Shiny nano things
A little over two weeks ago, I had a moment of weakness and succumbed to a rare completely spontaneous and gratuitous purchase. Normally I take weeks to be “spontaneous” and in that time I can filter out the purely gratuitous, but this time the safety procedures failed and I ended up with a little orange iPod nano fifth generation.
I label this “gratuitous” because I already have an iPhone which contains, in every significant respect, a 16Gb iPod already. So why on earth do I need a new one other than that it’s Apple’s latest new release and I’m getting sucked into the Steve Jobs reality distortion field?
Well, the iPod nano does add three things that my iPhone doesn’t have. The first of these is a video camera, which my phone (being a 3G not a 3GS) doesn’t support. I’m amazed by how good the video filming is from such a tiny device, but at the same time I’m not much for video filming and can’t see that I’ll be using this very much if at all. It’s certainly not a reason for purchasing. Nor is the second, a pedometer for tracking your exercise activities – good for the fit and active out there, I’m sure, but I have yet to join those running, jogging, walking armies.
Ahh, but the third feature … This is a built-in FM radio. Now maybe I’m alone in this, but I’ve wanted a radio on the iPod for almost as long as I’ve had an iPod. It’s such an obvious feature that its non-appearance has always baffled as well as frustrated me. While there have been accessories (including an Apple optional remote control with a built-in FM radio), the radio has never – to my knowledge – been built-in before. Maybe that’s a technical issue; if I understand the tech news properly, the nano benefits from a new chip that bundles FM in “for free” and so there’s no reason any more not to have FM.
Radio shouldn’t make that much difference, but it does – at least to me. The number of times I’m on the train home when there’s something on Radio 4 I want to be listening to (Just a Minute, The News Quiz, the Now Show, the sort of thing that’s on at 6.30pm on a week night) but can’t, and have to listen later by iPlayer or podcast. Now this is no longer a problem and the radio transforms that evening commute home. And when the commute goes wrong – as it did a few days after I bought by new toy and the trains home were disrupted by over an hour – then the radio was a sanity-saver as I tired of music and audiobooks and just wanted some inane background chatter to keep me company while I waited.
Given that I’ve been waiting for an FM radio for so long, it perhaps mitigates what I said about this purchase being “spontaneous” as my mind was probably made up years ago to buy this iPod-with-radio the moment it appeared. Still, splashing out over a hundred quid purely for a radio is surely the definition of “gratuitous” none the less, right?
Except that I found something very interesting about the iPod nano that means it really is genuinely different from the iPhone. It’s very obvious, but I hadn’t realised how significant it would be.
By which I mean its form factor. It is incredibly tiny; it makes the Apple Remote that comes with new Macs look bulky and heavy. It slips perfectly into the “coin” or “fifth” pocket in a pair of jeans – so perfectly that it’s hard to believe that this isn’t by design. You can slip the nano in, safe and sound from keys and coins, and forget all about it for the rest of the day. It makes it ideal for carrying with you all the time and is only one step away from fully “wearable” technology.
I can’t do this with the Apple iPhone, which is bigger (because of the touchscreen) and necessarily heavier. If you’re carrying that around then you’ll want to have a bag or a jacket to put it in; popping it into your shirt pocket is possible, but you’re going to notice it thumping around against your chest as you walk. Or of course you can get a case for it that clips to your belt – but I’m paranoid enough to think that this is essentially a display window for thieves and you’re just begging to get robbed. With the nano, by contrast, the unit fits away so snugly into that tiny jeans pocket that thieves would never know it was there.
And of course, the nano costs a lot less. If it did get stolen then, well, of course it would be annoying and a hundred quid is not something anyone wants to lose lightly. But it’s a lot less than replacing an iPhone handset, not to mention the disruption to losing your phone, your contacts, your apps – everything. The nano becomes almost the sacrificial lamb if it comes to the crunch.
On the same theme, I’m rather expecting the nano to get scratched and scuffed from use. I’m viewing it as a workhorse, and getting beaten up is just an occupational hazard for having it in my pocket all the time. Whereas with my iPhone – still my official Best Purchase Ever (TM), by the way – I’d be heart broken if it got scratched or broken. So being able to outsource some of the iPod workday activities to the nano just seems sensible to me.
Oh – and given how crap the iPhone battery is, it’s nice to have a backup device to get more usage life out of the combined line-up.
All in all, then, I’m very happy with my totally gratuitous purchase. But it’s the insights into why this adds a new dimension to my gadget line-up rather than just duplicating the iPhone functionality that’s the most interesting to me right now. Sometimes you have to buy and try these things to really understand them, and no amount of study and analysis can reveal to you how these thinks work and feel for users until you are one yourself.