Backstage | iLounge


Backstage at iLounge is the combined blog of our editors, featuring casual and often only loosely iPod-, iPhone- or iPad-related discussions that our readers may enjoy. Founded in July, 2004, Backstage has served as a launching pad for stories that later appear on the main site, and as a place to discuss portable phones, games, computers, and accessories. Visit Backstage Archives for past stories, and bookmark for new ones.

Backstage: Pimp My PowerBook!

By Jeremy Horwitz | 04.07.05 | 6 comments

So you own an Apple PowerBook (or comparable but not quite-as-nifty laptop), and you’re looking to give it the Xzibit treatment? (Xzibit’s the rapper and host of MTV’s Pimp My Ride, for those unfamiliar with the TV show that turns beat up old cars into shiny new pimpmobiles.) We have a couple of suggestions.

The first is something we’ve been eyeing on the web site of Power Support for months: the Ergo stand. If you’ve ever seen Power Support’s serious metal stands for the iPod - and serious is the right word for them, given their sandblasted, all-steel bodies and $40-82 price tags - you’ll know why Ergo ($110) is an instant object of lust. There are versions made to fit different PowerBooks, iBooks, and non-Apple laptops, and we came to love Ergo after finding Rain Design’s iLap a bit disappointing.

You can see plenty more pictures by clicking on Read More, but suffice to say that we’re talking about a hinged design with two shelves - one for your laptop, one underneath to hold peripherals - that adjusts to wrist-friendly angles and just conveniently manages to reduce nasty laptop heating issues. It’s not a perfect stand for use on your lap - though we’ve tried and had generally good experiences with it in that position - but it’s virtually ideal as a desk-mounting solution.

Separately, we’ve been playing with and generally enjoying Altec Lansing’s XT1 USB-powered laptop speakers ($129.95, available for $85 and up), which throw a couple of extra speaker drivers at both the left and right sides of any laptop with a powered USB jack. They come in a nice reinforced fabric carrying case and include both retractable and fabric-coated USB cables, along with a fabric-coated cable to connect the speakers to each other, and a gold-tipped auxiliary stereo minijack cable that can conceivably connect the speakers to your iPod or a similar audio device.

There’s a lot of good news and only a little bad news on these: the good news is that they’re highly attractive, with a predominantly metalic front and side panel design and a glowing blue power light on the right speaker. They also feature integrated power and volume controls (on the side of the right speaker), and sound good in the same way that Altec’s portable iM3 and iM4 speakers sound good: good midrange and bass, not much treble. Since owners of small speakers (and users of built-in laptop speakers) so frequently complain about the absence of bass, the XT1s will likely give them exactly what they want and need - richer sound for enjoying music or movies.

More good news is that once they’re jacked into a computer - such as the PowerBook above - you can control the volume solely through the Mac’s volume panels. You’ll have to activate the controls through the Sound Control Panel, but they’ll work, and the built-in buttons won’t be necessary.

The bad news: since they’re USB-powered, they’re not overwhelming from a volume standpoint, and your likelihood of using USB-powered speakers with an iPod or similar device is pretty low. They’re also not standouts on clarity - a regrettable limitation of most portable speakers, but not of other non-portable speakers in the same price range. In other words, the XT1s are best for people who use their laptops on the go, and especially for PowerBook owners, they’re most pimpworthy in the looks and bass departments. Don’t forget to see our extra pictures of the XT1s by clicking on Read More.

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Backstage: Yes, the new iPod photo -is- different

By Jeremy Horwitz | 03.31.05 | 16 comments

Up until today, we had no reason to believe that there were differences (other than price) between the 60GB iPod photo units Apple shipped in 2004 and the ones they released in early 2005. But it appears that there is at least one difference, and possibly more.

We noticed in testing Griffin’s AirClick that our first-generation iPod photo units weren’t getting anywhere near the wireless RF reception of our other iPods - under ten feet versus 40-50 - and had problems working through walls. Now we’ve found that some change has quietly been made to currently shipping - darewecall them Second-Generation - black-boxed iPod photos, remedying this problem. Did Apple modify the iPod photo to eliminate noise or interference in the headphone jack area? Something else? We’re not entirely sure. But there is a difference. We’ve tested with multiple AirClicks and multiple iPods. And so has Griffin: the problem’s in their first-generation iPod photo unit, too, but not in their new one.

