How Would You Improve the iPod?

by Chris Howard Jun 14, 2006

On the weekend I bought a Griffin iTalk. iLoveIt. But it made me realise, or more to the point, understand, why people buy non-iPods.

The iTalk allows you to use your iPod as a voice recorder. For anyone interested, it is not among Griffin’s current products on its website, but scratching around I found mention of an upcoming iTalk Pro for the 5G iPods. There does seem to be a lot of the older 3G and 4G compatible iTalks in retailers’ hands though.

I operate a website, Go Play AV, that provides a bouncing off point for people looking for reviews of portable entertainment devices. A large number of the non-iPod players include voice recording. And even more include an FM tuner.

Although I wouldn’t be too optimistic about the quality of reception of the FM tuners in most of them, I’m sure the voice recording would more than suffice for recording yourself speaking (or singing if you must do that out of the shower). Although, I’m not sure how many of them would be much good for recording distant sounds, such as at lectures. I’m not even sure the iTalk is much good for that. My preliminary testing suggests unless the PA system is quite loud, and the background noise low, it could be difficult to discern what a lecturer might be saying. However, I’m not writing this piece as a review of the iTalk. (Review in 15 words: I really like it as it meets my requirement for recording ideas for my writing.)

What I really want to discuss is the minimalist nature of the Apple iPods. Is it time Apple started making variants that include features such as voice recording and FM tuners? How many people want iPods with these features?

There are some toes to be careful of, although Apple created those toes in the first place by making the iPod minimalist. There’s a whole ecosystem of iPod accessories that would suffer badly if Apple started making iPods with some of those accessories built-in.

The problem is though, how many attachments am I going to end up with in my pocket? I do want an FM tuner and I would like an FM transmitter. So including the iTalk, that’d be three attachments floating around that I’d have to keep switching when I wanted a different feature. It starts to get messy. Again, I can see the appeal now of non-iPods.

Should Apple release different model iPods with these features? So, for instance, you might get a plain iPod nano, or one with a built-in voice recorder, or FM tuner, or both.

That does make the production line messier, so maybe these features should be standard on all iPods.

What do you think? Which approach do you prefer?

a) Plain iPods with none of these features
b) Different configurations for each iPod line with one or more of these features
c) All iPods with the lot.

Of course, the other questions is, what additional features would you like to see standard on iPods? Voice recording? Line-in? FM tuner? FM transmitter? Or something else?

For readers looking for the next installment of my discussion on the Mac market-share and what Apple can do to increase it, the piece intended for this week blew right out, so still needs a bit of work. All being well, you should see it next week.


  • a)

    The minimalism of the basic iPod is most important. Apple should focus on improving storage & battery capacity. A digital out would be neat though.

    Bad Beaver had this to say on Jun 14, 2006 Posts: 371
  • b) The voice recording feature would have the best s/n ratio on a flash based iPod, that is with the iPod nano line. Then again, iPod shuffle should remain the minimalistic mp3/aac player it already is.

    Recording the FM radio would be the most comfortable with the hard disk based models. They have the capacity to meet the home recorder hobbyist’s needs. However the internal hard drive’s sounds would be a problem on voice recordings. Perhaps a line in recording instead would be better.

    FM transmitter should be left out, since it only would make sure that those iPods would never appear here in Finland due to the transmitter regulatory issues.

    A feature that wasn’t listed at all, is the Ogg Vorbis playback and perhaps even recording. It’s a shame that no iPod is capable of Ogg, the advanced patent free audio codec. For more information, cf.

    Jari Lammi had this to say on Jun 14, 2006 Posts: 1
  • Listen to people talking about their cell phones or their digital cameras and you’ll soon discover that they are a largely disatisfied group; disatisfied not because their gadget doesn’t do enough but because they can’t figure out how to make them do what their supposed to do. Listen to people talking about their iPod and you’ll soon discover that a small number of them are disatisfied because their gadget doesn’t do enough.

    So tell me. Who would you rather be? Apple or Motorola, Nokia, Canon, Samsung, and Sony?

    You want extra features? Buy an add-on gadget for your iPod or some extra-featured iPod knock off. But leave your mitts off the iPod design.

    davidwb had this to say on Jun 14, 2006 Posts: 32
  • I’d very much like to see iPods with bluetooth. Not for transferring music - that’d be painstakingly slow, but for informing me over the ear buds when I have an incoming call or SMS on my phone. The number of calls and texts I miss when using my iPod is silly and for some reason my body doesn’t seem to feel vibrations.

    That said… as soon as you start adding features like this the product becomes bloated. Maybe Apple should stick with what they’re doing now.

    bonniejonnie had this to say on Jun 14, 2006 Posts: 6
  • A Bluetooth or WiFi-enabled 6G a/v iPod would be an ideal evolution w/o adding too much clutter.

    I admit the battery would then need BIG improvement for this to come to light. I still don’t understand why Apple chose to idiot-proof the batteries on all iPod models. The higher end models should have the option of replacing the batteries.

    Also, perhaps Belkin or Griffin (or any of the hundreds of iPod hw developers) can come up with a clamshell notebook holder that comes with a “switch” function for the expansion port. This way, a student can keep the iPod in a notebook-looking contraption that also serves as an external power source, plug-in module carriers, a bigger LCD panel, a built-in bluetooth/wifi radio, and such.

    I wonder if I can start the company myself…heh..heh.. wink

    Robomac had this to say on Jun 14, 2006 Posts: 846
  • I’d like to see two things.  First, the iPod should support Ogg Vorbis.  I think Ogg Vorbis is the best audio codec out there and you’d get a lot of open source folks buying iPods.

