Backstage: iPod Photo initial impressions

Apple’s more than used to the haters by now – people who proclaim each of the company’s new products a likely flop based on price, or grouse about another company’s product that’s almost but not quite the same. But time and experience have given Apple another benefit: the opportunity to see their haters proved wrong. Often repeatedly.

Having played with the 60GB iPod Photo a bunch, it’s fair to say that the haters have at best a 30% chance of proving right on this one. Apple made at least three mistakes with the device – making its photo features less than intuitive to use in iTunes; seemingly requiring a potentially lengthy initial “optimizing” process for photos to be iPod-ready; and pricing it at a unfriendly $599.

But they’ve done at least as many things right. Very right. The iPod Photo’s new screen is wickedly beautiful, turning on quite unexpectedly with a vivid blue Apple logo (right) and using an interface that’s half iPod, half Mac OS X. (The familiar abstract sun/clock “processing” logo appears on the screen, and subtle grey touches with colorful non-interactive icons recall Apple’s Aqua interface.) Higher resolution, an even better white backlight, and the use of the Myriad font seriously improve the iPod’s look and feel – much more readable text can fit on screen, too, and long song titles now scroll in lists, not just when playing back.

Photos look very good on the screen, and are far more identifiable in thumbnail view than one would expect. TV playback of the photos is reasonably easy, too, though it could be even better, and users can create slideshows on the fly using the iPod’s interface. Keeping your photos and music synced with the iPod should be a real snap once the initial transfers of your libraries are done, too.

The only issue in my mind remains the one I identified in advance of the iPod Photo’s launch: do people really want to carry around their photo collections? Is that feature worth an extra $100 over the standard 4G iPod, absent the ability to transfer photos from a digital camera direct to the iPod?

There’s much more to say, and I’ll be saving much of it for our official review, but I like the iPod Photo a lot so far. It reminds me that Apple always has its eye on the future – one future, at least – even when the majority of its fans are very happy with what they already have.

Photos of iPod Photo

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