Friday, April 10, 2009

The iPod Touch

I like to keep up with technology, but when a new resident arrived on campus with his Apple iPhone, I was caught by surprise when the iPhone could measure sound and reverberation in the Great Room and work as a carpenter's level in adjusting the speakers.   What do we have here?, I asked to myself.  A phone???

After all, when the iPhone came out, it had just a few proprietary "pda" computer-like applications.  Also, it was very, very small, and very thin.  You had to buy a phone plan.  We already had a contract cell family plan with t-Mobile.  

With a great display and touch screen, this phone was still a lightyear ahead of the competition.   It was a super MP3 player and even could serve as an external hard drive for your computer, with plenty of computer memory, and you could even stream some movies to it and play computer games.      This was actually a very powerful tiny but full--blown computer.   It could connect with wifi.    Still, even so, its full potential was locked up.

But something has happened in the meantime.     Competition and foresight has led Apple to open up the phone to development of new computer uses or "apps" by others.    When there was a huge response and uses exploded, Apple went even further and offered developers new tools to do more.    Thousands of so-called "apps" appeared.   The price of apps was slashed.  The Apple store was opened to nearly all.   Then, the "iTouch" (iPod Touch) twin of iPhone was offered as a tiny computer without phoning, billed as a tiny computer and not a phone at all.

Everywhere I go I now am more aware of younger people pulling one or the other of these things out of their pockets.     You need them for everything.     Pictures, prices, directions, Email, reading, eBooks, audible books, texting, appointment calendar, contact and phone list, restaurant guide, recipes, grocery list, latest news, music and recorded broadcasts and telecasts (podcasts), the weather, translations, sports, exercise programs, maps and directions, and bird-identification.  Even reading a little of the latest news on screen directly from the good old-fashioned newspaper or magazine, automatically delivered to it.  Oh yeah.

Then recently Apple announced iPhone #3, coming in June.  

There has been some scoffing about the fact that the phone is mainly physically unchanged in Version 3.0, although video recording is rumored..   Well...

The scoffers missed the point.     This is all about software and new uses.   About new things you can do with it.   The phone is truly a computer, and is so well designed that it is easy to use.     The screen is bright.    It takes up little space in pocket or purse..     Applications are often free, usually no more than a few dollars, and frequently offer simply to make things easier.  Usage is intuitive.    Microsoft should be so smart.  (They're trying now, though it is hard to teach the old dog new tricks.)     The upgrade software is free for iPhone and $10 for iTouch.

The screen seems small only until you realize that most of your life you read newspaper columns even smaller, eight to a page, eight-point type, and without backlighting.   And here the type enlarges with a single two-finger or double-tap motion.     The device even works as a mouse for your regular computer or as a TV guide.    The device can serve as a super remote for DirectTV.  For Dish TV,the other satellite system, greatly simplified remote access to satellite and internet TV is in final testing.   You also get access to your main computer.

That explains why I walked into the Apple store to see what was going on and came out five minutes later with an iTouch, the iPhone without the phone plan, and without GPS, navigation, or camera.  The iTouch looks just like the phone and, as of a few days ago, even now does Skype wifi phoning, such as at our main campus, or our Community Center, where even our cell phone sometimes doesn't work.   The iTouch, again, is without a plan, without a contract, and without cell-tower phoning, but with Wifi phoning.

The main iPhone itself is for high-speed internet ANYWHERE, even out identifying flowers, or birding, whereas the iTouch is high-speed only near wifi. 

The keyboard is great for small children with small hands.    This was not meant for writing novels.    Besides, all this is changing in June, when 3.0 comes along.   The keyboard will be enlarged to landscape mode.    I hope one day for an external keyboard, maybe a tiny flex-rollup or laser unit.  This device is mainly for access, not for creation of media (yet), though there is now even a blog editor.
The concept is so good that it is hard to imagine anyone doing better.     Apple paid attention to the user, and it will be a while until someone betters them., though all the major cell phone makers are furiously working on other devices, Google among them with something called Android.     A weak point in the Apple iTouch is the inability to date to run so-called flash video, one of the the main standard engines for video for PCs, plus it has some small remaining restrictions on content.  Still, it runs a lot of video.

So, now to keep learning yet a still different way of doing things.  I was getting nearsighted from squinting at it, but more and more, websites are designed or converted to the mobile scrolling of newspaper column format for easy reading. There is actually a developing app that sends the iTouch's screen to a big computer and TV, with or without cable.   For sound, who needs anything better?

If you do happen to walk into the Apple store and come out with one, the case is slippery as a clam and you need a protective skin around it, also to cushion its glass touch-screen, though many do just keep it loose it in their pocket or purse.   You might even come out with a cell iPhone complete with GPS and camera, and access to internet from anywhere at all.  

Look for this item on Google: "Review: iPhone apps for nearly every waking minute"

Search for cheap iTouch skins and cases on Amazon.   LIke $8 shipped.