Which iPods, iPhones, and Add-Ons We Traveled With, and Why

Which iPods, iPhones, and Add-Ons We Traveled With, and Why 1

Question: You just returned from a trip to Asia. Since you have access to every iPod on the market, plus the iPhone, I’d be curious to know which you brought along? And what accessories did you consider essential?

Answer: When I’ve previously traveled internationally, I typically brought only one iPod for my daily use. This trip was really different. Our collection currently includes all five of the current iPod shuffles, all five iPod nanos, one 80GB and one 160GB iPod classic, and a 16GB iPod touch. My wife and I both have iPhones. And we also have access to all of the past iPods, minis, nanos, and shuffles too.

To make a long story short, we couldn’t find the right single iPod for this two-week trip. For reasons I’ll explain below, both of us took iPod classics, my wife brought her 60GB fifth-generation iPod, and I brought my iPhone.

We—and our family members—are big fans of portable video display accessories such as Memorex’s iFlip and Sonic Impact’s Video-55. When we’re traveling by air, we prefer the iFlip because of its dual headphone ports, the rare situation when the Video-55’s superior speakers and included remote control don’t help it. Unfortunately, since Apple locked all of the new iPods from working with these and other video accessories, we couldn’t just bring our iPod classics, which would otherwise have been totally fine for the trip. My wife’s 5G iPod came along solely because it could provide video entertainment with the iFlip—she used the 80GB classic for her growing high-quality music collection.

I brought the 160GB iPod classic because it contains almost my entire iTunes library, which is now much too large to fit on my laptop’s internal hard drive, and because it has superb battery life—enough to last for the 16+ hours we were going to be spending in the air. The only problem is that I really don’t enjoy watching videos on the 2.5” screen; there’s no such issue with the iPhone’s 3.5” display, but that’s capped at only 8GB of capacity. Wouldn’t that make the 16GB iPod touch a smarter tote-along than the iPhone?

Normally, yes. But even after replacing our iPod touch two times—we’re now on our third—the screen still sucks. And by “sucks,” I mean that it really is not fun to watch videos on unless it’s being held at just the right angle. As of the last time I checked at an Apple Store, I was told by the manager and lead Genius that Apple is still not acknowledging these screen problems as an actual issue, despite whatever the company said to Walt Mossberg at the Wall Street Journal. Consequently, our third touch, a week 40 with a bad screen, is here to stay, but it never gets used. I realize that some people, probably lots of people, have units with working screens, but based on our experiences, there are days when I think our B- rating was too generous.


So the iPhone came along just in case I wanted to watch the occasional video from my pocket during the trip, and to see whether I could get it to jump onto any of Japan’s or Thailand’s cell phone networks. It’s not unlocked, but mid-trip I upgraded to software version 1.1.2 and began to see the Network Selection settings screen when I was in Thailand. Even with the international data roaming feature turned on, and trying everything from automatic to manual selection of the five GSM networks it found in Bangkok, it never succeeded in joining a Thai cellular network. Passing back through Tokyo with 1.1.2 on our way back to the United States, I tried again, and not surprisingly, the iPhone couldn’t join anything there either—Japan is basically a CDMA country and just not compatible with the hardware in the iPhone. South Korea and Israel are in a similar boat; it remains to be seen whether Apple will release an iPhone that works in these territories.

During the trip, I carried the iPhone around intermittently in Airplane Mode for light music and video playback, and briefly jumped onto the wireless networks at the two Tokyo Apple Stores when we were waiting for their doors to open. My classic and both of my wife’s iPods stayed unused in the hotels’ safes unless we were on planes. In the air, we used her 5G with the iFlip for videos, and I listened to music and turned on an Office episode or two on my classic. She used Sennheiser’s PXC450 Noise-Cancelling Headphones; despite bringing both my preferred prototype Ultimate Ears UE-11 earphones and Shure SE530s along, I spent most of the trip using JAYS’ tiny and convenient q-JAYS with an ifrogz Fitz adapter for the iPhone, occasionally flipping back to a standard Apple iPhone Stereo Headset.

What’s wrong with this picture is fairly obvious. The two of us had to carry around more than we wanted, solely because there isn’t a high-capacity iPod with a 3.5” screen, and there also isn’t a current generation iPod that works with all the video accessories we have and really like to use. No typical user would have access to all of the hardware we do, nor the desire to try and figure out which “Made for iPod” accessories work or don’t work with the new iPods they were thinking of buying. It’s a real disincentive to buy an iPod right now, say nothing of a reason to not buy (or disappointedly return) accessories.

So, during this trip, we voted with our pocketbooks. Unlike past trips to Asia, where we’ve typically picked up and spotlighted new iPod accessories that intrigued us, we decided not to buy anything this time. The only iPod-related money we spent was on content: my wife bought the new Eagles CD in Thailand and I listened to Jay-Z’s American Gangster, neither of which are available on iTunes. With rare exceptions, we really didn’t take notes on most of the accessories we saw, and we may well be reaching a point where that market is becoming commoditized and boring enough that new releases don’t really matter that much, anyway. Right now, we’re hoping to be really wowed by something amazing at CES or Macworld Expo in January; if not, the days of the newsworthy iPod accessory may be coming to an end.

