Apple developed an iOS app for podcast lovers, simply called Podcasts. One handy feature of the app is the ability to skip 15 seconds ahead or 15 seconds behind with the tap of an icon. This has become indispensable for me, as I often like to skip back to hear something I either missed or want to hear again. These skip icons are essential for navigating close to the part of the recording your are listening to. It would be too difficult to use the scrub slider to back up a few seconds in what could be and hour or two of content.
I want the same skip feature to be built in to the iOS Music app as well. When I’m out walking and listening to music, I often find myself wanting to back up a few seconds to hear a particular part of a song again. I admit that the scrub slider is of more use for a single song in comparison to podcasts because the width of the slider represents only 3 or 4 minutes of audio. However, I keep around an old iPhone and use it as a mere iPod when I’m exercising. It’s old and the screen is cracked at the top, right along the area where the time and audio scrubber are displayed. It’s hard for me to be able to glance at the screen and find the head of the slider to navigate within a song. It would be far easier if there were skip icons that I could tap and go forward or back with ease. I don’t understand why they haven’t thought to add them. Make it so.
These days, the use of traditional headphones has given way to little earbuds that we stick in our ears. Of course, old school headphones sound better, but even I have succumb to use the basic earbuds that came with my iPod.
I have a complaint to make; one that I imagine would be universal. That is that every company makes it too difficult to determine which of the two earbuds you are sticking in your ear. The little L and R stamped on the sides are unnecessarily hard to read, regardless of the brand. I find this to be needlessly frustrating. I have complained about this many times over the past few years.
I would like to propose a new standard in which the left earbud is a completely different color than the right one. Earbuds should be made with one side black and the other side white, for instance. Whether I am holding the left or right earbud needs to be made blatantly obvious. It is important to the sound quality that the correct half is in the correct corresponding ear. I beg the manufacturers of these things to make it clear which is which. This desperately needs to be done. Somebody make it so.
I’d like to recommend two great iOS apps that work in the cloud using Dropbox. Hopefully any serious computer user already has a Dropbox account. If you don’t, stop reading this and go download it. Every user gets 2 GB of cloud storage for free. I have it on all my computers and my phone.
The first app you should check out is called Plaintext. It has replaced the Notes app for me on my iPhone. Plaintext is a free and simple barebones text editor. What makes it so useful is that there is no local saving of text files. It automatically saves everything you type into a folder on Dropbox. Plaintext makes note-taking much easier than using the Notes app where you sync files via iTunes. I can now jot down notes on the go and when I get home to my computer, the notes are already there waiting for me. It works in the opposite direction as well. I can write and save files to the Plaintext folder in Dropbox on my computer and I can access and edit them on my phone. There are other apps that do the same type of thing that Plaintext does, but Plaintext is completely free and does works perfectly. I highly recommend it.
Sometimes I don’t feel like typing long notes on my phone and would rather record a voice memo. Say hello to Dropvox. It is a simple voice recorder where the recordings are automatically saved to Dropbox. The Dropvox app is extremely basic, almost to a fault. You can’t go back and listen to what you just recorded, or see a list of files saved. It is a one-way street. Of course, you could use the Dropbox iOS app if you want to browse what is in the folder. Limitations aside, it’s nice to sit at my computer and see the files of my recordings waiting for me. This is easier than using the Voice Memos app included in iOS where you have to sync the phone to iTunes to get the files. Granted, the audio quality is compressed with Dropvox, so you wouldn’t want to use it in situations where you want the best audio quality. I tend to use it when I’m driving and I want to remind myself of something to look up later, or something to add to my hate list, for instance. Dropvox costs 99 cents.
Apple is rumored to make a big cloud push this year, and the release of iOS 5 may bring this type of functionality to the native Notes and Voice Memos apps. We shall see. For now, try the two solutions above. Both Plaintext and Dropvox work on the iPad as well.
My Dad got me a new iPod Touch to replace my Nano! Finally, I am now able to join the world of iPhone apps. The phone arrived yesterday, and I’ve only had a short time to explore all of it so far. This device is stunning to say the least. Soon, I’ll be posting a list of my favorite iPhone apps. I’m scouring my past issues of Macworld magazine, reading their top app picks from each month. Another valuable source has been my listening to Twit’s MacBreak Weekly podcast, where they choose their top picks from week to week. As I add more apps and toy with them, I’ll post a list of my favorites.
One of the gifts that I got for my birthday was a really cool device that I never knew existed. It is an iTrip add-on for my iPod, made by a company called Griffin. It is a small device I plug into the bottom of my iPod Nano that broadcasts the music from the iPod to any FM frequency of your choice. So pick a blank spot on the dial, and set it to that, and bam! It totally works. We used it in the car this past weekend on a road trip, and were able to hear hundreds of songs through the car stereo. Wow! No wires, no fuss, no muss. All the power needed is drawn from the iPod itself. Granted, the audio quality is not that quite that of a CD, it is a little brought down by the FM radio transmission, but it is still very enjoyable. Great stuff!
I bought a new 4 GB iPod Nano yesterday! Hooray! It is so awesome. I’d previously been using a 512k iPod Shuffle. I had to have the Nano. It is so slick, and so beautifully designed. I love the extra storage for my music, and all the features that come with a full-blown iPod. The screen is bright, and extremely sharp. Flipping album covers with Cover Flow is gorgeous and fantastic. It’s music and volume controls are amazing. I love it! I’ll admit that it does weigh a little more than I expected it to. Perhaps I am used to the shuffle, which felt like a small pack of gum. The weight is no worry considering all the goodies that are packed in this little thing.
I have had some confusion of video support, though. I was able to transfer a music video that I’d downloaded via iTunes, and a single MP4 conversion from a DVD using Handbrake. Those played beautifully on the iPod screen. Other videos I’d made with Handbrake weren’t allowed in by the iPod. I don’t know why, since I thought I’d used the correct setting in Handbrake to do so. I’ll have to research that matter further someday. I plan to eventually try a movie rental from iTunes (a new feature), to see how it plays, though I don’t intend to make a habit of renting iTunes movies.
For my birthday, Laura bought me an iPod Shuffle! I absolutely love it. I used to own a small Phillips mp3 player that I’d bought years ago. That player only had 128 mb of storage and the controls were clunky. The one AAA battery didn’t last as long as I hoped, either.
But since using my new 512 mb iPod, I can see why it is above and beyond its rivals. Sure, the Shuffle doesn’t have a screen, but its simplistic abilities and size were my primary reasons for wanting this particular model. The player just plain works, and works well. Managing my music library and playlists is so brain-dead easy with iTunes that I can’t imagine going back to using any other software. It is so smooth and slick, it makes others in its class seem clunky and complicated.
The iPod has a few noteworthy cool things that I doubt you’d find in other players. For instance, if you are playing music and your headphone cord is pulled out, it automatically pauses the music for you. The built-in rechargeable battery never needs to be swapped out; only charged with a powered USB port. The device also doubles as a portable storage drive for any kind of data, not just music files. The onboard USB plug gives you freedom from having to search for the right cable to connect the iPod to the computer all the time.
Overall, I am very satisfied with it. Now that I am a proud iPod owner, I have moved up to the ranks of the elite class of music lovers. I can wear my white earbuds with pride.