Touchy Feely

I’ve discovered something new.

(Actually, I discovered it before Christmas … but I’ve been too busy playing with it to post here)

OK, some clarity is quickly required before you press the FLAG BLOG button! I’m talking about Apple’s iPod Touch. Ah, what a marvellous device.

I got one just before Christmas, and had the pleasure of using it during my three week holiday to Florida. At first I thought I was being a little indulgent getting on to replace my existing 4G ipod … after all, it’s just an iPod isn’t it? It just does everything my 4G did – but with a glitzy interface … right?

Well, it turns out I was wrong. I’ve found so many things I can do with the Touch that I never considered before I bought it. There’s all the obvious stuff, like listening to must and podcasts. I have to say that I was slightly disappointed in the way it handles some of the music and podcast UI … but I quickly learnt that the Touch isn’t a “newer” 4G or 5G ipod. It’s something very different, and the UI – although very easy to use – takes some getting used to.

After being mesmerised by the touchscreen interface for a few weeks (trust me … it’s not like any touchscreen device you’ve used before … I found myself simply spinning through my track lists just because it looked nice!) … I started to discover some of the other less obvious things that the Touch could offer:

Video. Because I’ve never had a video iPod (My old 4G only did photos), I was initially uninteresting in this feature. After all, who wants to watch a movie on a tiny screen? Well, it turns out that’s exactly what I wanted to do on the train the other week. I happily watched the first half of “The Third Man” on the train, and was so engrossed I had to find the nearest Costa to settle down to watch the rest! Since then I’ve explored so many other options including video podcasts, iTunes U (Lectures from MIT!), and actually paying for episodes of programmes from iTunes (crazy, I know!). I have to say I’m hooked. And the Touch’s ability to dim its backlight waaaay down means I can secretly watch those brain swelling MIT lectures while my wife snores away in bed next to me ;o)

Safari. Browsing the web on the Touch is amazing. Since the majority of my web access is to check a host of my favourite sites for news, I found the touch a perfect replacement for my PC. I can sit in my kitchen each morning over a nice hot mug of coffee, and within 2 minutes I’m up to speed. Compare this to clumsily carrying my breakfast and coffee down into my study; booting up my PC; logging in; loading IE … blah blah blah. You get the picture. Throw in some of the iPhone-Webapps some sites offer (such as Facebook), and the whole internet experience changes.

Email. OK, I admit I initially jailbroke my Touch to get the iPhone applications working (but I’ve since paid the measly £12 to get the suite from Apple.) Since getting mail on my Touch, I’ve hardly used my PC. In fact, combined with Safari, my PC usage at home has more than halved – which is impressive for an ipod!

iTunes Music Store. This is another feature I immediately ignored. Why would I want to buy songs from the iTMS from my ipod? Surely its easier from my Mac or PC? Well … turns out its just as easy from the iPod … dangerously so. (For example, I was really getting into an album by Jonathan Coulton the other week. Curiously, I looked to see what other albums were on iTunes (from my iPod) … 60 seconds later I’d bought his latest album, and had already started listening to it!) Its just a shame they don’t offer their audiobooks via the iPod.

Maps. The google maps app is so easy to use, and was a life saver in Florida. Want to know where the nearest Best Buy is? It’s all there. I can see the attraction that app has on the iPhone, where you always have an internet connection.

I know that’s not everything the Touch does, but its the features that I’ve been most blown away by. I can’t help but feel like its something off Star Trek every time I pick it up. It doesn’t seem right to have something that thin; that small offer so much (and run for so long without charging … my record is over 25 hours over several days. Compare that to the Pocket PCs or Palm devices I’m currently using as door wedges … I recall you’d be thankful if you got 2 hours continuous use out the PPC!

The other benefit of owning an iPod Touch is that everyone who sees it thinks you have an iPhone. That helps me feel a little richer. To be honest, I still don’t feel I want and iPhone. The Touch offers everything the iPhone does … just without the phone … or camera …. or Bluetooth. I miss the ability to take photos, but that’s about it.

So, there you have it. I’m impressed. However, it doesn’t stop there. Last week Apple released it’s SDK for the iPhone platform (iPod Touch included), with plans to release a major iPhone/iPod update in June. The update alone promises some exciting features (including the ability for me to connect my iPod to my works Exchange server to get my contacts, email and diary). But it will also open the door to 3rd party developers to create their own software. Already there are demos of console quality games, and productivity apps. The list will undoubtedly grow, and my nerdy dream of the Touch turning into a kick-ass PDA-type device will potentially come true.

My advice – buy one. Dont think about it. Just buy it. Now. Do it already.