I Love My iTouch!

How does Apple do it? It seems like every year they come up with a new Ipod that I just have to own.
This year it’s the Ipod Touch. Yes, they have been around for a couple of years, but a couple of months ago saw the release of the latest generation of players, including a 32-gig model. That’s still too small for my tastes, but it goes without saying that I’m obviously not a typical music listener.
Basically, the “Itouch” is an Iphone without the phone…or an Ipod with internet access. Even if you don’t use the online features, though, it’s a much more convenient player than the “classic” Ipod models.
This convenience comes from a touch screen (hence the name), which is much easier to navigate than the wheel on traditional Ipods. Anybody who has ever attempted to bring up an artist, track, or album towards the end of the alphabet has been annoyed by the time it takes on the classic Ipods. One the Itouch, you just touch the first letter and a quick scroll gets you to whatever you desire to hear.
Once you have made your choice, or picked a playlist (including the new “Genius” feature, which creates playlists based on a song of your choosing), the screen is filled with the album artwork. Info on the artist, album, and track is shown at the top of the screen (although I’d like to see the size of this material to be increased). More controls (pause, skip, replay, etc.) are shown at the bottom of the screen. Turning the player in any direction causes this material to shift accordingly.
Obviously, the bigger screen makes video playback more enjoyable on the Itouch. You’re still limited to material that’s in the QuickTime format, though, so most treats found online won’t play without a conversion program. With Itunes increasing their video choices, this may eventually become a more popular feature.
As stated earlier, the Itouch is more than just an Ipod. Here are some of the additional features:

Online Access. A number of programs are built into the Itouch that requires an internet connection. Apple currently does not have subscription programs for the Itouch (hopefully they will soon), but you can connect to any Wi-Fi setup.
Once connected, the online experience with the Itouch far exceeds what I’ve found available on any “smart phone”. Pages quickly load on Apple’s Safari browser, and sections of pages can be enlarged for easier reading by using two fingers to “un-pinch” the desired section. To enter web addresses (or any text), a touch pad keyboard appears on the screen. This takes a bit to get used to, but again it is preferable to any cell phone keyboard.
YouTube. Instead of accessing YouTube through Safari, the Itouch has its own viewer for the site. Searching for videos is a breeze, and is automatically set for optimal viewing. You can also save your favorites, or email the links to friends.
Other Online Features. Just like blackberries or smart phones, the Itouch has the usual programs for email, contacts, notes, and calendar. You can also check stocks (who would want to these days?), take a peak at the weather forecast, and get directions. But you’re not just limited to what’s built into the device.
Apps. This latest generation of Ipod Touches also includes access to Apple’s “App Store”, where you can download hundreds of games and programs. Many of the games play like those on the Nintendo Wii, where moving the actual player determines how the game proceeds.
Some applications are available for a fee, but quite a few cost absolutely nothing. An overview of what’s available could fill multiple pages, but here’s a few free music and social networking apps that I’ve found quite useful:

Social Network Applications
Facebook and Myspace. Sure, you can just use the web browser to access your myspace or facebook accounts. These apps, though, are written especially for the Itouch, and are actually easier to navigate than their traditional online sites. Facebook, in particular, is much more organized, as you’re never more than one click away from any of the features of your account.
Twitter. There are a handful of apps that allow you to update your twitter account. Currently, I’m using Twittervision, although the fact that your subscribed Twitter friends aren’t accessible will probably lead me to check out another app. Still, just being able to remotely post is enough to keep me satisfied for the time being.
Yelp. Have you just had a wonderful (or terrible) meal at a local restaurant? Conversely, do you want to know what people think of a business you’re considering frequenting? The yelp app allows you to not only read and write reviews of any business, but will provide information such as phone numbers, parking, and directions.

Music Applications
Last.Fm. This app is a music geek’s paradise that will potentially increase your Itouch library well beyond its storage capacity. Last.FM is a Facebook-ish site where you download a program to your home computer that monitors the music you play on your computer and Ipods. Besides compiling statistics on the music you and your friends are playing, every track is added to your online “library”.
The Itouch app for Last.FM allows you to access everything you have ever played for streaming on your player. Tracks from your library are randomly played, but you do have some controls. You can skip songs, highlight them as “loved” favorites, or mark them to never be played again. Anything that is played is also added to the statistics on your profile.
Besides featuring your own library, Last.FM also works like Pandora (also available as a free app). Just type in the name of a performer, and you’ll hear tracks that are considered similar in style or sound to that act. Or you can let the site recommend music that fits your profile.
Playback appears similar to when the Ipod is playing. Album artwork is shown on the screen, with the track information listed at the top of the screen. An additional feature, though, is the one-click availability of the artist’s biography. This can be highly useful when you’re allowing Last.FM to choose the tunes, and with a quick click you can also purchase any song from Itunes.
MPR Radio. Minnesota Public Radio offers an app that allows you to stream not only their new and classical channels, but also The Current, their acclaimed indie rock station.
AOL Radio. I’ve always been hesitant to recommend anything under the AOL banner, but their streaming radio app may be the best thing they’ve ever created. Literally, hundreds of “stations” are available in all genres. Besides streams of regular terrestrial stations, there are online stations that range from the obvious to the obscure.
A quick glance at the “alternative” options amazes even a cynic like myself. An all-Radiohead channel? Brilliant. How about an all-Clash channel? Orgasmic. Besides similar channels devoted to other singular artists, one can also find streams of acclaimed indie stations in San Francisco, LA, Portland, and Boston, along with genre-based stations devoted to (among others) ska, alt-country, Britpop, classic punk, goth, and even emo.
Music channels are not the only options. There are groups of channels devoted to comedy, news, sports, and talk radio. WCCO from Minneapolis is a channel of local interest, but sports fans may want to check out New York’s WFAN.
SimplifyMedia. As much as I love Last.FM, this app takes the expansion idea even further. If you’ve got a hard drive full of music that won’t fit on your Itouch, download this program and you’ll get direct access to any song. You can also join up with other SlinkMedia users and get similar access to their libraries. Plus you can also read bios and lyrics of the artists and songs you’re playing. Currently, I can play any of up to 46,000 tunes.
Flycast. This app, along with a program called Orb on your home computer, also allows you to directly access the files on your computer. In this case, you can also play videos. Here’s the big news, though. If you have set up Orb to access your satellite radio accounts, you can now get your favorite satellite channels on your player. The downside to both Flycast and Simplify is that you always have to have a home computer running to access the files.
Future Apps. Every week, Itunes has new apps for both the Iphone and Itouch. While most of these are game-related, there is talk that somebody is working on a satellite radio streamer. In fact, it now appears that Starplayr is close to releasing such an app. If Apple follows through with an internet subscription service, I’ll be pulling out my XM and Sirius receivers out of my vehicle and subscribing to full-time internet on the Itouch. If I wasn’t so emotionally connected to certain satellite shows, the streaming programs (along with the stored music) that I’ve described above would be enough to entertain me on the longest trip.


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