can’t beat a bluetooth enabled car stereo and the bluetooth adapter from 8bananas.com if you need to make hands-free calls too.

Direct iPod control units give you great sound and control and make for a very tidy solution.  Unfortunately they don’t play DRM-protected AAC tracks but hopefully DRM-protected audio is becoming a thing of the past.

Finally, please leave a comment and tell me which solution has or hasn’t worked for you.

I’m addicted to iTunes updates!

May 6, 2008 at 10:22 pm | Posted in iPod, iTunes | 1 Comment

A new version of iTunes is available. Do you want to update?I haven’t run iTunes today.

I wonder if I’m still running the latest version?

Open iTunes.

Voila! A new version of iTunes (7.6.8.3) is available. Would you like to download it now?

Shock horror. I’m only running 7.6.8.2.

I must have those performance and stability enhancements now.

Please, Apple hit me with another 50MB.

Please throw in a copy of Quicktime while you’re at it. Never mind that I’ve downloaded the same version 20 times before.

30 minutes later, install and run the new version.

iTunes version 7.6.8.3 may look exactly the same as 7.6.8.2 but it does feel a little more stable and a little more responsive.

Just to be safe, I’d better check for new updates that may have come in while I was doing my update.

No new updates available.

Ah! Calm has been restored.

I love my iPod/iTunes but seriously Apple, for a company that prides itself on useability your iTunes update technology is a joke. I’m all for regular updates but surely you’ve heard of patch technology? Why on earth do you insist on bundling in Quicktime as well?

Here are the changes I’d like to see.

1. Use patch technology so that I only have to download the differences between my current version and the new version.

2. Don’t ask me. Just do it silently in the background. This includes both the download and the install.

3. The next time I open iTunes, let me know about new features that I can use. Don’t tell me about performance and stability enhancements. While it’s great that you’re continually improving the quality of your software, I really don’t want to know about every little bug fix.

Perhaps you could update your update technology in the next update? I’ll keep feeding my update addiction in the hope that you do!

 

iPhone finally coming to Australia!

May 4, 2008 at 8:53 am | Posted in Australia, iPhone, iPod | Comments Off on iPhone finally coming to Australia!

iPhone coming to AustraliaApple’s iPhone is expected to be on sale in Australia by the end of June. CNet.com.au has confirmed that Optus will be one of several mobile carriers that will support the iPhone.

There have been strong hints the major carriers have been preparing for the iPhone’s arrival for some time.

The unnamed industry insider who broke the story to cnet.com.au would not confirm whether it would be a 3G iPhone but did suggest that it would be an ‘upgraded’ model.

One interesting rumor is that Apple may sell the iPhone directly through Apple stores and resellers.

This could be all good news for Australian consumers looking for competitive plans without any onerous lock-in.

Perhaps it will be possible to use the Vodaphone prepaid service with an iPhone? However it remains to be seen if this would be cost effective when you can chew through the data by surfing the internet from anywhere on your phone.

Roll on end of June!

 Update:

Vodafone have announced that they will sell the iPhone in Australia and New Zealand later this year.

 

 

I hate to admit it, but watching my child’s swimming lesson is becoming tedious.

March 20, 2008 at 6:55 pm | Posted in iPod, MP3 Player, text to speech, Text2Go | Comments Off on I hate to admit it, but watching my child’s swimming lesson is becoming tedious.

The Dreaded Swimming LessonMy daughter currently has a swimming lesson once a week on a Tuesday evening. At first I was very excited, as I was able to knock off work a little early and be home in time to take her to her lesson. A few weeks in and I’m ashamed to admit it but it’s becoming a little tedious.

The problem is that it’s a group lesson with 3 other kids, so my daughter is only in action 25% of the time. It’s only a ½ hour lesson but then I let her have another ½ hour after the lesson to muck around in the pool.

Some of the other parents must also be finding it tough going. They come armed with an array of reading material. Books, magazines and newspapers are commonplace.

The thing is I really like to show my daughter support. If my head is buried in a newspaper when she looks up to see if I’m watching (which she does regularly – perhaps too often if truth be told), she’s going to be very disappointed. I’m also genuinely interested in watching her progress. I find it one of the most satisfying things as a parent, watching my kids develop over time.

