Why new iPods aren’t quite as good as old iPods

iPod 1G By adding new features to the iPod over time (notes, photos, videos, etc.), Apple has given owners of previous models plenty of reasons to lust after the latest and greatest models. But Apple hasn’t just been adding features to the iPod, it’s also been taking some away. I own a fifth generation (5G) iPod, and compared to my original second generation (2G) iPod, there’s a lot missing nowadays.

The latest iPod packaging is remarkably slim compared to the original’s. You could actually fit four 5G iPod boxes inside the box of the 2G. And Apple is proud to point this out on the Product Design page of their Environment site:

The packaging volume of our fifth generation 30GB and 80GB iPod was reduced by 69% from earlier models. This enables 120 more units to be shipped per pallet compared to the fourth generation 30GB iPod.

What that means for the environment is “eliminating hundreds of thousands of pounds of packaging waste.”

How did Apple manage to reduce the iPod’s packaging that drastically? By removing most of the accessories that the iPod previously came with.

Power Adapter

The most egregious removal is the Power Adapter. Charging an iPod is crucial. And now that an AC Adapter is not included, users are forced to do so by connecting it to their computer. In and of itself, this does not seem to be much of a burden. You have to have a computer to use an iPod, so why not just connect it to charge it?

First, plugging an iPod into a computer changes it from playable to unplayable. Once you connect it to the computer, the iPod will either launch iTunes or simply mount on the desktop. Either way, you can’t keep playing your music.
If you’re listening to a playlist and then have to charge, your place in that playlist will be lost and you’ll be starting at the beginning the next time you start up (especially if you’re playing in shuffle mode).

Second, sometimes you don’t have a computer around to charge it. If you’ve ever taken an iPod on a trip with you, you can’t charge it unless you also bring your computer with you. For us laptop users, it’s not a big deal because often we don’t go anywhere without our notebooks. But some people actually don’t take a computer with them everywhere they go.

The solution to both these issues is just to purchase an iPod Power Adapter. They’re available in plenty of retail stores for only $29. But now the “hundreds of thousands of pounds of packaging waste” that Apple eliminated has now been offset by the fact that Apple is shipping out Power Adapters in separate packages. And the $50 that the price went down between the fourth and fifth generation is countered by the purchase of a $29 AC Adapter.


An unfortunate removal for Mac users was that of FireWire connectivity. After adding the Dock Connector in the 3G iPod, Apple shipped both FireWire and USB connector cables with iPods. For the 4G iPod they stopped including the FireWire cable (but made it available separately for $19!). Eventually they removed the ability to sync with FireWire altogether.

This makes sense for users of Windows PCs, because most of them have USB 2.0 ports but not FireWire. But while nearly all Mac users have FireWire ports, not all have USB 2.0 ports. Mac users with USB 1.0 ports have to suffer with extremely slow transfer speeds, something that the original iPod, with its FireWire interface, was praised for breaking away from. And even for Mac users with built-in USB 2.0, the transfer speeds do not compare favorably to FireWire.

Less critical, but still unfortunate, side effects of the loss of FireWire connectivity include the ability to daisy-chain the iPod to external FireWire hard drives and to boot Macs after installing OS X on the iPod (a feature never supported by Apple).

Carrying Case/Belt Clip and Wired Remote

My 2G iPod also came with a carrying case/belt clip and wired remote. The two are connected because you can’t use the carrying case without also using the wired remote. By Apple’s usual standards, the case is a piece of garbage. It was useful for outdoor activities and other exercise, but today’s universe of third-party iPod accessories make these obsolete. I don’t blame Apple for doing away with them.

The wired remote was useful on its own, but it used the headphone connector ring to work. Apple removed the headphone connector ring with the 3G iPod, the result being that you couldn’t use Apple’s wired remote or other, third-party accessories with the new models. The 3G models had a new headphone connector, which then disappeared on the 5G models.

Foam Earbud Covers

And just when I thought they couldn’t take anything else out of the box, I discovered they no longer include the foam earbud covers. I realize that some people don’t like the foam earbud covers and don’t use them. But I did, and the newly-designed earbuds simply will not stay in my ears without the foam covers. A set of four can be purchased at Radio Shack (I guess they sell something useful still) for $2, so it’s not too much of a burden for me. But if a consumer can buy them for 50ยข at retail, imagine how cheap Apple could be getting them at bulk amounts of 20 million. They used to include two per package. They couldn’t just drop it down to one? They had to go to zero? And there’s no good packaging excuse there, as those foam covers can be so flat they’d easily fit into the current box.

Interface Feature Removal

So if you don’t like the changes made to a product, don’t buy the new one and just keep using the old, right? Unfortunately, Apple’s removal of features has extended beyond the physical aspects of new models into the software of the old models.

The main menu of the iPod originally contained only the following options: Playlists, Browse, Extras, Settings, About. Apple later updated the iPod software to allow for user customization of the main menu, which meant that iPod owners could then put functions like Artists, Backlight, Calendar, Contacts, and Shuffle Songs directly in the main menu. But Apple neglected to include About in the selection of functions the user can choose to put in the main menu. So although their goal seemed to be about giving users choice, they ended up taking away quick access to the About function. Sure, it’s not a life-threatening omission; but why do it? If it was worth putting on the main menu in the first place, why not let those users who want it to remain there do so instead of forcing them into the Settings menu every time?

Another change to the settings relates to the EQ. Previously the Settings menu would actually list which EQ setting was active. Now it doesn’t and the user has to click on EQ to find out. And if it turns out it’s already on the EQ setting you wanted, you’ve just made two unnecessary clicks. Neither the screen nor font size on my 2G iPod has changed; so why has the old method gone away?

Finally, the iPod’s distinctive clicking noise used to have four settings: Speaker, Headphones, Both, Off. The headphones option was useful in two situations: First, if you were in an environment where you couldn’t hear the iPod’s built-in speaker, like a car, the clicking noise would be transmitted through the headphone jack so you could hear it amplified. Second, if you’re in a quiet environment and don’t want to annoy those around you with the clicking noise.

But through an iPod software update, those options were removed from all iPods and replaced with On or Off. On is the same as the Speaker setting from before, which means there is now no way to hear the clicker through the headphones or any other attached device. Again, the older iPods were capable of doing so before, but now that option is gone. Why?

At the 2005 Apple Expo Paris, Jobs spoke to Macworld of the challenge of offering extra features to the iPod just for the sake of it, saying “We are very careful about what features we add because we can’t take them away.”

Really? Because it seems like you’ve been taking them away pretty often. And I’m left wondering why.

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