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iPod Video Dissection 83

alaswhatever writes "HowStuffWorks has gutted an iPod Video and taken pictures of everything.The article talks about exactly what's inside and explains how the touch-sensitive Click Wheel works." From the article: "Although the iPod is an Apple product, it works with both Mac and Windows machines. Since it's the top-selling media player in the United States, probably the big question is: What makes it different from any other digital media player?"
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iPod Video Dissection

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  • by dada21 ( 163177 ) * <> on Monday March 13, 2006 @02:48PM (#14909555) Homepage Journal
    I've looked at numerous MP3 players, including my t809 cell phone and a multitude of PDAs I've used over the years. The iPod has a decent interface, but I feel it is lacking for me as I have a huge volume of music and the iPod doesn't give me a very quick way to access various songs on-the-fly. I'd love to see a manufacturer come out with a new way to navigate very quickly -- AI like. I'm thinking we a need invention: something like what T9 did to SMS messaging.

    Of all the MP3 players, I've seen numerous ones that I liked, but the iPod won out mostly because the dame of the house prefers the interface. She has two.

    The three reasons for the iPod rule, from what I've been able to deciper, are:

    1. Marketing -- massive marketing
    2. De-geeked interface (including copying songs)
    3. Marketing

    There has not been a bigger marketing campaign of any device, and in the long run I think it is marketing that helps to win the battle when everything else is equal. Yes, the de-geeked factor was a big reason for success with the girlfriends, parents and even grandparents, but I don't think it is the main reason for success.

    Apple took huge risks to earn this reward, but that's how business is: those who risk the most earn the most rewards, if they earn at all.

    Side note: Has it really been over 10 years since I first downloaded an MP3?
    • by gEvil (beta) ( 945888 ) on Monday March 13, 2006 @02:53PM (#14909593)
      ...and the iPod doesn't give me a very quick way to access various songs on-the-fly.

      I have the exact opposite opinion. The iPod acceleration works quite well. It takes a second or two of frantic spinning to get it going, but once it does, I usually end up hitting the end of the list in no time.
      • I usually end up hitting the end of the list in no time

        And so do I, which is usually quite annoying as I'm rarely after the last artist in my library. While I think the iPod has got closer to handling large libraries than any other MP3 player that I've used, but it's still far from ideal.

        • Short of something like audible commands (like voice dialing on some phones), the best solution I've come up with is to use playlists as shortcuts to certain artists I like and want to play frequently. It would be great to have a voice interface, though. Imagine (for example) just saying, "Pantera", "Great Southern Trendkill", and have it play that.
    • Well there is always the roll your own UI. Rockbox has a very customisable GUI, I haven't used it but my cousin has been raving about it on his iRiver. They have a beta for the iPod going - although you have to get it from the CVS iirc. [] then there is iPod linux, and ones own coding skillz.
    • As an experiment, I timed myself picking out an arbitrary specific song on my iPod from the "Songs" list. It turned out to be song 458 out of 775 and I reached it within 12 seconds (from the top-level menu, so I'd say I spent about 10 seconds looking for it in the list). Scrolling from the top of that list of 775 to the bottom takes about three seconds. I don't scroll this way very often, as I prefer to play by album or playlist, so I would probably be better at it with practice.

      By comparison, typing "so
      • I agree -- the iPod interface is way better than anything else out there now. I still feel there is room for improvement, unfortunately I have no idea what that improvement would be or how to go about inventing it. If I did, I'd be very wealthy :)

        I've been thinking about the iPod interface for weeks now, trying to think of interesting ways to get from A to B to X to Y faster. No solution has come to me yet, but serendipity is an amazing thing.

        Will someone come out with a better interface? I have no idea
        • Well, the only thing I can think of is that on the 5G iPods, if a song is already playing, the framerate for the song browser decreases significantly, which is kinda annoying. This wasn't the case on the 3G iPod that I used to have. I'm probably one of the few people who doesn't work by playlists, since I don't know what I want to listen to until about 30 seconds before I play it. And I have an over 400 CD collection, which makes it worse. Still, I have to admit, it's pretty incredible how fast I can get to

          • "Only *I* know what I want to hear, and I'm very picky about playing exactly what I want to hear, which is why I don't use playlists."

            Yeah....the playlist is a strange paradigm to me too...I ran into it the first time when trying to use iTunes to carry some songs to a vacation in MX. The search did seem to revolve around assuming you had playlists set up.