Will this be a case of early adopters getting screwed over with glitchy hardware? Hopefully not. Will Apple offer some way for affected iPod photo owners to get fully compatible hardware? Hopefully so. If you have related experiences or insights to share, we’d love to hear them.

Backstage: Obsessed with Beck’s Guero

By Jeremy Horwitz | 03.29.05 | 10 comments

pic I’ve steadfastly refused to use iLounge/Backstage as a music soapbox in the past, but I’m making an exception for Beck’s Guero. This isn’t the cover of the Deluxe Edition version I have here, but I daresay that the album in the photo represents the best way any music lover could spend $9.99 (the standard CD’s price at Best Buy) right now. Yes, that’s $9.99, the price of an iTunes album download, for a real CD with real CD-quality tracks.

While I admire his musical talent to the nth degree, Beck has been on-and-off for me for years. Midnite Vultures? On. Mutations and Sea Change? Off. Odelay? On. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind soundtrack? On in a huge way. From my perspective, the guy’s best work has been in collaboration with the Dust Brothers (they, of Fight Club soundtrack fame, amongst many other more impressive feats), and now Guero repeats/enhances that track record. Que Ondo Guero is my favorite, but virtually every track on the disc is excellent, and worthy of the high-bitrate encoding I gave it for iPod listening.

The Deluxe Edition ($19.99 at Best Buy) includes a DVD with surround sound 5.1 mixes and videos. Worth getting? For me, yes. For you? Depends on the hi-fi equipment you have. I’d discuss it more, but I have an album that I need to listen to a few more times. Do yourself a favor and check it out.

Backstage: Buyers’ Guide celebration at Fogo de Chao?

By Jeremy Horwitz | 03.28.05 | 10 comments

pic It shouldn’t have been a major surprise, but we realized back in January that the otherwise culturally diverse Bay Area has been slow to pick up on a major culinary trend: the Churrascaria (a/k/a the all-you-can-eat Brazilian steakhouse). You sit back at your table and relax as Gaucho waiters bring you choice slabs of meat, generally on skewers. At your request, the Gaucho cuts off slices or chunks of the meat, and at a good restaurant, the process repeats itself once every two or three minutes. For meat lovers, the experience is nothing short of awesome, and even vegetarians (the non-squeamish variety) can find incredible salad bars at most Churrascarias - asparagus as thick as a fat highlighter, roasted peppers, etcetera.

Because of the quality and quantity of food they offer, Brazilian steakhouses have made rapid gains in popularity across the United States, with Texas, Georgia, and Illinois scoring franchises of some of the more impressive international chains, such as Fogo de Chao and Texas de Brazil. New York has the reputably outstanding Churrascaria Plataforma, while South Africa has its own spin on the concept in the Carnivore restaurant. Until recently, Southern California has had more than a few places - Green Field Churrascaria does a pretty good job, and another place called Amazon around here isn’t too bad. San Francisco? Well, they have a tiny place called Espetus, but that barely counts.

All of this comes to mind because we now have a much better option: Fogo de Chao (pictured above) just opened in Beverly Hills, and since the Chicago location is one of my all-time favorite restaurants, I went up to Los Angeles for Fogo’s opening night last Thursday. It lived up to all of my expectations, and then some. So now, with the new Buyers’ Guide done, I’m thinking that a celebration at Fogo is in order. That’s assuming I can get anyone out of bed (or out of their various cities) to join me this week.

Backstage: Good and bad news for Sony PSP owners

By Jeremy Horwitz | 03.24.05 | 4 comments

The good news is that our friends at PSPWorld are already putting up cool reviews and news of all things Playstation Portable, including some really helpful articles on PSP usage and a contest to win a free PSP. Their editors weathered the midnight launch of the PSP last evening, and have been adding all sorts of interesting tidbits today on the new portable games console.

Bad news? Well, take a look at the currently 23-page “Dead/Stuck Pixel Thread” on Sony’s official PlayStation web site, where people are posting messages such as this one:

“Well, kind of funny they changed my thread name to no longer include the word “Offiicial”...

Well, my PSP officially has 12 dead pixels, no joke.

**bleep** you Sony.  Now my EB is saying that they won’t take back my PSP without an extended service plan since Sony says it’s not covered under warranty… and the reason I bought it at EB is so I could easily exchange it.  What bull**bleep**.”