Then it hit me. Text2Go is just perfect for this situation. I can listen to an eBook, article or collection of blog posts on my iPod while I keep my eyes on my daughter at all times. During the lesson I can offer encouragement and after the lesson I can just keep an eye on her so that she’s safe while playing in the pool.

This is definitely going to be the plan for next week’s lesson. The biggest problem I foresee is going to be the background noise level. The noise generated by 100 kids in an enclosed pool with concrete walls that bounce the sound back and forth is extreme. The standard iPod earbuds don’t actually block out a lot of outside noise. I know that Sennheiser make some iPod earbuds that include a set of earfit rings of varing sizes. These allow you to find the size that best fits your ear, creating a tighter seal between ear and earbud, and hence blocking out more background noise.

The next level up is to buy some earbuds or headphones that have active noise cancellation. These may be necessary in this situation. I’ll find out next week.

iPod touch stopped playing the next song in a playlist

December 14, 2007 at 8:20 pm | Posted in iPod | 88 Comments

Today my iPod touch suddenly decided that it would no longer step through a playlist and play each song in order. Instead it would only play the song I selected. This is just crazy as it completely defeats the purpose of a playlist. Not only that it’s quite dangerous having to select each song in turn while you’re driving in traffic.

With a lot of fiddling around, I’ve managed to get it to revert to the correct behaviour and it now once again plays each song in turn. However I’m not sure exactly what I did to fix the problem. My guess is that there is some small bug in the firmware that put it in this state. Perhaps switching it off would have solved the problem but by the time I’d thought of this (I never use the off button, I just let it go into standby) it was behaving itself again.

If you tap the screen while a song is playing you are presented with a set of controls that allow you to set the repeat mode for the album or list, change the shuffle mode and seek forward and back through the current song. Playing around with the repeat mode was what ultimately fixed the problem.

I was curious to see what the iPod touch manual had to say on this, so I finally got around to downloading it. Here is a screenshot direct from the manual.

iPod touch song controls

The Repeat control allows you to ‘repeat songs in the current album or list’, ‘repeat the current song over and over’ or ‘do not repeat songs’.

None of these options describe the behaviour I experienced which makes me believe it was a bug.

How to Choose the Perfect iPod Gift this Christmas

December 12, 2007 at 9:08 pm | Posted in iPhone, iPod, iTunes, MP3 Player | 3 Comments

The iPod Family (from left to right) - touch, classic, nano, shuffleWith a new range of iPods released this year, there has never been a better time to give an iPod. Use this guide to find the perfect iPod for your wife, husband, girlfriend, boyfriend, or family member.

Firstly, here are a few situations where an iPod is not an appropriate gift:

They already own an iPhone or iPod. Remember an iPhone is actually an iPod + a mobile phone. Don’t despair, there are a huge range of iPod accessories out there.

They work for Microsoft. Considering that Microsoft sell a competing MP3 player, the Zune, it’s probably bad form for Microsoft employees to be caught with an iPod. In the same vein, stay away from the Playstation and all software (especially web-based services).

They run Linux. The proprietary, commercial nature of Apple and the iPod make them the antithesis of Linux and the open source movement. To give a Linux user an iPod is to insult their belief system. If you must give an iPod, it’s imperative that you erase the original firmware, install at least two Linux distros that can be accessed from a boot menu and cover up all Apple logos with ‘Linux Inside’ stickers.

They’re a super-geek. A super-geek will never be happy with an iPod because it’s feature-poor (no built-in radio tuner, voice recorder, digital camera, blue-tooth, email client, paint program, web server, or nostril tweezers), has less storage capacity per dollar than other competing products, is not upgradeable (hell you can’t even change the battery yourself), can’t be overclocked, has a distinct lack of buttons (none of which are back-lit) and doesn’t come standard with full-sized headphones / earmuffs.

If none of the above apply then choose your recipient from the list below and we’ll have you sorted in no time.

Choosing the Perfect iPod for your Girlfriend

Don’t even think about a Shuffle. You’ll appear cheap or worse still, send the message that your girlfriend is also bottom of the range.