            I have most all my collection on a linux box 'media box', all ripped to flac. I usually just drag and drop songs at will say, in the morning on a

            • Sounds like what you do every morning is set up a playlist.

              Try this when you get an iPod: sit down in the morning, use iTunes to drag some songs to a playlist (say, Today's Songs), synch with your iPod (only takes a second for a new/modified playlist) and away you go... your playlist for today.

              I actually didn't use playlists at all for a long time because the genre selection was fine. Now I use smart playlists to give me selections that contain multiple genres, like instrumental and vocal.
              • This is exactly why I said this was not an option for me.

                I don't know what I want to listen to until about 30 seconds before I play it.

                30 seconds: the song right before it. By that I meant that my "playlist" for the day is adaptive, on the spot. It doesn't matter if I setup a playlist of songs 10 seconds before I start it playing, then the second song on the list will be wrong. I mean, this is an exaduration, but I'm trying to make a point. I don't wake up thinking, "What kind of music do I want to li

                • I didn't say you have to listen to the playlist from start to end, in order!

                  You said you sit down in the morning, grab some songs for the day, then go? Right? That's a playlist. I never EVER listen to anything in order. Always random, hit the skip button if I don't like what popped up. As you say, the iPod makes it easy to scroll to a particular song if you don't like my skip method.

                  I suggested the playlist because that's what you seemed to be doing -- paring down your massive collection into something
            • Uh, note that I didn't say next Tuesday. =) But most likely on some Tuesday, some time in the future.
          • Let's not forget, though, the touch wheel is based off of jog wheels from video editing bays

            Absolutely right - and yet I understand that somehow Apple was allowed to patent it. So now no other company can incrementally improve on the interface in the way Apple originally did. It's a damn shame - my Zen Sleek, for example, was obviously designed by someone who understood the problem of navigating long lists, because it gives you the ability to jump to a particular letter in a list of tracks/artists/whatever,
        • A to B to X to Y faster.

          Vertical List Wrap.

          Of course the cursor should go all the way to the top of the list before it wraps, and all the way to the bottom before it wraps the other way. And it should require two 'click-units' to jump from top to bottom or vice-versa.

          Patent Me.
        • I still feel there is room for improvement, unfortunately I have no idea what that improvement would be or how to go about inventing it.

          Don't worry, once somebody comes up with a way, everybody will tell you how obvious the solution is ;-)

      • I'd prefer my iPod not come with a keyboard, thanks. I think most people would as well. The normal user (including me) probably looks for a specific song maybe once in a blue moon. The iPod does give you the ability to look for things by type (podcast, music, book, etc.) genre, playlist, artist, song title, etc. The cascaded menus are great for that. Usually I go to a specific type (podcast or movie) and look for a particular item or a genre or playlist and hit play.
      • Well, I typed this entire sentence in about three seconds. People argue with me about this all the time, but I maintain that the efficiency of operation is directly proportional to the number of buttons you can readily use, assuming the interface is otherwise straightforward. "Apple is God," they cry, "their products don't NEED buttons." Humbug.

        It would help if MP3 enabled phones -- as in: storage of several GB of MP3s, not merely enough room to store a 20 second clip at 8kbps -- which would produce qual
    • by defy god ( 822637 ) on Monday March 13, 2006 @03:09PM (#14909739)

      i'm confused... when you say de-geeked interface, i get images of "easier to use." isn't that a good thing? the world doesn't doesn't like compiling their own software, using a CLI, or tweaking every single option just to get a merginal speed boost. that's what i think of when i hear geek interface. that's what i see when i look at other MP3 players with "more features." yes, it's great that it can decode mpeg2, divx, ogg vorbis, and [insert latest codec here], but does it achieve its original purpose easily? people buy these MP3 players (it's become generic... MP3 player = digital music player, though MP3 is still the dominant format used) to play their MP3s. if it does it well, then great!

      and the iPod does indeed play MP3s well. no, i don't mean just sound quality, but on how people can actually play their music. people can easily browse and navigate their player to find the songs they want. they can easily create playlists with the provided software, iTunes. they can manage their giant music collections,again easily, and load them onto their iPod. from the clickwheel, to the iPod interface, to the syncing software, Apple has been very keen to look at the minute details on what it takes to actually play one's music.

      after that, everything else is secondary. now, Apple's made it easy to watch television shows and music videos on the iPod. i really do think that's the approach all these music player companies should take. first, make sure the very basic features are complate, then work on the added stuff. sure, as a geek i'd love more options and more codecs, but please, PLEASE, for the love of [deity], perfect your original function first before trying to add on other fluff.