“Well I just got my PSP this morning and the first thing I noticed when I turned it on was 14 dead pixels. Some where white the others were black. After just browsing through the system the white dead pixels came back to life and now I just have 6 dead black pixels. One which is right in the middle. Really annoying.”

“I probably would hold on to mine.  But it is definately going back.  At first I noticed just 1 dead pixel.  It was kind of funny, I noticed it when playing a game that had fairly faint colors.  It was obvious when the screen got dark though, however, then I noticed a funky ‘s’ shaped thing in the bottom corner. ... Everyone is shelling out $$ for these devices and you expect quality.  As far as only limiting returns to certain numbers of dead pixels, thats a bit out of the question.  One dead pixel in the center of the screen is much more noticeable than one in the extreme corner.  It won’t surprise me if later shipments have less problems as I’m sure Sony was rushing this shipment.”

As we mentioned, quality control on these PSPs - unfortunately, like too many Sony products these days - is really unimpressive. Repeating what they pulled in Japan, Sony told US retailers only a day or two before launch that they would not let warranty claims be brought for dead pixels, so all of the people with prepaid, locked-in pre-orders basically were screwed if their machines had problems like the poor guys above. Some stores are charging $25-30 for the privilege of returning a system with pixel problems. Great.

And these folks haven’t even waited a month to see whether more pixels turn up dead, as happened with our Japanese unit. (We started with a totally perfect screen, which over time has developed around 7 dead pixels.) As the screens in the Japanese and US units appear to be the same, this’ll surely be happening to people in the US, too.

Will Apple be able to avoid this on the inevitable video-ish iPod of the Future? Probably. Apple’s LCD displays are generally excellent. That’s why I bought an Apple 20” Cinema Display last month - because of the quality. It’s just a shame that one-time TV world-beater Sony can’t compete on quite the same level any more.

Backstage: iPod, iTunes 4.7.1 problems on OS X?

By Jeremy Horwitz | 03.21.05 | 6 comments

A couple of weeks ago, we had our first report that something might be amiss with the newest iPod Software Updater and/or iTunes 4.7.1: a reader mentioned that his iPod shuffle had died after running the update, and he was able to return it to an Apple Store and get a replacement. Amongst other things, he noted that his computer would no longer recognize the shuffle no matter what he did.

Since then, we’ve seen other reports of similar problems - and been experiencing some of them ourselves. My own PowerMac G5 is now having serious problems recognizing any iPod I connect to the machine; sometimes the operating system sees one, other times it doesn’t, and most frequently iTunes refuses to recognize that any iPod is connected to my machine. The problems began when I connected an iPod shuffle and ran the Software Updater, but have become more widespread.

Now there is a significant chance that iTunes and/or other applications (notably iPhoto) will randomly lock up and become incapable of termination by either Force Quit or Terminal. When this happens, the Mac can’t be shut down or restarted without using the machine’s power switch, and in one case, all access to the Internet was locked out with the exception of instant messaging. Discussion threads on Apple’s web site confirm that other people are having similar problems. What about you? Any solutions?

Backstage: On pets, families, and group iPod listening

By Jeremy Horwitz | 03.16.05 | 10 comments

pic While we spend a lot of time on Backstage discussing tech stuff, I do like to occasionally share a bit about myself outside the iPod world. After all, I mightn’t have brought the puppy here home if it wasn’t for some insightful comments on the subject from iLounge’s Bob that started in this very Backstage area back half a year or so ago. So if you want to skip this entry, feel free, but it’s a shout out to all the great friends I’ve made here at iLounge, and a reflection of how things have changed in my iPod and home life over that period of time.

Frequent Backstage readers already know that the dog here is Innisfree Daiginjo Sake (Sake, posed in shot two with his namesake), my nine-month old Siberian Husky, and they may also know that Dennis has his own dog (and iLounge mascot) Rocket, a really cool Labrador Retriever. What sort of surprised me is that most of iLounge’s editors are dog owners, too. Larry has Chewie, Bob has Briadha, and so on. They also have cats, but I pretend not to care or remember their names (Ferris, Meadow, and Weeble respectively), even though I more than occasionally think it would be cool for Sake to have a feline companion, if only for a snack. And all of us have families, or at least live-in significant others. None of us lives in a single iPod house, or listens to our music in solitude.

pic So why do I bother to blog occasionally on pets? Since the beginning, iLounge has realized that there’s more to life than just the technology side of iPods - they’re really enablers for a relaxed lifestyle. Coming from a background where I was highly familiar with “typical” technology journalists, I knew something was different about Dennis’ perspective from the first time I met him - having created iLounge from nothing, he was a legitimately relaxed guy and cared as much about the time he spent lounging as the time he spent iPodding. Some of that attitude is reflected in iLounge’s unique independence and its editorial focus, a point I’ll expand upon in a later entry.