Instead go for a new iPod Nano. It’s small size and range of colours make it an ideal fashion accessory. For bonus points, buy the Product RED version and Apple will donate a portion of the purchase price to fight AIDS in Africa. Just make sure that your girlfriend can wear red.

If you’re really unsure about what colour to choose, go for grey and let your girlfriend choose an appropriately coloured case or arm band.

Buy direct from the Apple store and you can have a personal message engraved on the back. If you’re unsure who you’ll be with come Christmas day, use a pet name. Then if circumstances change, it’s just a matter of getting your new girlfriend used to her pet name.

The Nano comes in 4GB and 8GB versions. You can probably get away with 4GB but if you’re in trouble, go for the 8GB.

Choosing the Perfect iPod for your Wife

Don’t even think about a Shuffle. She knows you’re cheap by now but you still don’t want to send the message that you think she’s bottom of the range.

Again go for a Nano but by now you better know exactly which colour suits your wife. Be prepared to back up your decision on Christmas morning. For example if you wife grills you on why you went for red when she doesn’t own a single red outfit, don’t blurt out “It matches your eyes”. Instead remind her of the good you’re doing in Africa.

Make sure you have a personalized message engraved. Make it a good one, and it won’t matter if you get the colour wrong.

Buy the 8GB version because lets face it, if you’re not already in trouble, you will be by Christmas.

Choosing the Perfect iPod for your Husband

Don’t even think about a Shuffle. Although he’ll appreciate the price if you’re spending his money, it’s too small and not high tech enough.

Size matters and the Nano is also too small. The only exception is if your husband is a keen runner (or thinks he is), in which case an 8GB black Nano is perfect.

This leaves the Classic, the Touch and the iPhone.

If he needs a mobile phone and the iPhone is available in your country, go for an iPhone. It’s the coolest, most high tech phone around.

The choice between the Classic and the Touch comes down to how sophisticated your husband thinks he is (important distinction – not how sophisticated you think he is).

If you’re husband always has to have the biggest of everything (for example if his mates have 4 burner BBQs, he has a 12 burner with roasting hood & dedicated wok burner) then go for a Classic. It’s the biggest iPod in both physical size and storage capacity. It’s imperative that you buy the 160GB version. If you only buy the 80GB version then it will always be referred to as the mistake made by the wife “It’s only 80GB, the wife gave it to me as a gift. It’s inconvenient but I manage. I don’t want to hurt her feelings.” Don’t be practical and think that because his entire music collection fits into 10GB, he will never need more than 80GB.

If your husband is more sophisticated and prefers refinement over brute strength and size ( for example whereas his mates own 100-inch rear-projection TVs, he owns a 42-inch true high definition LCD) then you need to choose the Touch. He’ll love the revolutionary multi-touch interface, built-in wifi, web browser, YouTube browser, and cover flow effect. He may even listen to some music on it.

Personalized engraving sounds like a good idea and if you ask your husband about it, he’ll say he loves it. However this sort of thing fills any husband with dread. He knows that from any time now until the end of his natural life you will be able to hit him with a pop quiz at random intervals ranging from 1 to 10 years. To pass this test he will be forced not only to remember that there was a personalized message engraved on the back but be able to recite it word perfect.

Choosing the Perfect iPod for your Boyfriend

Think of the Boyfriend as a naive, romantic version of the Husband. All the same rules apply, except when it comes to engraving the personalized message. Go ahead and use up every square inch of available space. Having never experienced the pop quiz he will have no idea of the danger that lies ahead. Then in a year’s time when you need a bit of leverage (in truth any time after 4 weeks will be just as effective), hit him with his first pop quiz and watch him squirm.

Choosing the Perfect iPod for your Younger Brother or Sister

When buying an iPod for a younger sibling, it’s important to maintain your natural pecking order. Never buy an iPod of equal or greater capability than your own. This is where the smaller storage capacities come in handy. For example if you have a 8Gb Nano, then buy them the 4Gb model and thank Apple that iPods are not upgradeable.