      • You're right, and I'm not disagreeing that the iPod interface isn't the king of the hill right now. I just think there is another interface waiting to be found that might work better, faster, and more intuitively rather than a scroll-list.

        I was thinking maybe there is a way to add letters to the scroll wheel -- sort of like T9. If you scroll the wheel, it enters scroll mode. But if your fingers slightly tape the various locations of the letters, it enters a text entry mode -- not T9, per se, but a predic
        • The trouble with that method is that you're not playing songs in isolation. When you pick a song, you'll have selected it from the song, album, artist, composer or playlist menus normally, which then tells the iPod which other songs to buffer. By the time you've typed in the name of the song and then chosen which context to play it in, you may as well have gone through the usual selection process, especially if the song title is more than a couple of words long.
        • but clicking quickly top, top, top-left, top might enter "ACDC" if the timing was right.

          You might also discover the iPod's special attack capability.
    • You forgot one of the reasons for the iPod's rule:
      Perfect form factor.

      Prior to the iPod you had CD sized large capacity MP3 players, or iPod sized low capacity flash players. The iPod bridged that gap quite nicely by providing high density small size players.

      Now EVERYONE has a deck of cards sized MP3 player with touch pad and screen. Before the iPod it was a mess of buttons and UI elements.

      So the top three, in order of history:
      1) Perfect form factor
      2) De-geeked interface
      3) Marketing

      You can't after all, market crap. There has to be something marketable in the first place.
    • Apple took huge risks to earn this reward, but that's how business is: those who risk the most earn the most rewards, if they earn at all.

      Actually, Apple has always been a few years behind the curve when it comes to mp3 players - unwilling to jump into a new market but instead preferrig to wait for others to prove its viability and take the legal flak.

      Saehan's 1998 MPMan F10 [] - the world's first flash memory mp3 player.

      Diamond's 1998 Rio PMP300 [] - first major US company taken to court by the RIAA for providin
    • I'd say the integrated iTunes Music Store played a big role, too... the iTunes software is about a times easier to use than the garbage put out by, e.g., Creative Labs, and I can buy a song on the Music Store and be listening to it on my iPod in under a minute all with the same piece of software.

      Whether you include that under the heading of "marketing" I don't know, but that was one of the big selling points of the iPod for me after dealing with a Creative Jukebox and then an RCA Lyra and their attendant
      • Very true. Heck, my minidisc player was exactly what I need as far as navigation and capacity went (four CDs worth of music is more than my typical playlist, though it can become problematic for those longer trips in the car of whatever), and a good 50 hours of tunes on a single AA battery. What ruined it? That utterly craptastic NetMD software. Oh the horrors. Like, almost up there with Windows ME. Maybe even worse, considering I never had ME installed on one of my computers.

        And when I first got my

        • Yeah, UI for me. Not just iPod UI, but iTunes too. My father tried a bunch of non-iPod mp3 players and hated them all because they were difficult to get music onto. I bought him a mini for his birthday and he loves it. iTunes is easy to use, you hook up your iPod, wait a short time and you're done.
        • "Just throw this out there... is there any free (legal) software other than iTunes that has unlimited ripping and burning support?"

          While it lacks a little bit in user-friendliness with regard to setup, Exact Audio Copy [] (EAC) is by far my favorite ripping software. You just throw in a recent LAME dll [] and rip with ease. It also claims to handle burning, though I've never tried that feature. The best selling point of EAC is its slow but extremely reliable "secure copy" mode, which reads the disc "very carefu

          • Fair point, however iTunes gives you the same pick-your-playlist syncing (or whatever), and has the LAME encoder built in as well (it's there, no adding it in yourself). I've never had a bad MP3 file either using any ripper I've ever used, so I'd put that down as a null point (unless you have insanely scratched CDs it should never be a problem; I don't). Don't get me wrong, I used to hate iTunes with a passion, but once I gave it a chance it's easy UI and integration is, IMO, second to none. The Japanese

    • You can fool some people with marketing but not everyone multiple times. The fact is the ipod works amazingly well. Is it perfect? No. But I think its the best out there and I'd buy another one if this one dies (its 2 years old, and running gread (knock on wood).

      David pouge has 6 reasons in His NYTimes article...

