Why iPods Are Not My
Favorite Personal Audio Players

I don't "hate" iPods. In fact, I'm quite satisfied to let other people buy the darn things to their hearts' content. But when these consumers, and other market forces, combine to overwhelm a perfectly good market segment...then it's time for me to respond fruitlessly by taking keyboard in hand. You know what I'm talking about. Do some on-line shopping for portable, amplified speakers to take along with your personal music/multimedia player. Chances are, you'll come up with a big handful of "iPod-centric" speakers. These speakers have little cradles and connectors for the different iPod models, and often have remote controls and charging circuits. Of course, the extra features only work with iPods. The advertising copy will tell you that the manufacturer has generously provided another input jack for use with "non-iPod" players. This means you're expected to pay extra for features that may be useless to you.

A good example is the Logitech Model mm50 (below). It sounds very good but is ridiculously high-priced at $150 (MSRP). It includes a docking station and inserts for several iPod models, plus a nifty remote control to operate your iPod. My guess is that it would cost about half as much if they just left off the dock and remote. So, do they make a non-iPod version? Nope! In fact, 5 of their 6 iPod/MP3 player speakers are intended for use only with iPods.

So, in an effort to get more attention back to the non-iPod players, I humbly offer ten reasons that iPods are not my favorite portable music players:

  1. iPods are not compatible with OGG-encoded media files. Yes, you can convert them using a utility, but that sort of defeats the purpose of having them in OGG format to start with. OGG-encoded music files sound better than MP3 files, though not necessarily better than Apple AAC files. On the other hand, AAC files have the FairPlay DRM scheme, so OGG is the clear choice.

  2. Many iPods have known battery problems. Combine battery problems, like short operational life, with a glued case and the result is a settlement by Apple. Apple offered to settle a lawsuit filed in 2003 by issuing vouchers worth $50 towards replacing batteries in iPods. There are still a lot of complaints about users not being able to change the batteries themselves, though it definitely CAN be done.

  3. iPods have high-priced accessories (including cables, chargers, and other peripherals). While you have a choice of options to connect to your laptop or workstation, it's still more difficult and expensive than a simple USB 2.0 connection directly from the player using standard cables.

  4. You get to cope with DRM issues. Perhaps there are some people out there who actually like to fight the DRM battle, but I don't. Sometimes FairPlay works like it ought to...and sometimes it doesn't. Isn't it just a lot simpler to do without it?

  5. Sound quality is mediocre. It's just not that good...really. There's nothing wrong with the media files, but the audio circuitry is just average. A bit on the weak side, with some residual noise. There are better units out there.

  6. iPod earphones are fairly low-fi, in spite of premium price of unit. I would expect some decent earphones for the price, but they're really rather marginal. They fit OK, but the clarity is just not there.

  7. It's not easy to use the iPod as a local drive. Hook up most non-iPod MP3 players to a USB port and you can treat the HDD or RAM as a local UMS (USB Mass Storage) drive. Just drag-and-drop files, folders, and what-not back and forth. I can even back-up my laptop to one of my audio players that has a 30GB HDD. Not so easy with an iPod.

  8. Integrated construction can lead to costly repairs. With its integrated display screen and headphone jack, the iPod retains two of the weakest features of many other players. The screen breaks or is scratched, or the headphone jack loosens and doesn't maintain contact. There are other designs that get around these issues short of having to replace either part.

  9. Some retail analysts report that iPod owners are up to twice as likely to have to request repairs for their units than other portable player owners. This includes the original iPods and Nanos. Just search for this on Google and you'll see what I mean.

  10. There are some known software problems with iPod installer, sync functions, iPod Updater, iPod Serviceetc. Granted, most of these have been corrected in patches and later revisions, but why accept the hassle? As discussed above, if your player is transparent to the laptop or workstation, you won't have these problems anyway. Just use a free or shareware program to manage your library.

Are there any perfect portable players out there? No, of course not. But a player that is transparent to the PC (i.e., functions as a UMS mapped drive) and allows full access to the file structure is much more useful. So, let's get back on track. Put some pressure on manufacturers to make good-quality, simple, connects-with-a-mini-headphone-jack speakers for your portable audio player.

If you want to correspond with me about this subject, I'd be happy to give you my feedback. Just send mail to me.

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