The Shuffle makes an excellent first iPod. It’s simple, rugged and there’s no question that it’s the smallest and least capable in the range.

The Touch and Classic are clearly big brothers of the Shuffle and Nano but it’s a little ambiguous as to which is more senior between the Touch and Classic. Therefore if you own a Touch, don’t buy your younger sibling a Classic or vice versa. If you do, you’ll be in for hours of tedious arguments as to which model is better.

Choosing the Perfect iPod for your Older Brother or Sister

Your first instinct will be to rush out and buy them a Shuffle. But stop and ask yourself this ‘Why don’t they already have an iPod?’ Is it perhaps because they don’t have a use for one? Don’t let this put you off. Instead the question is not so much which model will suit them best but which model you would most like to borrow?

A good option would be the Classic with its high storage capacity of 80 or 160GB. This will allow you to fit both your music collection and theirs on the device at the same time. Convenient for those rare occasions when they will want to borrow it back.

Choosing the Perfect iPod for your Child

 If they’re under the age of 8 then you will get away with a Shuffle.

You can’t go wrong with a Nano for any age group or gender and can easily get away with the 4 GB model.

The Touch will appeal more to boys as they are easily impressed by technology for technology’s sake.

The Classic will appeal to the child who wants the biggest of everything (e.g. when other children were asking for a pony, yours wanted a horse).

Stay away from the iPhone unless they have a well-paid job or you’re prepared to pay their monthly phone bills.

Choosing the Perfect iPod for a Parent or Grandparent

They may be gen-B or C but they still appreciate music, and decent music at that.

The Shuffle is again a poor choice. With fading memories and dimming eyesight, they will spend more time looking for the darn thing than listening to it. Add to this the fact that they’ve spent all their life trying to gain control of the universe, it’s a fair bet they won’t appreciate the randomness of the Shuffle. The final nail in the coffin is the limited storage, requiring them to have enough technical aptitude to resync different parts of their music collection to the device.

The Nano is similarly too small. Not only will it get lost but video playback on that tiny screen will be viewed as an insult rather than a feature.

 The Touch is also not an appropriate device. With fingers swollen to the size of bananas by hard, physical work and arthritis, the multi-touch interface will appear to be designed to torment them.

The Classic on the other hand is perfect. It’s easy to hold in the hand and control, it’s solid, dependable, has been around the longest and has enough storage space to hold their entire music collection, assuming of course that you can find a way to rip vinyl. Even the name is perfect.

Text2Go 1.5 Released

December 2, 2007 at 8:37 pm | Posted in iPhone, iPod, MP3 Player, text to speech, Text2Go | 8 Comments

Text2Go now supports a range of MP3 devicesToday Tumbywood Software is pleased to announce a significant  upgrade to Text2Go, the Windows text to speech program that lets you listen to text from the web on your iPod. This is a free upgrade for all existing Text2Go owners as per our Lifetime License. The major new features are:

Support for all MP3 Players, not just the iPod. Text2Go will now create MP3 files that can be used on any MP3-capable device, such as mobile phones, PDAs and of course dedicated MP3 players, such as the Zune, iRiver, Creative Zen, SanDisk, etc. Details of the article source will be embedded in the generated MP3 file, including the URL, domain, and a screenshot for use as album art.

Dictionaries to correct mispronunciations. Commonly mispronounced words, such as brand names, acronyms and industry-specific jargon can now be corrected. Text2Go ships with a Technology dictionary containing corrections for over 200 mispronunciations. Further dictionaries will be rolled out over time and users can compile their own dictionaries. Compare the text to speech results of this (highly contrived) passage of text with and without the Techonology dictionary enabled. 

A recent Wikipedia entry lists a number of influential technologies including itunes, myspace, ebooks, Wimax, xbox, facebook and antispyware.

Sample without the dictionary                Sample with the dictionary

Text Cleanup Rules.  A text cleanup rule will automatically remove or replace specific text from a document prior to the text to speech operation. Complex pattern matching criteria are specified using regular expressions so that only the intended text is removed or replaced. Text cleanup rules are best illustrated with a couple of examples.

A recent study showed that between 60%-65% of people preferred the colour green over blue. 