      In fact, at least six factors make the iPod such a hit: cool-looking hardware; a fun-to-use, variable-speed scroll wheel; an ultrasimple software menu; effortless song synchronization with Mac or Wi
    • Critics of the iPod consistently cite marketing as the number one reason for its success. Granted, Apple is very good at marketing, and iPod ads are all over the place, but if it is mostly marketing then why can't anyone else hire equally good ad agencies and grab a big chunk of market share?

      The most important factor is that no one else has the whole system (player, software, music store) working as seamlessly as Apple does. Apple has also been aggressive at bringing integration of things like podcasts an
    • Considering the marketing effort Apple puts into most its products, I'd say the reasons Apple is dominating the mp3 player market are: interface, interface, aesthetics (including size), interface, the fact that it's entering a new market (as opposed to its computer section) and interface*

      * Yeah and a bit of marketing
    • I think some sort of search function would be nice though might be hard to do without being slow to enter (scroll-click, scroll-click, scroll-click, etc.) for most audio players, or adding a number pad for T9-like stuff and I think that's a pain too. I think you may be better off making sure your tagging is correct and look it up by artist and album name, or setting up new playlists. Setting up smart playlists has a lot of merits too. I set a few by number of play counts or unlistened within the last cer
  • As usual, wikipedia has a great article about the iPod [] (and of course it has less adds than TFA.

  • There's an error in the first sentence of the How Stuff Works article. The first iPod had only a 5 gigabyte hard drive. I'll report on subsequent errors as I find them. Thank me later.
  • Sum of Parts (Score:3, Interesting)

    by necro81 ( 917438 ) on Monday March 13, 2006 @03:20PM (#14909847) Journal
    If they are asking the question about the iPod's dominance, they are probably looking in the wrong place by dissecting it. Sure, the iPod's appealing form factor and capabilities are determined by its components, but I think everyone here would agree that it takes far more than that to make a winning product. Just think of all the other awesome products out there, with great form factor and a nice feature list, that failed utterly.
    • You can learn a few things by taking apart an iPod. Compare, for example with a Creative Vision:M w-to-disassemble-the-creative-zen-vision-m.php [] []

      You will notice, for one thing, that the iPod's PCB is about half the size of the Vision's; this corresponds to the size of the mp3 player, and battery life. 1250mAH for the Vision and 700mAH for the iPod, and they both rate at 14 hours. The size of the mp3 player speaks
      • Does any of that actually matter? I don't particularly care about the size of the motherboard inside the thing, I just want to know that it does what I want.

        (In fact, I suspect the Vision M's motherboard is bigger and draws more power simply because it does a lot more than the iPod - it supports a much wider range of video and audio codecs, and can output at four times the resolution in four times as more colours.
        • Of course it doesn't matter. If you choose not to care about details, then all that matters is outcome.

          All I'm implying is that you might be able to glean some of the reasons for the iPod's success despite worthy competitors such as the Vision by it's physical design and engineering:

          1) Smaller components (such as motherboard and battery)
          2) Higher efficiency (same battery life, but smaller battery)
          3) Better layout (smaller form factor because of smaller components)

          Those just hint at the physical and philosop
  • My Take (Score:2, Insightful)

    by polyp2000 ( 444682 )
    I have an iPod - I admit it, im a fashion victim.

    Actually there were some other reasons. Id bought cheaper mp3 players in the past , the build quality was terrible knackered after not very long. I decided that buying a cheap one was a false economy. I'd seen my brothers and the iPod seemed much better built and bigger capacity. The other reason was this click wheel thing everyone was raving about. Now i'll agree that it does to a certain extent make navigation easier - but the click-wheel could be so much b
    • One thing i would change about the iPod is to get rid of the annoying dependancy on iTunes. Why in hell can't i just drag and drop a file onto the thing ala mass-storage device? and vice-versa?

      Because of the way the iPod works: it keeps track of the songs in a local database that iTunes writes the song info to. The only MP3 player I've owned is an iPod, so I don't get the obsession with treating it like some portable version of WinAmp.

    • Re:My Take (Score:3, Informative)

      by lyonsden ( 543685 )
      The other thing is that id really like the iPod to have the ability to look for tunes beginning with a specific letter.

      You are in luck! You can do that very thing easily using smart playlists.

      1. Create a smart playlist for each letter you are interested in (up to 26)
      2. Sync it to your iPod
      3. Listen to your music the way you want to listen to your music.

      Any questions?

      • Any questions?

