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How to tell the difference between a trend and a standard

The iPod: not just a passing fad.

90% market dominance is all very well, but when half the cars destined to be sold in the USA in 2009 offer iPod connectivity it's a fair bet that the iPod isn't going to die out in a time frame of less than a decade. It's the new cassette tape, and that lasted for nearly four decades: even taking into account the faster turnover of technologies I reckon being built into cars means it's going to be around for another 5-10 years minimum &mdash one to two generations in the automotive world.

Cars have a much longer after-life than consumer electronics, and most folks don't bother replacing/rewiring their in-car electronics (especially as they're getting more and more tightly integrated into the vehicle). So even if something new sweeps the iPod out of its dominant position in the post-Walkman mobile music market, they're probably going to stick around (in one form or another) as a cartridge medium for carrying music to and from your car.

Cars: the ultimate iPod accessory.

45 Comments

1:

Fair analysis. It might also be fair to say that other MP3 players will, if they're not already, begin to use the same plug and socket form factor as the iPod. I'm not sure if they can do this without paying some sort of licensing fee to Apple, but I imagine something will be worked out.

How's the writing coming?

2:

This is not, really, all that much different than the DRM server mess--Apple changes its connection standard and then...? I suspect there are going to be a lot of disappointed people down the road a bit.

3:

As a UK Zune user (yes, I know, I know) it would really benefit me if there was some way to adapt iPod docks to work with other standards. I mean, what we have here is what...? Power supply, volume controls, interface controls that mirror those on the front of the iPod? That's got to be fairly compatible with pretty much everything, given not much more than some rewiring.

If other companies have to pay a premium to Apple to use the format, then so be it. It would be nice to use all those iPod-only accessories out there.

4:

Robert@1: That's just it. It's been years now, and nobody else, to my knowledge, uses the same connector or the same control interface to allow a head unit in a car or home receiver to display and select music. Nobody has licensed iTunes from Apple (there were a couple of Moto phones for a brief time). Either Apple won't play nice (very possible), or the market is stoopid.

5:

How about an usb port? that's compatible with all the mp3 players in the market and you can use it to charge you phone if it has this option.

6:

baley, I'd expect that next, particularly since USB is so, ah, 'univeral'. That one connection allows for a large number of uses.

7:

Having bought one of the last vehicles made with a CD-player that doesn't handle CD-ROM (a Renault, and even in 2007 when I asked one of their dealers for an update they didn't even understand the question...), my last car-stereo upgrade made sure that the face had an EXT-in and a USB port. The latter lets me use any old thumb drive with lashings of music or podcasts, and conveniently also allows me to charge my GPS unit.

8:

An external line in connection is much easier, since the cable costs few quids and you can connect just about anything from a mp3 player to even a tape sony walkman!

9:

@8: That's just it, external line-in is being included in that "iPod connectivity" number. It's not as much of an iPod lock-in as you may think!

10:

Actually, Gretyl, if you read the article Charlie linked to, that number does not include simple line-in audio.

Which surprised me quite a bit.

11:

I'm old.

So, all you young whippersnapper scifi-reading techy types, two things.

First, get off my lawn.

Second, am I the only person who refers to their Ipod as a "walkman"?

12:

probably yes Noel.

i only refuse to call an ipod, ipod. I call it mp3 player!

13:

and I don't call mine an Ipod because it isn't. It was made by iRiver, quite some time ago, when they made good players ..

14:

Elsewhere in the technological universe, my household's latest investment has been a turntable with a USB output and software for converting music to formats that Apple recognizes. My girlfriend has eight feet of vinyl that she hasn't been able to play in years; she mainly listens to music on her iPod, or on her desktop (a PC, but she's changing to an iMac next week). Now she'll be doing a massive technological salvage job, from 33 1/3 rpm to mp3s. This will finally let us stop storing all that old vinyl, too! I just have to finish setting up the turntable later today. . . .

15:

Noel,

I don't call mine an ipod, because I don't have one. I think I may have a broken walkman around somewhere.

In my case, incipient get-off-my-lawnism seems to have resulted in a dramatic reduction in the amount of time I spend listening to music, to the point where I can't justify the cost of an ipod. In the house: too busy interacting with small offspring. In the car: NPR. Outside: listening to ambient birdsong, wind in the trees, insects, etc. I find it kind of sad when I see someone, on a beautiful summer day, walking outside with ipod buds stuck in their ears.

16:

I would see this playing out with a smartphone that fills the role of every handheld mobile as an ipod killer, and some sort of wireless high bandwidth standard eliminating the need to carry your music with you.