Dennis’ attitude made it easier to realize that relaxation is bigger than just putting headphones on and tuning yourself out from the world (though that’s nice sometimes). Some of the most exciting stuff happening right now in the iPod world is public, not private, what spontaneously occurs when iPod lovers get together: strangers swapping earphones, people joining for iPod parties, and so on - or when they make digital music a soundtrack for their daily lives. That these things happen suggests that there’s more to the iPod phenomenon than just a passion for the iPod. It’s a passion for removing boring silence from life and sharing your musical preferences and discoveries with others.

I’m personally doing a lot more iPod listening through speakers than through headphones these days, and spending a lot more time listening with another person - or a puppy - in the room. What about you? Has your use of your iPod evolved over time? Are you more of a solo listener, or do you share? And do you want to share a picture of your pet with the iLounge community? :-)

Backstage: Finally, a good Sony PSP case!

By Jeremy Horwitz | 03.11.05 | 9 comments

pic Admittedly, my PSP’s been gathering dust for the past month or so as it awaits the potential greatness that is Wipeout Pure. But what arrived today is the single item I’ve been waiting for since the PSP was first released: a good case. A really good case.

What appears in the photograph here (and in a collection of four shots you’ll see if you click Read more) is the PSP Silicone Jacket, a surgical-grade rubber case that addresses the three major issues every PSP owner comes to fear roughly thirty seconds after opening Sony’s box: screen protection, body protection, and the bulkiness of Sony’s and other case options.

The PSP protection kit, which is on the cusp of introduction by Power Support, starts with a seriously excellent screen protector made from a resilient plastic and no-goo adhesive. Installed as part of the case, you can’t tell it’s on the PSP - it’s crystal clear and easily distinguishable from most of the cheap PDA screen protectors we’ve seen elsewhere.

Then there’s the silicone sleeve, which covers the PSP’s entire face, sides, back, and bottom, leaving small holes for the speakers, power and headphone ports, side switches, and even the bottom-of-PSP accessory mounting slots. Surprisingly, the case’s thick rubber speaker holes actually seem to channel the sound towards you better than the stock design. And control is very good. The contoured button and joystick protectors are actually polished on the inside to prevent problems with grip and usability. Power Support even includes a rubber cap for the PSP’s quasi-analog joypad. Very smart.

Like the company’s iPod cases, there are lips of top protection, but the opening works to provide easy access to the UMD drive, infrared, and top L and R buttons. Full PSP top protection would be desireable, but for obvious reasons is somewhat impractical for typical use. How bulky is it? The sleeve isn’t thin, but it’s nowhere near as thick as Sony’s fat neoprene pack-in, and you don’t need to pull the case off every time you want to use the PSP.

Come the PSP’s launch at the end of this month, I would call this a required purchase for PSP owners. Pricing sounds a hint steep at $35 per kit, but we’ve had very, very good experiences with Power Support’s products in the past, and they’ve proved considerably more durable and enjoyable than a lot of the cases we’ve tested. This one’s staying on the PSP until something decidedly better comes along. Hit Read more to see the additional shots.

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Backstage: Nyko “gets it,” and we’re relieved

By Jeremy Horwitz | 03.09.05 | 2 comments

picThere are bad things in some of the boxes that arrive at iLounge for testing. In fact, there are days when we feel absolutely certain that someone has a list of all of the things that could be branded with an “i” and scotch-taped to an iPod, and is only crossing off the ones that would cost more than $30 to manufacture.

Nyko could easily have fallen into that trap. It’s a video game accessory maker with a good development track record, but then, there are quite a few PDA accessory makers that have tried but failed to deliver anything of consequence for the iPod. Typically, that’s because they’ve released PDA-style accessories for a device that’s not a PDA. They’re different markets, different products, and different consumers.