        (raises hand)

        What if my letter appears in some place other than the first position? For instance, "Beck" would show up in Smart Playlists that contain "B", "E", "C", and "K" -- not just under "B". Speaking of, have you ever noticed if you write the word "BECK" on an index card, turn it upside down, and look at it in a mirror, it will say: "BECK"? You have not? OK.

        • Re:My Take (Score:1, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward
          but, if instead of 'contains', you used the inclulded 'starts with' feature . . .

    • One thing i would change about the iPod is to get rid of the annoying dependancy on iTunes.
      I've got an iPod, and I don't use iTunes. There are other alternatives, including EphPhod [] and gtkpod [] (my personal favorite) which work very well. I send my own gripped, DRM-free mp3 files to my iPod with gtkpod and am able to enjoy my device without the iTunes apron-strings (DRM, Windows, etc.).
  • My 20gb Rio Karma has a variable-scroll thumb wheel. It's more natural to use, and in a more ergonomic position than the click wheel. The player might not be as cute or trendy as an iPod, but I find the interface more intuitive than the iPod's.

    Okay, the software sucks, which is why I wouldn't recommend it to any of my friends. But what other MP3 player has an ethernet port for network uploads!
    • Amen Brother!!

      LOVE the Rio Karma's navation system.
    • Careful...don't ever say anything good about the Karma. Some iPod user (who of course use to use a karma) will come out and say how the harddrive in the player didn't work right and they almost always say how it took at least 2 replacements before it was resolved. Oh, and the little red knob would fall off.

      Oh, and how dare you say the karma wheel interface was better! Blasphemy! Frankly, I'm stunned you haven't been properly chastised yet. Lord knows it happens to me whenever I make the mistake of brin
    • I am thirlled with my Karma. It saddens me to see that the thing doesn't get the support of other brands. I actually am on my second: I left the first on an airplane and some sh!tbag decided to keep it for him/herself, rather than doing the civilized thing and notifying the lost/found.

      Anyway...I like the click-wheel (thought I wish the software would let me run 'around the horn'. My son has an iPod mini, and I guess I just can't get on board with the lack of tactile feedback. Just me, I suppose, because
    • The other poster is right - it's quite surprising that you haven't been flamed by iPod junkies for this comment about the scroll knob. The Rio Karma is meant to be held face-up in the palm of the right hand, with the bottom of the thumb pressed against the right side for stability while the top of the thumb is raked back and forth across the scroll knob. There are other ways to hold and use it, but they demand two hands, or are awkward and partially obscure the screen. Most people manipulate an iPod by h
    • The karma was my first hard disk-based MP3 player. It was really great, but it ended up having the weak headphone connection that plagued the line. The software (for Linux/OSX) was VERY flaky, and the ethernet wouldn't work for me unless I had it in 10Mbps mode (the computer's NIC, that is).

      The interface *was* very good, and it was so small. I liked, but upgraded to a more reliable player about 8 months afterward.
  • The Big Answer (Score:2, Interesting)

    by nuckin futs ( 574289 )
    Since it's the top-selling media player in the United States, probably the big question is: What makes it different from any other digital media player?"

    because it's tied to, and works seamlessly with the easiest, most popular online music store in existence. what other company has a complete, one stop shop, all in one solution that works with itunes?
  • Why is the slashdot community obsessed with the iPod? No better news or topics of discussion?
    Note: I own an iPod shuffle and 4th Gen. 40 GB iPod, but am growing tired of the fruitless perpetuation of iPod talks.
  • by salesgeek ( 263995 ) on Monday March 13, 2006 @09:33PM (#14912592) Homepage
    I keep reading marketing... marketing... marketing... on reasons why iPod succeeded. There's a lot more to it that slick packaging, good advertising and strategic price/feature positioning:

    1) Design: as people like to point out iPod wasn't the first or the most capable device of it's type. It was the most drop-dead easy to use and understand from install to sync to library management.

    2) iTunes: solved the real problem with other players: you had to either rip CDs or download pirated music to get any use out of your MP3 player.

    3)Focus on customer experience and satisfaction leading to great reputation. While Sony and RCA are busy explaining why their stuff "Works for Sure" people know iPod works because their friends and coworkers will tell them so. iPods are kind of the CrackBerry of music players.
    • i would say to a great extent marketing. Now almost everyone refers to an mp3 player as an iPod. thats what marketing has done. Just like what sony did to walkman. every other portable cassete player came to be called a walkman. so the not so technically conscious will always refer to the mp3 player as an iPod.

Today is a good day for information-gathering. Read someone else's mail file.