    Second, make the iPod support higher resolution video.  It doesn’t necessarily have to play them on its own display, but give it the ability to play an HD clip to an external display capable of playing HD.

    jocknerd had this to say on Jun 14, 2006 Posts: 23
  • Ogg Vorbis better? Spatially or subjectively? I don’t think Apple will ever support a codec without a very strict DRM that Apple can control. MP3 is supported only because it was first-to-market and is/was the dominant codec - but will never be employed at iTMS.

    How would Ogg attract more “open-source” folks to the iPod ecosystem? What do those folks buy now? Maybe, iPods?

    Robomac had this to say on Jun 14, 2006 Posts: 846
  • Maybe it’s just me and it definitely goes against the minimalist ideal, whatever that is (you can look at photos!) but I would like to see an ipod camera of sorts, with a slide protector for the lens on the back as well as a microphone.  it would be perfect for when you would like to take a quick snap shot, jot down a quick memo or even record a home movie directly to the hard drive/flash memory.

    To me, this would be the perfect union of iLife with the iPod, bringing everything together and making the iPod a simple and ubiquiotous device, beyond that of a toy.  I tend to use my palm zire in much the same way, albiet with 128 mb for mp3s and a 640x480 digital camera.  But still, for the quick snap shot it’s great. 

    Plus, it would allow apple to market the iPod as an apple accesory of sorts, where all of its functions are that much more functional on a Mac, what with iMovie being extremely easy to use once you get a handle on the absolute basics of non-linear editing (which is a lot easier than using two tape decks, believe me)

    It would allow Apple to not only control the whole widget, but also expand on what that widget encompasses, which would now include a range of content creation, something Apple has embraced in terms of the professional, and now it would offer the tools to the consumer as well.

    Then there’s also the simple matter of allowing it to record audio using the headphone plug, which may get them into hot water with the RIAA, but screw em.  It would make it so much easier to record a concert than using a laptop through the sound board, believe me.  Besides, this is something that you can already do if you were to install linux on the thing, and it has been legal since the 80’s to record broadcasts as far as I know, and congress has not quite yet passed any laws prohibiting it (which would screw over apple in many ways, potentially, in my opinion).

    Anyways, that’s enough ranting from me.  You asked for my opinion, and I’ve been building that one up for a while.  At a price of 600 dollars or so, it would be competitive with miniDV cameras of roughly the same quality but capable of going in your freaking pocket instead of a shoulder bag, which would be much more convenient for a camping trip or anything like that.  Besides, they know they’ll eventually get outflanked by phones on the music player front, so they need to find a market somewhere.  The controls for the ipod could easily be used to control the camera, with a default autofocus and zoom control, with the middle button being record. 

    I’m sure it’ll happen someday, and when it does, iLife will be able to take center stage in the commercials (person recording with the ipod, connect it to the mac and edit it, eject a burned dvd copy and play it in front of friends ina living room, as well as net distribution using iweb; hell they could do a series of ads aimed at all the ilife products linking it directly to the ipod instead of oh, we make macs too).

    Ok, seriously now, I’m done.  Thanks for letting me vent.

    Chicken2nite had this to say on Jun 15, 2006 Posts: 79
  • I just wanted to add that in terms of a hard drive creating a background noise in the microphone, this can easily be remedied on the software side by including a noise reduction filter in iLife programs such as garageband and iMovie, if they’re not there already. 

    You can clean up the audio quite nicely that way, and it’s not as if backgrounhd noise isn’t an issue with miniDV camcorders either, so the added space of the hard drive would very handy in this regard, outlasting the battery life to be sure.  also, by allowing the headphone jack to double as an audio in, they could have an external mic for the damn thing no problem with the right adapter. 

    anyways, I’m going to go post on that DRM article, I’ve spoken my peace.

    Chicken2nite had this to say on Jun 15, 2006 Posts: 79
  • I’d like a built-inmicrophone on the ipod that can do voice recording, and that also doubles as an ambient noise leveling system, pushing up the volume in noisy evironments and pulling it down when it’s quiet. Be great for subway rides…

    ahmlco had this to say on Jun 15, 2006 Posts: 6
  • My vote: a) Plain iPods with none of these features

    Do one thing well, and allow accessories to carry the rest.

    James Bain had this to say on Jun 15, 2006 Posts: 33
  • There are literally a hundred features you could add to the iPod.  Out of all of those, I’d say an FM tuner seems to be the most requested feature.  I wouldn’t mind it, although I think they should concentrate on improving battery life.

    But I don’t see how an FM tuner would add any more complication to the iPod minimalism than video, podcasting, or a freakin’ clock does.  Go to the menu, scroll down past music, video, podcasts, extras, and stop at Radio.  Click, then use the scroll wheel to dial in a station.  Presto.  You’re there.  What’s so hard about that, other than the fact that Apple hasn’t added it yet and therefore it must be wrong?

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Jun 16, 2006 Posts: 2220
  • A slight majority in favor of people wanting iPods to have extra features, so far. I particularly liked ahmlco’s ambient noise leveling system. That’s just the sort of thing Apple would add - and then we’d get in built voice recording. It could be a bit taxing on the battery though.

    Chris Howard had this to say on Jun 16, 2006 Posts: 1209
  • It could be a bit taxing on the battery though.

    That didn’t stop them from adding video, which decimates the batter from 13+ hours down to about 2.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on Jun 17, 2006 Posts: 2220
  • Video isn’t something that adversely affects your music-battery-experience though is it.

    Benji had this to say on Jun 17, 2006 Posts: 927
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