Updated: 9/1/02; 9:18:41 AM.
ology dot org -- Eric Tilton's weblog and photo journal

Friday, August 9, 2002

Apple's finally released the iPod 1.2 updater. This update includes some swanky new features, like Sound Check and iCal synchronization, but there's really only one feature I care about -- iPod support for Audible.com.

I first bought a Palm Pilot Pro back in 1997, and I loved the crazy little thing. I spent that summer using it as my portable information nexus -- I'd go to talks, and take notes that were attached to the calendar entries; I obsessively hunted down cool new apps to put on it; I wrote e-mails using Graffiti and cramped up my hands. It was great!

The new technology flush lasted about a year, and then I found myself no longer using all of those crazy extra downloads -- I was just using the built-in calendar, todo list, and memo pad. (I was back to using NetBSD as my main work desktop, so e-mail synching was awkward and useless.) I still liked it, it was no longer the obsessive center of my intellectual lifestyle.

When the Pocket PC came along, I was fascinated. It had a little built-in web browser! I could connect it to my cell phone and be on the Internet! I could read e-books! So I picked up the Cassiopeaia E-115, and was happily obsessed with it for about a year.

The Pocket PC had many little disappointments. It had a bigger screen -- but was also shaped like a brick. It had an operating system with real support for multitasking and networking -- but the UI was reminiscent of Windows 3.1. (And filled with hundreds of stupid, stupid usability decisions.) It had support for digital books -- but no one was supplying them because the digital rights management software didn't support paranoid enough publisher-friendly policies. (And it turned out to be painful to try to read digital books on those little screens, anyway.) It had support for MP3 playback, but you can only fit about one album on 32MB of memory. You could buy extra memory in the form of CompactFlash cards, but it took hours to transfer 32MB of data across a plain old serial line. (Later Pocket PCs have admittedly at least upgraded to USB.)

In the end, I found myself using only one feature of the Pocket PC. The built in digital book reader also had support for Audible's audio book format. I'd initially found Audible because I occassionally get debilitating headaches, during which I find (a) all sensory input awful, and (b) I'm terribly bored. Listening to an audio book seemed like a nice tradeoff between sensory deprivation and mind numbing boredom. When I discovered there was Pocket PC support -- and especially when I discovered how awful the text-based digital books were -- I started downloading audio books to the Pocket PC.

This worked pretty well. The most highly compressed format can fit eight hours or so into 32MB of memory, so I could listen to audio books while on the bus. The data was much more highly compressed than MP3s, so I didn't have to replace it as often. Then I started listening to them in the car, and I became disappointed with the quality of the highly compressed version -- it was actually less intelligible when routed through decent speakers in a quiet listening environment. Going to the best quality format reduced the amount I could store dramatically, though, which meant I had to endure the long serial synch much more frequently.

Anyway, here's the upshot: after years of using PDAs, I was ultimately only using my $600 device for listening to audio books, and occassionally looking up phone numbers. It suddenly occurred to me that I had another device much better suited to that; one that could transfer a 100MB audio book in five seconds; one that had 5GB of space for storing this kind of data; one that actually had a decent battery life. One that turned out to also let me look up phone numbers occassionally.

And now it's finally got support for Audible books.

Hooray!  12:25:27 PM  (comments []  

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© Copyright 2002 Eric Tilton.
Last update: 9/1/02; 9:18:41 AM.