Thankfully, someone (or a few people) at Nyko decided not to release gamers’ peripherals for the iPod. Instead, the company took the less traveled road, actually thinking about what iPod consumers might want and not already have. The results: cheap items like a Dock Connector-to-stereo RCA cable (the Stereo Link, sold for under $20 from a number of retailers) for one-stop iPod-to-stereo connections, and high-end accessories like an iPod video screen attachment (the Movie Player, approx. $249, coming later this year). There are a few really cool ideas in-between, as well.

The other key part is packaging. Most people hate to admit that they buy things because of the way they look, but the iPod’s changing that perception, and only a few accessory makers have figured that out. Again, Nyko could have gone in the video game direction - wacky colors, plastics, and so on. But it came up with its own riff on Apple’s style: Nyko accessories are made and packaged so as not to turn off younger or older buyers, and it’s not merely cloning Apple, Belkin, or Griffin efforts, either. There’s more transparent plastic, hints of color, and at least one “wow, that was smart” idea per accessory.

We’re glad that Nyko “gets it,” and we think that you are going to like a lot of what the company has to offer. For a larger photographic sample of what they’re up to, click on Read More below.

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Backstage: Sony’s music confusion officially tiresome

By Jeremy Horwitz | 03.09.05 | 18 comments

I’ve been busy with other things, but Sony can always catch my attention by firing its key executives, seriously demoting PlayStation and PlayStation Portable “father” Ken Kutaragi, or announcing yet more supposed iPod competitors. The first two are rare enough, but it seems like three months can’t pass these days without a couple of new iPod missives from Sony.

So at this point, rather than just saying “Sony, STFU already, you don’t get it,” some helpful pointers might be in order. If you’re an analyst, investor, or Sony product planner, you might want to consider these few concepts before you suspect Apple will have anything to worry about from any product with the Walkman name.

Didn’t You Hear? Price Matters. When the market leader is selling a 512MB device for $99, a fourth- or fifth-placed player can’t enter the market with a $140 512MB player (the NW-E105) and expect people to care unless the new product is dramatically better.

“Better?” What’s That? Let’s see - the NW-E105 specs say you need to supply your own batteries, carry a USB cable if you want to plug it in to a computer, and - oh wait - there’s no FM tuner, and you need to use Sony’s software. I won’t even get into the whole “no one wants Sony’s music downloads” issue. Not only isn’t this thing better than the iPod shuffle in any really important way (don’t even quote that BS battery life number) - it’s actually worse. And for the record, I’m not a big fan of the shuffle. But I know why it sells so well. Do you?

What About The Cool One With The OLED Screen (NW-E405)? Yeah, iPod killer number four hundred and five is indeed cool. And it’s also $170 at today’s exchange rates for a 512MB version. Apple makes an iPod for about the same price - you might have heard about it; it’s called the iPod mini. And its screen has more than 3 useless lines. The day I spend $170 for a 512MB Sony MP3 player is the day it’s a PlayStation Portable with a memory card, and doesn’t just play MP3s.

Are any of you guys and gals tired of hearing about these ersatz iPod competitors yet? Should we keep posting the news stories just so you can vent on them, or skip the “new competitor” stuff altogether unless something really important happens?

Backstage: Apple’s Bluetooth future begins with mice

By Jeremy Horwitz | 03.01.05 | 2 comments

pic Based on Apple’s public patent filings and job listings, that little verbal slip-up from Motorola’s car accessories division a couple of weeks ago, and the recent surprise introduction of Bluetooth 2.0+EDR components into the latest PowerBook laptop computers, we get the distinct impression that Bluetooth wireless technologies are about to make an even bigger splash in the iPod world than before. If you haven’t seen our reviews of Bluetake’s i-Phono wireless headphone system and TEN Technology’s naviPlay, they’re worth a few moments of your time: while both systems had their appeal, Apple’s integration of Bluetooth 2.0 into iPods or accessories would be a major step forward for audio quality and convenience, amongst other factors.

In addition to Apple’s own Bluetooth wireless keyboards and mice, a number of third-party companies have been developing Mac-friendly Bluetooth add-ons, and as Bluetooth fans, we’ve been playing with two of them for a while: MacMice’s The Mouse BT ($69.99), and Macally’s BTMicro ($44.99). Both have performed well as wireless accessories, interfacing flawlessly with our Bluetooth-equipped PowerBook, but as mice go, they feel about as different from one another as they get. The Mouse BT is a total style winner, with clear and metallic (or white) plastics that perfectly match Apple’s current computers, while the BTMicro is considerably cheaper, smaller, and surprisingly more precise in the specifics.

