Hell Froze Over and Heaven Has Got The Funk

Apple’s new upgrades to iTunes and iPod features incredible new options and now our Windows friends can enjoy the same functionality.

The announcement on Apple’s website for the Windows version of iTunes, read “Hell has finally frozen over” and millions of Windows users downloaded and enjoyed iTunes for the first time. As jaded as any hard-core music downloader can be, you still can’t deny that, for a free program, iTunes offers a lot of functionality not available anywhere else, for any price.

The other day, I was using the iTunes Music Store and thinking that it doesn’t get any better than this. I could sit here all night listening to 30-second samples of tunes, and even though I’m clicking the 99¢
“Buy This Song” button more than I really want to, I still feel like I’m in on the deal of the century.

As Steve Jobs pointed out several months back, if a person is downloading music through peer-to-peer programs for free, they’re actually paying too much. Of course, he’s right. In terms of long download times, incomplete songs/albums, corrupt files, the threat of virus or spyware, Madonna cursing at you, the RIAA beating up your grandmother, etc., it’s all too much. I’d rather pay Apple a buck a song than deal with all that. It was only when I found myself purchasing Jim Neighbor’s song “Jean” and “Green Green Grass of Home” that I realized I was doing it more to show my support for something that I believe in, than for my listening pleasure.

But as good as it gets even better with the release of iTunes version 4.1 (4.1.1 for Windows). This release corresponds with an equally mind-blowing upgrade for iPods – but I’ll get to that later.

One of the first things I noticed upon upgrading was that I was able to find more artists that weren’t available the last time I searched for them. One surprising find was a somewhat obscure album by Michael Hurley and the Holy Modal Rounders. A friend had given me a cassette tape of this album years ago, and I enjoyed it so much, I figure purchasing it legitimately would earn me some good Karma points. Well, a search not only turned up the album I was looking for, but several others – some I had never even heard before! Of course, Apple is adding thousands of titles to the Music Store every week, so it pays to check back every so often if you don’t find what you’re looking for.

I’m sure a lot of people will use the new “Allowance” feature of iTunes. It’s an easy way to set up an “Allowance” for your kids, so they can download music whenever they want without going crazy on your credit card.

E-mail “Gift Certificates” is another great feature. I know I’m going to send a lot of my Windows friends Gift Certificates to iTunes Music Store this Christmas – as a sneaky way to get them to finally try iTunes out.

Burning CDs of your favorite play lists is something iTunes has always done well, but now you can back up your entire iTunes music library across multiple CDs or DVDs. I’m sure I’ll do that next time I get a chance. Hopefully right before I’m struck down by lightning for not backing-up.

iTunes always features new content in the form of bios, reviews, lists and you can even see Who’s-Listening-To-Who with Celebrity Playlists. Every feature of iTunes seems to encourage users to discover new music to enjoy. And it does so elegantly and unobtrusively. It’s a completely enjoyable experience, far removed from any commercial sales-pitch techniques that seem to be everywhere you look these days.

But the real “killer app” aspect of iTunes is fully realized once you pony up the money for an iPod. If you don’t have one, do whatever it takes – sell the car, the dog, your CD collection (you don’t need it now anyway) – just get an iPod. You won’t be able to imagine how you survived without one.

If you have the patience to wait a few extra days for your iPod’s delivery, you might want to take advantage of the free engraving when you buy an iPod from Apple’s website. I couldn’t wait, but the first chance I get, I’m going to have a professional engrave the immortal words that Woody Guthrie painted on his guitar; “This Machine Kills Fascism” (I advise getting a “professional” to engrave your iPod, because I’ve seen a few people try to do the engraving themselves and the results are not pretty).

The latest iPod software upgrade includes a lot of new features that takes another already incredible product that is as good as it gets, and makes it even better. The first thing I noticed was the improved contrast and resolution of the iPod’s screen. The battery indicator now has a more precise reading and now I don’t have to squint to see the time while I’m driving at night.

There’s also a nifty new game that’s actually a lot of fun to play; Music Quiz. Your iPod starts playing a random selection from your collection and you are presented with a list of 5 possible titles. You try to name that tune by picking the title from the list as quickly as possible – your reaction time is tracked by a fast moving progress bar.
You’ve got to be quick! The four incorrect titles slowly take turns vanishing, leaving you with the correct one before your time runs out, but that progress bar moves fast, so a high score means you didn’t wait for the final “clue”. The game surprised me a couple of times by playing some tunes that I forgot I even had on the iPod.

But the best is yet to come. With this new upgrade, it’s now possible to RECORD to your iPod! Belkin is offering an iPod “Voice Recorder” ($49.95 US) This is cool little device looks smart on top of your iPod and with Gigs of storage on that beast, you can record “hours of high-quality voice recordings.” You will also be able to play back your recording through the built-in 16mm speaker. It has an omnidirectional microphone, an LED recording-indicator and a plastic cap for protective storage. Support for this device is built-in to the iPod, so no software installation is required. As if that weren’t enough, it also functions as a travel alarm clock. We’ll probably have to wait for the next upgrade for it to brew coffee and fetch the newspaper.

Belkin’s got another killer idea to enhance the functionality of those gigs of storage in your iPod – their Media Reader ($99.00 US) lets you transfer images from the card in your digital camera to your iPod and when you get home import them into iPhoto or Image Capture. It uses 4 AAA batteries for power and supports Compact Flash, (Type 1 and 2), Smart Media, Secure Digital (SD), Memory Sticks, or Multi Media Cards (MMC). Take as many photos as you want, wherever you want.

I’m still waiting for my iTrip FM Transmitter ($34.95 US) to arrive in the mail from Griffin. Right now, I’m using an inferior product ($49.95 US) in my car that I feed AAA batteries to on a weekly basis (priceless). The iTrip draws only a small amount of power from the iPod, has a wide array of channels to set your radio to and intelligent on/off power saving features. People that drive behind me really hate when I have to change batteries, so this new iTrip will probably make a lot of people happy. And once again, thanks to my trusty iPod, the world is a much nicer place.


iPod Accessories

Jason Rainbows

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