Without a text cleanup rule, percentage ranges will not be spoken as the author intended.

Sample without text cleanup rule           Sample with text cleanup rule

Removing references from research papers is another common use of text cleanup rules. For example.

A recent survey of blog topics indicate that the most popular are ‘Blogging for profit’,15 28 72 followed by ‘Blogging about blogging’,20 38 ‘Blogging about other bloggers’,109 127 ‘Blogging how to’,69 ‘Full time blogging’, and ‘Blog review’.19 24 115  

Sample without text cleanup rule          Sample with text cleanup rule

Like the pronunciation dictionaries,  Text2Go ships with a number of Text Cleanup Rules and users can also create their own. As the creation of a text cleanup rule requires an understanding of regular expressions, we are providing a service to create text cleanup rules for users on request.

Finally, the following minor features have also been added

  • Create playlists from within Text2Go.
  • Display the current voice and playlist in the tooltip of the Text2Go command.
  • ‘Speak from cursor’ in the View and Edit document window.
  • Minor bug fixes.

Download a  free 30-day trial of Text2Go 1.5 today

 

Quick Access to volume control on the iPod touch

October 9, 2007 at 8:13 am | Posted in iPod | 3 Comments

Volume ControlYou’d think that providing convenient access to a volume control on a music player would be a pretty important design consideration. Not so it seems for the iPod touch. There is no dedicated volume control, unlike the iPhone.
Instead you must use the touch screen interface. This is not too bad when you first play a track. The volume control is easily accessible at the bottom of the screen.

Photo courtesy of Mike Schmid

However as soon as the iPod goes into powersaving mode, adjusting the volume becomes a slow, cumbersome process.

First you need to wake up the iPod by pressing the home button, then you must use the slide control to unlock the screen. Finally you need to navigate to Music menu. At last the volume control is displayed and you can actually make an adjustment.

Try and do this while driving in heavy traffic! It makes txting while driving look positively safe.

 One thing I did try was to disable the automatic locking of the screen. This works but it also means the iPod touch will never go into powersaving mode. The screen remains on continuously at full brightness. Not exactly what I want.

 Things are not as bad as they first appear. It turns out that you can double-click on the home button at any point in the iPod touch’s interface to bring up the volume control.

You can triple-click when the iPod touch is in powersaving mode to achieve the same result. This displays the volume control but keeps the rest of the screen locked.

This is perhaps the best solution available, given the absence of a dedicated volume control.

Hopefully someone will bring out a dedicated remote for the iPod touch that takes advantage of the built-in wifi.

iPod touch-down in Australia

October 3, 2007 at 11:12 pm | Posted in iPod, iTunes | 3 Comments

iPod touch main menuThe iPod touch went on sale yesterday throughout Australia. I popped down to my local tricky-dicky’s and picked up an 8GB model. I had been ringing my local store once a week since Apple announced the new lineup on the 5th September. The woman who I spoke to offered to put one aside for me as they had been selling fast that morning. The iPod touch is particularly sort after in Australia as we have yet to get the iPhone here.

I really want to see the how the new display looked and try out first hand (literally) the new touchscreen interface. When I got it home, I plugged it in via the standard USB adapter. iTunes immediately began synching my music collection. I was a little surprised that it didn’t start downloading a multitude of firmware patches and security updates, given that it’s been released for over 3 weeks now. I don’t know what could have conditioned me into expecting that sort of behaviour.

The first thing to try was the cover flow display. This looks the same as in iTunes but is much more compelling when you’re using your fingers to shuffle through the album covers.
iPod touch cover flowGo to the start or end of your collection and give your finger an extra flick to see the display hit the end and bounce back a couple of albums. Find an album you like, tap it and it flips over to display a list of tracks. Use you finger to scroll the list of tracks up and down. Tap a track and it begins to play. Tap the top right corner and the album flips back to display the cover again.

I had a couple of little helpers (3.5 and 5 years) who also had no trouble in mastering the interface. All in all, cover flow is intuitive, looks stunning, feels great,  and is way cool.