Both mice offer the two-button-and-a-scroll-wheel design that PC users accept as standard and many Mac users have come to prefer, but the buttons and wheel are a bit more responsive on the BTMicro: the wheel clicks in increments rather than scrolling smoothly, and the buttons click quicker. There are also rubberized grips on its sides for easy movement. Macally also includes AAA rechargeable batteries, a charging dock and power adapter; The Mouse BT doesn’t, and uses standard AA alkalines.

Despite the BTMicro’s numerous functional design benefits and pricing, we continue to be drawn to The Mouse BT on looks. It’s almost exactly the way we wanted Apple’s own Bluetooth mouse to look and work, albeit without the recharging dock that we think is key for wireless mouse accessories. That said, the BTMicro’s an easier sell - especially for travelers and those needing precision in their clicks and wheel scrolling.

Click on Read more below to see more shots of these Bluetooth accessories, and get a sense of what the future has in store.

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Backstage: A mini Skirt for Mac mini

By Jeremy Horwitz | 03.01.05 | 9 comments

pic A couple of weeks ago, we had a chance to check out Plasticsmith’s mini Tower, a clear acrylic Mac mini mounting accessory we thought was an unmitigated success. As it turned out, the company was simultaneously showing a clear horizontal mount (the mini Skirt), and we immediately thought, “hey, that would go really, really well with a glowing blue light.” It turned out that Plasticsmith was already working on one, and it’s just been released.

The mini Skirt glo ($29.95) is actually available in both blue and white versions, the latter a bright(er) complement to the minimalistic white power lamp on the Mac mini’s front. But the blue version offers the dramatic sort of neon glow that fans of modern customized cars and computers will love, casting light at all angles off the Mac mini’s bottom. Power is supplied by one of the Mac mini’s USB ports, and there’s an on-off switch, just in case you want to flip the lamp off without physically disconnecting the plug. Four rubber tips on the Skirt’s top keep your Mac mini’s bottom vents open.

We love the look and the price of the Skirt glo - admittedly, we’re suckers for blue lights, an addiction started by Griffin’s PowerMate and fueled by earlier acrylic offerings from MacMice. If the illumination concept works on any Macintosh, no doubt it’s best suited to the Mac mini, which is cheap enough to leave even students with cash on the table for accessories. The only issue: USB ports on the Mac mini are precious, and some people won’t or can’t occupy one with a purely decorative accessory. Since the Mac mini begs for a USB hub, Plasticsmith could have an even bigger hit on its hands if it dropped the on-off switch and sold a matching hub; if so, you’d probably never want to turn off the light. But if you already have the hub, put this one on your wish list.

Click on Read more for a bunch of additional photos.

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Backstage: The iPod family, cheaper, but fewer pack-ins

By Jeremy Horwitz | 02.23.05 | 27 comments

Back in January, I shared my suspicions that the San Francisco Macworld event would see some price changes for the iPod family - $149 to $599, perhaps $99 to $599, or maybe even $99 to $499. Truthfully, I never would have guessed that the numbers would be even lower - a $99 minimum and a $449 maximum. That just seemed too un-Apple. A $150 price cut on the 60GB iPod photo (that… I… just… bought…)? Impossible.

Well, that’s what happened this morning (see our front page news stories), and the world is hugely better off for it. iPods starting at $99, iPod minis starting at $199, full-sized iPods at $299, and color iPods at $349. I would use the words “insanely great,” but they seem a bit cliche. Lower prices = more iPod owners = more iPod lovers. And we love it when more people love their iPods.

There are only two little related jigs in the announcements. First, as with the fourth-generation iPod rollout, Apple accomplished the price breaks by dropping items from the boxes: mini owners lose power adapters ($29, for shame!) and FireWire cables ($19, okay), representing a - wait for it - $48 price difference. iPod photo owners lose the AV cable ($19, hmmm), FireWire cable ($19, okay), photo Dock ($39, ummm…), and Carrying Case ($29, eh), totalling $116. That one’s more acceptable, because these parts were each more optional - some way more optional - and there’s actually a bit of a price drop, besides.

