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It’s iPod, Except with More… Touching… in a Good Way…

I’m now the proud owner of one 16-gigabyte iPod touch, and after a good half-day of messing with it and playing to try and figure the thing out, I have to say that I’m coming away from the first experiences very, very impressed. I find that music library management is going to be difficult for me, at least at first, as I’ve just now filled up my 40-gig fourth generation iPod, and Smart Playlists have become much more important for both iPods. I may have to pick up a 160-gig iPod classic at some point to continue to have at least one device that contains my entire music collection.

In any case, I wanted to jot down some of my thoughts for those who read, so if you’re thinking about picking one up, or you have questions about it, I figure more of those will be handled by what I have to say. You can already see some of my commentary in my tweets from earlier this evening, while I was messing around with it.

First, the interface is alarmingly simple to use and reflects an enormous amount of thought and usability testing. I wish every consumer electronics device were this easy to use and this intuitive when it comes to how to move your finger across the screen or where to “click” with your fingertip. Comparing this iPod to my 4G is almost depressing. A side-by-side comparison puts the click wheel and associated interface quirks to total shame, and it’s clear that someone at Apple was thinking on a higher level when they designed this thing. Just remember that for every completely obvious interface feature, there were a group of engineers who sat around a table for hours upon hours trying to figure it out first. That’s impressive.

It’s also undeniably Apple. Clean text and font selection, logically laid-out controls, and just enough gimmicky interface stuff to make you go “wow” without distracting you from what you’re trying to do.

As I mentioned earlier, this is clearly a gateway drug to the iPhone, as it does several things “close, but not quite” and also has some gimped functionality compared to its big brother device. Mobile Safari (if John Gruber is going to call it that, I am too) is an amazing piece of software, and I did almost all my evening web browsing on the iPod touch from the comfort of my bedroom. It was a cinch to set up bookmarks, and nice to see that many of the sites I regularly visit have well-thought-out iPhone/iPod-specific page designs. Facebook is particularly notable.

Some sites don’t work as well as I want them to. del.icio.us is almost a complete disaster, and it’s unclear to me how I could use it to post any bookmarks while using the iPod touch, which is a shame. Twitter is surprisingly not the best thing to use, and the Javascript-heavy input box on the home page slows down text input to a crawl, introducing lag to the keyboard. I’d hope that could be fixed at some point. Flickr is also not as fun to use and could benefit heavily from something like what Facebook’s photo albums look like on the iPhone-enhanced site.

I desperately want two things:

  1. The ability to use this Internet awesomeness anywhere, and
  2. A fully-functional e-mail application.

If anything, these two features are what will drive me straight to iPhone. I can use web mail applications all right, but it’s a far cry from an intelligently-designed application that would make full use of the device itself.

The organization of your music library is worlds ahead of that on the older iPod models. It doesn’t even compare. Always having access to a list of the currently on-iPod songs on any album, no matter which playlist you’re currently using, is a really cool idea. I like Cover Flow pretty well, but it doesn’t seem to adapt itself to your currently-used playlist; if you enter Cover Flow, you’re basically entering Album view only, and when you play something using Cover Flow, you switch away from the playlist you are using. iTunes has support for playlists in Cover Flow mode, so I don’t necessarily see why the iPod touch doesn’t as well.

As a side note, the screen is absolutely gorgeous. Small text is very easy to read, and my brain has a hard time wrapping around the kind of resolution they managed to cram into this small form factor. It’s a joy to read and to use.

On-The-Go playlists are now completely awesome, rather than irritating and a pain to use, as they are easily edited using the touch controls, and you can very easily remove items from a playlist you’re working on without too much trouble. As I can’t have my entire library with me at all times, it kind of loses some usefulness, but if I have a specific hankering for something in the middle of the day, I can see it being a neat little asset.

The built-in iTunes Store is a bad financial situation waiting to happen. It’s very well-organized and laid out, and by searching, you can find pretty much anything you’re looking for. Bring able to tap on album art and listen to the preview at any time is amazing-feeling, and the ability to just drop a song from the list into your download queue while you’re using a mobile device is powerfully consumer-driven. I’ve already picked up a couple of songs on it and have enjoyed the process of moving that information back to my iTunes library, where a separate playlist was generated called “Purchased from Ryan’s iPod touch.” I didn’t have to do a thing.

There are a few things I don’t like about it. You can’t look at your account information at all as far as I can tell, so if you work off pre-paid cards and don’t want to begin eating away at your credit limit, I don’t see how you can effectively use it and maintain control. It would be even better if you could subscribe to podcasts directly from the iPod and then synchronize those with your master library upon your return to the mother ship. I also don’t like that it’s so easy to buy good music. Apple’s removed a complete step in the process with the iTunes WiFi Store, and it feels good.

I also wish that, when listening to Enhanced AAC podcasts on the iPod touch, it would display the URL links embedded in the podcast track in Garageband and take you to the linked web site in Safari. It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense that it doesn’t, seeing as it contains both areas of functionality, and the feature is really cool but unfortunately limited to those people who are listening to podcasts in the iTunes application itself. I know that if I had an iPhone or were using this in a place with public WiFi, there might be opportunities where I would want to look up the attached URL right then and there, and you can’t do that as-is.

I’m sure it’s clear that the drawbacks I find in the device are very nitpicky and miniscule things. Such is the nature of the beast when you’re a nerd: you’re always looking for ways your toys could be better. All told, I think this is one of the coolest things I’ve ever had the pleasure of tooling around with, and I know it’s going to become a constant travel companion and friend.