  1. Great article!

    Taking advantage of the fact that you’re a fan of large iPod-compatible video displays, I have a question:

    It seems as though third-party developers have been rather silent about developing new video display accessories or video compatible docks that are compatible with the latest crop of iPods (chip friendly).

    As far as I can tell, the only option at the present time to display video from a new iPod is to purchase Apple’s own cable solutions.

    There are great video accessories out there by Philips and DLO, to name a few. Do you get a sense that these and other companies will be releasing new video accessories in the near future?

    Regards from Puerto Vallarta, Mexico

    Paco Ojeda

  2. cool article … thanks Jeremy.

    One question: if Apple had just come out and said “we are changing our video out technology starting with the current crop of video-enabled iPods/iPhones” would you still be so upset about it? Your views on the chip issue are quite clear and consistent, but seem to involve two very different complaints: 1) making people buy new accessories for no good reason, and 2) giving people no assurance that their newly bought accessories will work with later generations of iPods.

    Suppose Apple said that the authentication chip change has to do with future products (say, movie rentals coming to the iTMS) and that this change was necessary for that reason. Would you still be so upset about this issue? Is your objection to the change or just the way the change was brought about?


  3. “I brought the 160GB iPod classic”

    I have been wanting to buy the classic for the longest time but have been put off by all the horror stories. Have you suffered from any/many of the reported problems?

  4. pacopv: Yes, I get the sense that companies are basically being forced to re-release their products with authentication chips inside, and that these will begin to appear in stores at some time between December and January. The first chip-based portable video solution we’ve seen just arrived in the form of Myvu Solo Plus, which is in first looks now, but it’s a pair of goggles rather than a fold-out screen.

    december: My answer to your initial question is “yes.” Imagine if Apple released 2008 iPods with a music lock and required you to use chip-locked, Apple-approved earphones in order to hear the music. No matter whether this was disclosed in advance or not, it would be sickening. The same thing happened with video. And it could easily happen with wireless audio next.

    My answer to your second question is “yes.” People, including developers, have heard whispers that movie rentals or some other yet-to-be-announced video functionality in the new iPods (higher-definition content playback) might be used as a justification for these chips, and that copy protection would be blamed for their inclusion. There is no more reason to lock down all video output from the iPod than to lock down all audio output for songs. It is a violation of the “we only add, we don’t take away features” principle Apple has espoused. If Apple wants to prevent rented videos from playing on past devices, fine, signal to the iPod that they need to be treated differently; if it wants to lock better-than-S-Video-quality output with a chip, sure. But locking all video content and output in order to appease the video industry, which is no friend of consumer rights? And doing it without any advance warning or disclosure? And doing it after people have spent hundreds of dollars on “Made for iPod” video accessories? Awful, awful, awful.

    Blaine2000: Only one, the sluggish interface issue, which only happens when there’s a lot of album art and an older version of the firmware. Which other horror stories are you referring to?

  5. thanks Jeremy … i have to agree that Apple’s decision to lock video out makes the “Made for iPod” a pretty much useless designation. I would quibble that audio and video have always been treated differently as far as DRM is concerned, although i agree that precedent is not really a justification in this case.

    The classic is not going to be a compelling upgrade for people with 5th Gen iPods so they will be well served with their existing accessories. I guess my only thought was that if this new change to video-out sets the stage for big advances in video content for the next several generations of iPods then so be it. Apple “screwed over” a whole bunch of people when they got rid of firewire. That no longer seems like such a big deal. Maybe this chip issue will be like that.

  6. december: The FireWire thing was nothing by comparison with this — it affected mostly Mac users, and even then, the fix was simple: switch to the free packed-in USB cable that comes with your new iPod and you’re all set.

    Requiring authentication chips for video-out access has lots of consequences, none of them positive for end users. And ultimately, suggesting that content protection was to blame is sort of ridiculous if you think about it. It’s not like the iPod’s video output is specially scrambled once it’s connected to composite or component cables — the video’s every bit as vulnerable to duplication as it was before. And you don’t need magic authenticated cables for hi-def video out from your computer or from an Apple TV.

    That said, if duplication of better-than-DVD quality video was the concern, the wise move would have been to permit unlocked composite and S-Video output, and lock only hi-def component output. You can guess as to why this wasn’t done.

  7. Please help an iPod virgin! I am completely clueless as to what iPod I should purchase. There are so many current choices, not to mention all of the older models available on the various auction sites. I have never owned an iPod and don’t know what a good option would be. I want to have plenty of storage speace, but only anticipate using it for music, not video. Can you advise me what my best option would be?The new Classic seems to have more storage space than I anticipate ever needing, and it is pricier due to the video capabilities I don’t need. Any help you can offer me is appreciated. Thank you!

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