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

53 Comments

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.

FireWire

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 50¢ 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.

53 Comments

Stephen Liu

Apple doesn’t include foam earbud covers because the new bundled headphones don’t require them anymore since there’s a ring of rubber that acts as a seal and an anti-ship along the edge of the headphones.

Eddie Hargreaves

Reply to #26, Paul Turnbull:

Introduced in July 2004, the 4G 20GB iPod cost $299 and included the FireWire cable.
Updated in June 2005, the 20GB iPod didn’t include a FireWire cable and the price was … $299. Neither of those included an AC adapter, which was included with the 3G models, which you could get for … $299.

Substantial price drops, indeed!

Jesse

I like the clicker option. It is important to me as I do not look at the screen when I operate the iPod.

Matthew Treder

Good post, and excellent food for thought. It seems worthwhile with ALL things, whether music peripherals or Adobe Creative Suite software or washing machines, to document somewhere (the obvious place would be the ReadMe file) which features have been removed, discontinued, supplanted, or altered.

In fact, I would go a step further and ask why this isn’t required of manufacturers. It’s a small thing that could eradicate a lot of confusion in the market.

Paul Turnbull

ASFAIK when the charger, extra cables, and case were removed the price was dropped substantially. I remember this because they did it right after I bought my 4G and price protection got me a good chunk of change back (and I got to keep the accoutrements). The math I did at the time said that I could buy all the missing bits for the difference in price.

As for the power adaptor, I have a 5G now and I rarely miss the adaptor. It has more than enough battery for a few days, at night it charges on my laptop and when I travel it’s typically in my car with my FM transmittor/charger.

So by taking those things out Apple gave me the chance to spend the money on the add-ons I could use rather than the ones they thought I could use.

Vijay

I don’t care about lack of Firewire. USB2 transfer speeds on my recently stolen video iPod :( vs Firewire speeds on my other iPods were all pretty much the same.

Nor do I worry about the lack of charger. Got plenty of those from the past.

What I do miss, is the “Hold Menu to toggle Backlight” option of the older iPods. The Video iPod doesnt have this feature. WTF? If I wanna go back to the top menu, I would be more than happy happy to press Menu 3 or 5 times.

Uli Kusterer

@rahrens: Well, I have booted my Intel Mini from various USB drives, and never had a problem. I think only PPC Macs ever had problems booting from USB, or maybe also one of the first Intel iMacs.

And BTW — one cheap way to get an iPod charger is to buy a powered USB hub. Some of them are darn small, come with a power supply, and will provide power even when not attached to a Mac. And to boot, they cost about a 3rd less than Apple’s charger.

Tim

They’re all pretty weak criticisms with the exception of the removal of the charger from the package, but that piece of penny pinching isn’t part of the ipod itself anyway. And if your still using the headphones that came with the ipod, well nuff said. You should go out and buy a decent pair of sennheisers, bose or whatever. anything but the crap headphones that come with the ipod. And yes you can get them in white.

Michael

Actually, the original iPod’s home menu consisted of Playlists, ARTISTS, SONGS, Settings, and About. If you’re going to nitpick about details as small as the omission of the About menu in the top menu in later models, at least get your facts right. Furthermore, 4G iPods did include FireWire cables in the box.

rahrens

No, you can’t boot from a USB drive at all, the USB bus doesn’t become available until at some point later in the boot up process. That’s why you can in Firewire, it’s available before OS X starts to load.

Steven Jobs

another 1 i miss: if you hold the menu button the lights would go on or off on my old ipod g4 but on my nano it doesnt:S

Galley

The 4G 40GB B&W iPods did one thing, and did it well. It played music. It also came with a bunch of accessories. I almost regret selling mine.

Carl

My 3rd gen iPod is firewire, and I just love the wired remote. It had the dock, the power adapter. It was also quite expensive. I know my wifes 5G video cost less.
I would probably have bought another if it still supported firewire, as it is, I have one Mac that is only 3 years old and has USB 1.1 (eMac). So it will have to wait.
After using the 5G video, my wife and I soon grew tired of the small video screen, so it is just used for music. Now I don’t envy her as much and still enjoy my 3G.
I prefer the touch sensitivity of the 3G and wish they would bring that back. It is annoying in the car when you push the clicker and the unit tips back in the dock.
The little black earpads always seemed silly to me. They just got stuck in your ear.

Likkie

I got 2 sets of foam earbud covers with my 80GB iPod 5.5G.

Maybe I got one of yours

Emory Dunn

I was rather surprised when you talked about the clicker option, I just checked my 2G Nano, and I can change the clicker between headphones, speaker, both, and off. Just like I could with my 1G Mini, and on every other iPod I have used.

