Note: This article originally ran February 8, 2006. I’m re-posting it here in light of Apple’s recent iPhone announcement. My arguments still hold.
Today Apple introduced a new iPod nano and cut prices on older models, bringing the 512-megabyte version down to $69 and the 1GB model was discounted to $99.
It may sound like I’m sort of Luddite, but I’m probably the last person on this planet to consider owning an iPod. I realize of course there’s an entire generation of people who now have those white ear buds practially sugically attached to their ears, but I haven’t bought into the iPod for a whole number of reasons.
First and foremost, I’m a busy guy and I don’t have a hell of a lot of time to sit on iTunes and download music. Don’t get me wrong, I love listening to music, but most of the stuff I like is from two previous generations past (60’s and 70’s hard rock, funk and disco, with some ’80s and early ’90s alternative) and a mix of jazz and classical, so a lot of the new crap out there is totally lost on me. I also have no huge interest in converting CD collections over to the proprietary formats the iPod uses — I’m perfectly happy listening to my Sirius satellite radio in my car and letting them do the work of providing me stuff to listen to. In my honest opinion, iTunes is a badly architected peice of junk, its bloated and crash-prone, especially on the Windows platform. If you don’t own a Mac, you’re pretty much a second class citizen with an iPod. I have iTunes installed because i’ve been checking out various podcasts on my PC, but I much prefer the more open software packages like Juice Receiver for that sort of thing. Juice is a really cool package because its Open Source and multi platform (it runs on Mac, Windows, as well as Linux) and ideally suited for podcast downloading because its tied into all the 3rd party podcast directory services.
If I was going to own a digital music player I’d want something that was totally open and non-proprietary, but nobody’s cornered the market on that yet because all the Linux-based devices that exist right now are clunky and are un-sexy — the iPod has huge traction because it is sexy looking and has a nice industrial design. Truthfully, what I’d like to see is some giant like CISCO, with their consumer electronics subsidiary Linksys along with their set-top box division Scientific Atlanta (who they also purchased this year) create some sort of sexy mass-market consumer-brand digital convergence device that had these sort of specs:
- Built in Wi-Fi peer to peer mesh networking that would allow you to trade songs and videos and other files with people wirelessly, directly access the Internet and download music, videos and software without the use of a PC.
- A nice screen like the PSP so you can play Internet-aware multiplayer games and watch videos
- 40GB hard disk with Secure Digital slot
- 1024×768 SVGA full motion digital video camera on swivel mount (2MP or better) with integrated stereo microphone, high quality speaker and USB 2.0 connector
- High capacity lithium-ion rechargeable, removable battery pack.
- High-speed 4G cellular for doing your phone calls, digital teleconferencing (with the built in camera) and data service when you aren’t within Wi-Fi range, and VOIP integration like a built in Skype or Google chat client.
- An Open API developer toolset using open source components so anyone can write applications for it
- A great end-user interface that ran on Mac, PC, and Linux desktops
- A sleek, innovative industrial design that would smash the hell out of proprietary units like the iPod.
Sounds nuts? When you have the resources like a CISCO who can design and mass produce their own microprocessors and chipsets and can leverage all sorts of relationships with other companies like Microsoft and Intel, anything is possible. I believe that something like this can be produced for less than $500 and competitive with anything Apple puts out.
Speaking of cool customized microprocessors, IBM announced today that it would be adopting the Cell Processor for use in defense, medical imagery and other high-performance computing systems. The Cell is a high performance chip that is set to be the core of the Sony Playstation 3 video game system — its incredibly low cost, but because its highly specialized to do certain kinds of number crunching and application tasks, its faster than general purpose chips like the Intel Pentium or the PowerPC G5. What this means is that once the Cell and its successors are incorporated into general purpose computing systems as well as embedded systems, we’re going to see huge leaps in performance at much more higher economies of scale. Once they can solve the heat problems, think about small consumer devices with supercomputing-level capabilities, people.
Of course, if you subscribe to the Terminator 3 theory of technological evolution, breakthoughs like the Cell Processor might lead to intelligent machines that will take over the earth. My guess it that it won’t be the machines themselves though — it will be a result of the 14-year olds hooking their Playstation 3’s into the defense grid. Ha!