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iPod photo: Breakthrough Device or Work in Progress?

by Hadley Stern, author of iPod and iTunes Hacks

Steve Jobs has always insisted that the iPod is all about music. With the new iPod photo, this is no longer the case. But don't think you'll be playing videos on your iPod. Not yet anyway. What you will get, however, is an iPod that integrates your digital photography into the iPod experience in a pretty seamless way.

On the face of it, the new iPod still looks like an iPod, which is a good thing. It is a little heavier and slightly thicker (1mm). The first impression I had when I turned it on was: color and 60 gigs (see Figure 1)!

Figure 1: Yes, that is 60 gigs! And no, that isn't the color feature, just my mug reflected on the back.

All of the iPod's controls are now rendered in 65,536 colors. Apple has used the color in a beautiful and understated way; type is still rendered in black and white, and color, when used, is an accent not a distraction (see Figure 2).

Figure 2: Apple (thankfully) has not gone overboard with color, choosing to keep the type black and white and using color as a highlight and in the icons.

Perhaps the best use of color is the integration of album photography with the iPod. Yes, you read correctly, you can now view your album color artwork on your iPod (Figures 3, 4, and 5). To do so, however, you have to have the artwork available in iTunes before you transfer your songs over to the iPod. Any song that has an album cover in iTunes will automatically transfer that artwork to your iPod. If you don't have your album artwork in iTunes (say, from CDs you've ripped from your collection versus songs or albums purchased from the iTunes Music Store), then you should check out Hack #56: Work with Album Artwork, from my book, iPod and iTunes Hacks.

Figure 3: This is how the album artwork shows up while a song in playing.

Figure 4: The album artwork even stays up while you are rating the song (to toggle to rate songs, click the center button).

Figure 5: Your album artwork in all its glory. To view a full-screen version of your album artwork, click the center button. No, it's not like holding an LP jacket, but at least it's something visual.

The iPod photo's color screen is not just for displaying your album colors in all their glory. This iPod lets you display up to 25,000 photos (in the 60 gig) version. That sure beats Grandma's wallet. Transferring the images is relatively easy. On the Mac and Windows side, the first time you plug in your iPod and open up iTunes, you will be asked if you want to copy all of your iPhoto images (or, for the PC, images in your Picture folder or Adobe Photoshop Elements images) onto your iPod. Say yes, and your entire library will be transferred. Be patient, though, because depending on the size of your library, this can take quite a bit of time as iTunes resizes your photos for iPod viewing. The good news is that it's a one-time affair. The only time you'll go through this process again is when you load new images onto your machine.

Once transferred, viewing the images on your iPod is a snap. Just navigate to the Photo menu and select it (as shown in Figure 6). You will now see a replication of your iPhoto's left-hand column, including your whole library as well as the categories you have divided your photos into. Fear not, PC user, your Adobe Photoshop Elements' categories will show up as well, or if you are using the My Picture folder, folder names will appear. To view a category, or the whole library, just select it. All your images will appear as tiny thumbnails (Figure 7). Even though the thumbnails are quite small, they are still legible. Using the scroll wheel, scroll to the image you want to view, click the center button, and, low and behold, there is a photo on your iPod!

Figure 6: The iPod photo's main menu. Right under the Music menu item is where you can select Photos.

Figure 7: The initial view of your images are thumbnails. Use the scroll wheel to easily move between images. Click the center button to view an image (Figure 8).

Figure 8: Once you've selected an image to view, it shows up on the iPod full-screen.

If you want to play a slideshow, the iPod makes it very easy (Figure 9). Simply select a time between slides (manual, 2 seconds, 5 seconds) and whether you want a transition affect (basically a swipe), and view your slideshow on your iPod. The best use of the slideshow feature is to plug your iPod into a TV with the included headphone-to-video and audio-out cord. Apple, of course, even thought to change the interface on your iPod when you are in TV mode, showing the image currently being viewed with thumbnails of the previous and next images to the left and right. This helps while narrating your slideshow. Neat.

Figure 9: The Slideshow settings menu lets you adjust time per slide, the music you want to accompany your slideshow, NTSC or Pal TV signal, and more.

An iPod wouldn't be an iPod without games, and Apple has spared no effort at translating the games into color. Check out Figure 10 for Apple's nice treatment of Solitaire, one of the included games that has been colorized.

Figure 10: Solitaire, in full color!

What's Missing?

Related Reading

iPod and iTunes Hacks
Tips and Tools for Ripping, Mixing and Burning
By Hadley Stern

The iPod photo does a lot of cool stuff, but it also misses out on some opportunities to really put the photo in iPod photo. For example, the iPod photo doesn't integrate with the two Belkin products that allow photographers to transfer images to their iPod. The Belkin products, covered in Hack #3: Store Digital Photos on Your iPod in my book, allows easy transfer of images from your digital camera to your iPod.

However, the current scenario to view those images on the iPod photo is rather convoluted, to say the least. First, you have to plug in the Belkin product and transfer the images from your digital camera or memory card (depending on which Belkin product you are using). Then, plug the iPod into your computer, transfer the photos to either your Picture folder or iPhoto library (or My Pictures on the PC), and then open up iTunes to have the pictures transferred. Not very slick. I have no doubt that either Apple or Belkin will address this situation shortly. It would be great to view the images transferred from the Belkin products on the iPod and to be able to delete and sort them right on the screen.

Final Thoughts

The iPod photo is a great evolution of the iPod product line. It doesn't do everything that everyone wants the iPod to do (play videos, record audio, solve world peace, etc.), but it is an evolution of the digital wallet; now it holds your music and your photos. Perhaps the smartest thing about the iPod photo is that it is even more of a walking advertisement for the iPod. People everywhere will be showing off their family pics, ostensibly becoming salespeople for Apple.

Photos aside, the color interface is beautiful. In the same way the Gen 3 iPods instantly made the Gen 1 and 2 design seem old, I'm afraid (for you owners of black-and-white iPods) the color interface does the same thing to older iPods.

Hadley Stern is a designer, writer, and photographer residing in Boston.

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