The second and related point is this: we’re officially beginning to see the beginning of a backlash on the cost of iPod accessories, and this isn’t going to help matters. Most of the backlash is coming from the low end of the market, where prices are most sensitive, but people might otherwise be willing to buy reasonably priced extras. I think it’s going to be compounded by this pack-in decision. Having to buy your own AC adapter was just barely tolerable with the iPod shuffle. But will people feel the same about a $199-$249 iPod mini? And will having to buy an AC adapter for $29 sour someone on buying other (overpriced) accessories?

Apple had it right with the prior generation iPods: pack all the necessities into the box, and define necessities a bit loosely. Mac owners will want FireWire, PC owners will want USB, and the cables cost 50 cents a piece to make, so throw them in. The AC adapter? Costs a dollar or two, so toss that in, too - remember, some people (especially those with older computers) might not have powered USB or FireWire ports. Let people buy extra adapters and cables if they want to charge both at home and work.

When the new iPod mini was announced sans power adapter, it took about 3 minutes for people to message me with the first “what a bad move” gripes. While time will tell whether people -really- need the adapter or not, it would really stink for Apple to have any significant fraction of its new low-end customers feel like they’re being forced to buy a $29 adapter that other companies - and yesterday’s Apple - would have tossed in for free. Admittedly, I already have my 4GB mini and 60GB iPod photo boxes filled with the old pack-ins, and won’t be personally bothered by the missing items. What do you think?

Backstage: iPod shuffle Sport-cased and corded

By Jeremy Horwitz | 02.21.05 | 8 comments

pic When we received reviewable samples of Richard Forbes’ SportRope lanyard replacement for the iPod shuffle last week, we puzzled briefly over both its utility and its pricing. Then Forbes dropped the price from $18 to $9.95, and Marware delivered the iPod shuffle’s first third-party case, Sport Grip, for our perusal. Suddenly, the SportRope began to make more sense.

SportRopes come in eight colors, and we’ve seen a bunch of them. Initially, the part that didn’t make sense was that you’d actually have to destroy the shuffle’s packed-in lanyard in order to use the SportRope - pull it apart at the white plastic cap where its two ends are glued together. That wasn’t going to fly. But when Marware’s Sport Grip showed up with a keychain ring attached to its rubberized end hole… which was just the right size for the SportRope… we had one of those Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups moments. And yeah, the two items look pretty cool together. Forbes’ lanyard has a nice metal clasp that works perfectly with the case, once the keychain ring’s been detached. (Click on Read More for a larger photo.)

Though we have no reason to think that the companies are working together to produce mix-and-match sets, I personally think that selling packs or individuals of these cords and cases with different possible color matches would be a great idea. The only question: does anyone really care about iPod lanyards? Two of iLounge’s editors think not. I’m on the opposite side on this one, and dig lanyards - only for the shuffle. What do you think? Would/do you wear your shuffle this way?

Click here for more photos of the iPod shuffle + Sport Grip case.

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Backstage: Sonos Digital Music System, reviewed (updated)

By Jeremy Horwitz | 02.20.05 | 12 comments

picHas Sonos developed the home stereo of the future? If we were betting, we’d say “yes” - at least, something very much like the company’s new Digital Music System will soon come to replace the oversized stereo components that have dominated home audio for decades. Given the success of the iPod, it seems only natural that hard disk-based music players will become more common, and they’ll be accessed using iPod-like menuing systems, existing speakers and headphones, and soon enough, wireless technologies.

While Apple is focusing on the portable music market, Sonos has used these technologies to develop a decidedly iTunes/iPod-influenced high-end in-home audio system made for a very specific audience. If you’re a member of this audience – music lovers with their own homes and some extra cash – definitely read on. If not, you may still want to learn about the future of digital music in your home, because Sonos definitely has the right general idea, and we’re sure to see the same concept implemented elsewhere in the near future. Click on Read More for our full review of the Sonos Digital Music System, including its iPodesque remote control and Mac miniesque ZonePlayer receiver/transmitter units.

[Updated Editor’s Note: We’re happy to report that Sonos has just posted to the Internet an updated Mac version of the Sonos Setup Assistant that resolves the Mac compatibility issue we noted in our earlier review. The revised Assistant is discussed inside in an update to the review.]

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