Sunday, November 26, 2006

I Heart Podcasts, But Only When My iPod Doesn't Crash

I love podcasts. A lot. At last count, I was subscribed to around 70 of them. Each morning for the duration of my 30 minute commute, I plug my iPod into the auxiliary jack of my Civic SI and get to listen people talk about topics I care about. Mostly world news, religion, TV commentary, and politics.

Well, everything was peachy until iTunes 7.0. *Sigh*.

iTunes 7 brought with it an iPod firmware update. Which added some cool features. Like, now, my iPod can support the latest video format the iTunes Music Store uses. And it keeps track of when I skip songs, which is handy for creating Smart Playlists to figure out what music I actually like.

More importantly though, it now makes my iPod crash when it encounters various MP3 files it doesn't like. And, conveniently enough, a lot of the MP3s from the podcasts I listen on a daily basis fall in to this "not-liked" category. So, I'm driving to work, listening away, and then suddenly my iPod's screen turns black followed by the Apple logo showing it's "booting up". How annoying.

Now the thing I love (loved?) about my iPod was that it "just worked". You plug it in and go. Things work as you think they should. As Joel of Joel on Software comments:

That beautiful thumbwheel with its little clicky sounds ... Apple spent extra money putting a speaker in the iPod itself so that the thumbwheel clicky sounds would come from the thumbwheel. They could have saved pennies ... pennies! by playing the clicky sounds through the headphones. But the thumbwheel makes you feel like you're in control. People like to feel in control. It makes people happy to feel in control. The fact that the thumbwheel responds smoothly, fluently, and audibly to your commands makes you happy.

Well, nothing makes me feel more out of control and unhappy than when I'm listening to my podcasts and out of nowhere, reboot. My iPod loses all of it's context about what podcast I was listening to, how far along I was into that podcast, what playlist I was listening to that brought me to that podcast, etc etc. So, I have to wait about 20 seconds for my iPod to reboot, then navigate back to my playlist, scroll through and find where it left off playing, skip the podcast the crashed my iPod, pick the next one and hope for the best. And, when it crashes again, repeat.

And, all these 30-45 second interruptions really start taking a toll on the enjoyment factor of a 30 minute commute.

Now, this bug is already pretty well documented out in the interweb. But I mention it now because a.) I need more content for my blog; and b.) today the crashing just really got to me:

Today I was returning from a trip to Pittsburgh, PA to visit my family for Thanksgiving. On the way down, it was smooth sailing: low traffic density and numerous podcasts enjoyed without a hitch. On the way back, it was a completely different story. Traffic was awful. It's not my number one pet-peeve, but coming to a full stop on a highway is high on the list. And, as though my iPod could read my mind and say "this would be an excellent time to really tick you off!" *poof* - it crashed. Trying the next podcast I want to listen to, crash again. For a little while I even gave up and turned to John Tesh DJ-ing Christmas music on the radio. (Christmas music = good; John Tesh = not my favorite; it was certainly no comparison to the "hand picked talk radio" experience my iPod should have been providing!)

What really gets me though, is that Apple released this broken firmware update back in September. Apple doesn't have a perfect record for releasing bug-free software upgrades. But they do have a good record for releasing patches quickly to fix any bugs that crop up in those non-bug-free software upgrades. Why they still haven't released "iPod Firmware 1.2.1" yet is beyond me. Having my iPod crash is getting really annoying though.

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