The next feature of the iPod touch to try out was internet surfing using the built in Safari browser and the wifi connection. The first thing to do was to configure my ADSL modem/wireless router for wireless. Plug in the aerial, turn on wireless, enable WPA2 security.

Now to see up the iPod. Select Settings -> Wifi. The iPod automatically starts looking for wireless networks. It found 3, my own and a couple of others in the neighbourhood. Two had little padlocks beside their entries indicating encrypted networks but what do you know, one of my neighbours has a completely open network. Select this network, launch the Safari web browser and I’m surfing the Internet on my iPod touch using my neighbour’s wireless network. This weekend I’ll have to walk around the garden and use the signal strength indicator to work out exactly which neighbour is providing free internet access. I’m sure they’re not aware of the community service they’re providing.

iPod touch web browserThe browsing experience itself is surprisingly useable. Entering URLs via the onscreen keyboard requires a precise touch as the keys are not all that large. However pressing a key does provide satisfying feedback. In addition to a nice click, the key will briefly zoom out and back again. Rendering of web pages on the display is very nice. Zooming in and out and panning is very easy using the touch screen. Text is large and clear once you’ve zoomed in. You can view a page in portrait or landscape mode just by swivelling the iPod. The built in accelerometer detects which way you are holding your iPod and adjusts the display accordingly.

I then tried viewing a YouTube video. What I didn’t realize is that a dedicated YouTube interface is built right in. I expected that you would just use the Safari web brower to navigate to YouTube. Instead when you select the YouTube icon you are taken to a screen where you can browse Featured and Most Viewed clips for Today, This Week or All. You can also Search or select previously bookmarked clips. The display is easily capable of handling the low quality YouTube clips. I found download times to be a little slow but then that’s probably just due to my internet connection (perhaps I should see if I get better performance using the neighbour’s).

To really test the display, I synched a selection of photos. I use Adobe Photoshop Elements to manage my photo albums and iTunes will directly import albums from Photoshop Elements. Once on the iPod, you can choose to view individual photos from a thumbnail view or you can simply view all as a slideshow. The iPod touch’s widescreen 320 x 480 pixel display is perfect for displaying photos. They look like a digital version of 6″ x 4″ prints. The touch’s screen really does make a very capable photo browser.

I’ve only touched on a few of the highlights here today. I’ll be giving it it’s first road test tomorrow during my daily commute. It will be interested to see over the next few weeks which features I use on a regular basis.

Passing time during a long holiday drive

September 20, 2007 at 10:33 pm | Posted in eBook, iPod, text to speech, Text2Go, travel | 1 Comment

Little Miss SunshineIt’s school holiday time again and that means there will be a lot families heading off on the ‘family holiday’. If you’re one of the lucky ones, that will mean a quick trip by road, rail or air to some exciting holiday resort. For the rest of us however, it will be the annual pilgrimage to visit Granny, 7 hours across state by road, to a small town who’s only attraction is, well, er, Granny.

For trips with these levels of tedium, ‘I Spy’ is not going to cut it. You’ll be at each other’s throats before you get clear of the CBD. In fact, if Dad is going to have to stop the car one more time, then by the time you get to Granny’s, the holidays will be over.

My tip for surviving these road trips from hell is to load up your iPods and mp3 players with a collection of audio books. There is a wonderful collection of free eBooks available at Project Gutenbury and if you’re a science fiction fan, there’s the Baen Free Library. You can use Text2Go to convert these eBooks to speech and transfer them to your iPod. You can take advantage of Text2Go’s free 30 day trial and not pay a cent these holidays.

Here is a small selection of the eBooks that are available.

Children

The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum

The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling

The Story of Doctor Dolittle by Hugh Lofting

Anne of Green Gables (audio) by L. M. Montgomery

Black Beauty Young Folks Edition by Anna Sewell

Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson

Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie

The Story of the Three Little Pigs by L. Leslie Brooke

English Literature

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens

Middlemarch by George Eliot

History of Tom Jones, a Foundling by Henry Fielding

Ulysses by James Joyce

Macbeth by William Shakespeare

Feel free to leave a comment and tell me your favourites.

For more great sources of eBooks, have a look at The Top 13 DRM-free eBook Sites.

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