And while your ranting and raving about removed features, you should talk about all of the ADDED features, such as volume limit and multiple clocks.

ad6am

One other thing that went away at some point, most likely with a software update: having your iPod’s sleep timer on by default.

I set my 3G iPod to always auto-sleep after 60 minutes, and having to turn it back on (and thus knowing every morning how much longer ’til my train arrived at Grand Central Station) was a small price to pay for the guarantee that I’d never be surprised by an empty battery.

Now I have to go into the clock settings each time to get the same effect.

But of course, not knowing why this was seemingly unnecessary change was enacted is even more frustrating than the change itself.

ad6am

blorenz

i have a big ol fat 20 gig 2g ipod. It is so cool .People always comment on how cool it is. Not too many of em around, while everyone has one of the new ones.
I’m always using the power adapter, but not the remote too much, so I wouldn’t really miss that, or the ear pads. I do much prefer the firewire connection on it to the connection on my 2g shuffle. I can connect it to any of my computers by just using any firewire cable.

terry

I have owned iPods since 2g, which I still use along with my iPod Mini, gen 2 Nano and gen 2 Shuffle…and I did take the same notice as things became missing.

The most significant one is power adapter, which I use and share with my older iPods. One thing that does help is that many of my monitors have USB ports where I will plug the iPods to without computer being on and it does charge and play iPod. I also have it plugged into my cable companies DVR USB port when I play the music on my entertainment system.

The Nomad

You can still charge most (if not all) iPods with the old firewire charger. I use the dock that came with my iPod Photo, with the charging, firewire to dock cable, plugged into my old charger from my first-generation 5 gig model. Of course, my first generation nano won’t sync over firewire, but it charges just fine on the firewire-electrified dock. I love Apple, but they do force you to improvise from time to time!

charlie

Actually, 3rd generation ipods did include firewire, but it wasn’t seperate, it was the cord that plugged into the charger

charlie

Actually, 3rd generation ipods did include firewire, but it wasn’t seperate it was the cord that plugged into the charger

Bob

On my old iPod I could feel the buttons and with out looking at them control the iPod. Now touching a button activates it. So if I’m feeling around for a button (like while driving) and accidentally touch the wrong one, I get all kinds of screwed up.

alan

I agree to all points. I do have a Mac that has USB 1.1 that I used to connect my iPod to. It’s 4 years old, and even though it’s working fine, it’s soon to be replaced.

I do wish Apple did include foam buds, a nicer case (such as the one from the 2G/3G), and especially a charger. I’m alright with using USB, but Firewire would be nice because I don’t have as many devices plugged into FireWire.

DBL

You can charge the iPod on any relatively modern USB port on any computer in the world. You do not even need iTunes installed. If you are on the go, you are going to have to borrow somebody’s wall jack anyway to charge it with an AC adapter anyway, so why not just ask to borrow their USB jack instead? This is a non-issue. I have never had a problem getting my iPod charged when I wasn’t near my own computers. I certainly wouldn’t spring for an AC adapter that I will never use, and I’m glad that I no longer have to pay for it by default.

As for the headphone clicking — who needs it? What, clicking is a feature? I’m sorry but most of the things you mentioned aren’t even what I would consider to be ‘features’ since they do nothing functionality-wise. I mean — packaging? WTF?

I.

What I don’t get is Apple’s new design for the Ipod Shuffle. What once was something as practical as a USB pen drive is now an Ipod where you have to carry a dock as big as the real thing… Lame…! :-/

GJD

Ditto for Lime’s comment. How many times do you get to the end of an album and don’t have time to screw around with the menu, you just want to press play on your remote and listen to it through again?

As for charging, I’ve collected an array of charging devices over the years, and I still have my pack-in charger from my first 3G. I’ll admit that the ‘out-of-box’ experience with the 3G was better, but in real terms, the thing cost me a lot more tthan my 30Gb 5G.

Lime

Oh compare the preferences dialogues of Adium, AMSN and Mercury Messenger.

Are options always good?

Lime

why would you want the about function in the main menu? Just give us a real valid reason why it must be in such a major area.

The only thing that really annoys me about the ipod is if you get to the end of an album or playlist then just press straight play (like its in your pocket and your 2 mins from work so dont want to piss about with it) then it will play the first song in your library. POINTLESS! it should start playing from where you last moved the playhead to, so the start of the album/playlist you last played in this case.

Dennis

“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).”

I can listen to my ipod, when it’s hooked up to the computer. I just wait for it to mount, then eject it. Then my ipod becomes usable, although tethered to my computer – better there than a wall jack. It keeps my playlist exactly as it would if it weren’t charging.

Try it, it works for me on a 3G, a Mini (1st and 2nd Gen) and a black ipod video.

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