Random observations, teachings and musings of a well trained cubicle superhero.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

September 16, 2008

What are you rocking?

Tech Mate

Jay, a.k.a. "The Cubicle Superhero", is a self-professed tech junkie with a passion for music and culture

Don't look now, but Apple's cult of obsolescence has struck again. Your super-hip iPod from just a few years back might as well be a VHS player; your gear is totally out of style, dude. Mr. Jobs just announced that Apple is replacing almost the full fleet of handheld music and video devices with thinner, richer, and sleeker units.

Is it time to get off the iPod ride?

I couldn't help but laugh when I read the copy next to the new iPod Touch. The Apple marketing brain trust has proclaimed its new, fully touchscreen unit to be the "funnest." Anyone think this smacks a little of breakfast cereal advertising?

The industry standard

I have to admit that the new family of iPods looks pretty cool. The iPod Classic has been buffed up with new metal cladding and shrunken to the width of the previous 80GB model. In a debatable move, the iPod Nano has returned to the original candy-bar style albeit with a rounded case and longer display. The Nano will also boast an accelerometer, giving it the same automatic album art and video orientation as its bigger brother. The iPod Touch has basically become the iPhone, minus the phone, with Wi-Fi enabled access to a Games and Application store, along with improvements in its overall design. Plus, it's really, really thin.

Sure, it's easy to get excited about such over-the-top industrial design. They were the market makers, and Apple remains the market leader in the portable audio player space. We gladly welcomed iPods into our homes, and replaced our totally rockin' mixtapes with the iTunes smart-playlist. But most consumer's tech appetites have grown with the iPod, and we've come to expect more from our devices. The pure white Apple-walled garden has become a little claustrophobic. So let's see what Microsoft has to offer...

Tech Mate
The Zune
Some other options

Microsoft is on the brink of releasing its updated Zune product line which includes an elusive but highly anticipated "device to cloud" feature. The Zune has long since included features relating to Wi-Fi connectivity and wireless synchronization. The devices themselves are just as easy on the eyes as their curvy Apple brethren. And, from a capacity perspective, Microsoft covered all but the shuffle footprint in Cananda when its updated 4GB, 8GB, and 80GB models launched in mid-September. All devices share the same video, sharing and Wi-Fi download capabilities. Whether Canada will see the 120GB model anytime soon remains to be seen.

Get your tunes!

Now for the bad news: The inherent problem with these devices is that they require music to fuel them. This is where things get sticky. The process of taking traditional store-bought CDs and encoding them into unlocked MP3 files with either the iTunes, Zune or even Windows Media Player has become pretty easy, but it still requires an inconvenient investment of time. The Internet-driven freedom to browse through artists and their catalogues in iTunes is a great purchase experience, but the software itself (with its TV and movie rental services) has gotten a bit unwieldy.

Canadians have long since suffered from product launch delays due to licensing and partnership issues. The Zune is no different. At present, Canadians still do not have access to the Zune marketplace, making some of the announced features, such as "buy from FM" and "Wi-Fi music purchase," suspect at best.

Tech Mate
There are a few niche players in Canada that offer a limited selection of artists, albums or per track downloads, but they are often wrapped up in rights management issues. Unless the device is able to read and honor the Digital Rights Management (DRM) wrapper, the file inside is unusable. Such as with the Rogers MusicStore, users often have the option to burn songs to CD, which stips them of DRM, which means that ripping a CD as an MP3 can become cumbersome; files also suffer a hit in quality during the conversion (compared to tracks purchased originally in their digital form).

In a bold move, Puretracks.ca has begun using the same location check technology that woefully locks us out of American sites (like Hulu.com) to enable DRM-free MP3 song purchases ONLY to Canadians. If independent music is your thing, the eMusic.com $12/month subscription service gets you 30 MP3 downloads per month. It's a great way to find new music!

A bit of friendly Tech Mates advice

I've seen too many computers at the LiveCoach training centre ravaged by P2P virus downloads. Therefore, I can't in good conscience recommend a service that doesn't have a direct integrated access to a music download site. People want easy (and free) access to music, but the advice they might get from friends to use P2P software is often misguided.

For now, if you're concerned about balance of size, features and storage, my vote goes to the Apple iPod Touch, but my suggestion is to hold out with your crotchety old second and third generation devices and wait until we see if Microsoft gets the Zune Marketplace music store rockin' our block party.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Please forward…for certain it is to be a hum-dinger. Invite your mom even.

#510, 422 Parliament St.
Toronto ON, Canada,
M5A 3A0



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