There are already smartphones that do everything an ipod can do except come with a sufficient amount of storage at a reasonable price (sure to be solved within a few years), and wimax or a successor will eliminate the need for portable storage. Sprint's Xohm network looks like it would be sufficient, but it's only available in Baltimore for now and costs $50/month, so it's not quite ready to make portable storage redundant yet, but it seems hard to doubt that something like it will be ubiquitous within a decade or so. But it would be surprising if it managed to kill the ipod withing 10 years.

17:
I would see this playing out with a smartphone that fills the role of every handheld mobile as an ipod killer, and some sort of wireless high bandwidth standard eliminating the need to carry your music with you.
It's already here, it's called an iPhone. There are several third-party applications you can install on it, that allow you to stream music, either "net radio" style (Pandora, last.fm etc) or from your personal collection (Simplify Media etc).

Around the time the iPhone was launched, Jobs was asked if he was concerned about the iPhone cannibalising iPod sales; his response was, essentially, someone's going to, we're gonna make sure it's us.

So, the iPod killer, will be the iPod. The Walkman essentially was unchanged for decades; there were minor feature tweaks (a bazllion varieties of crappy "graphic equalizer"), alternate formats (cd, minidisc) and they shrunk in size, but at the end of the day, all they really offered was play, stop, skip and volume control, with a single album of music per physical slab of recording medium, for about 20 years.

By contrast, the iPod Touch is now a fully-fledged email client, web browser, video player, games console, universal(ish) remote, map and location finder, and a thousand other things, and more every day. And manages not to be clunky at it.

Quoting Gruber:

This is the defining characteristic of Apple as a company, today: They replace their hit products while they’re still on top. Rather than building a lead over their competition and sitting on it, they just keep building. The best example of this was the introduction of the original iPod Nano. At the time, the best-selling iPods were the Minis. The iPod Mini was a smash hit product. And when Apple debuted the Nano, they killed it.

18:

Hmmm... I seem to remember a technology called, "8 track". It lasted for about 10 years.

19:

@17:
iPod Touch = iPhone without the phone service?

I have a few complaints about technology in general that apply here.

1) Rapid changes in consumer technology which has basically kept consumers at the sacred trough of "upgrading". (examples abound as mentioned above)
VHS/Betamax -> DVD/BluRay
Vinyl -> CD
B&W TV -> Color TV -> HDTV
The cycle is endless, and with each shift, there is one and only one constant. Replacement cost.

2) Reliable connectors. As product size has shrunk, the long-term reliability of connectors has decreased to
the point where they are the "weakest link". Another
nickel and dime component of my first statement.

20:

@Thorne:

It's by no means certain that the technology as a whole will move from DVD to BluRay, or from Standard Definition TV to HDTV.

Interesting you didn't include in your list Vinyl->CD -> SACD/DVD-Audio/DCC (digital compact cassette). The market has rejected SACD/DVD-Audio/DCC. In fact, it's hard to even find someone today who _knows_what DCC is. Yes, the format did exist, but it sure wasn't around long.

Also interesting that you didn't include a pathway B&W TV -> Color TV -> Divx MPEG-4 video, or for that matter D-VHS. Most DVD players today can also play Divx video files. Divx offers hi resolution but without the DRM garbage. Today, no one even remembers what D-VHS was.

The penalties for "upgrading" to HiDef video prove severe. You no longer have an analog out in many players, only a heavily restricted HDMI digital output. BluRay discs have intense copy protection.

With a standard TV you can input video from lots of sources, like a camcorder, because you've got analog in. With a Hi Def TV, not so much. With a DVD you can back it up and convert it to many different formats, i.e., to divx for viewing on your laptop during a long plane trip. With BluRay discs, that's out.

BluRay sales keep dropping. With this economic meltdown, sales of HiDef TVs and BluRay players & disc will likely continue to plummet. Where are all the quadraphonic Lps and 4-channel sound systems from the 70s? Never took off. That format was introduced in the midst of a massive recession. Deja vu all over again to what happened to SACDE/DVD-Audio/DCC.

Now Toshiba has announced they're going to build DVD players than enhance standard-definition DVDs with DSP to eliminate encoding artifcats and add smoothness and detail when line-doubling the output on HDTVs. Will this slow the adoption of BluRay and HiDef discs still further?

We don't know.

All we can say at this point is that it seems premature to consider the move to BluRay and HiDef video a done deal, just as it would have been unwise to prematurely celebrate the advent of SACD/DVD-Audio/DCC as rendering obsolete the standard CD or mp3 6 years ago.

21:

@mclaren

HD TVs accept both standard inputs such as composite video and SCART for us Europeans. Some also offer a VGA input if you want to hook up your computer (or you can use a DVI-HDMI cable, hell, some cards even have a HDMI out connector) and there's also component input.

As far as I know, BluRay protection has been cracked and you can easily rip it and re-encode it to to format of your choice (my only gripe with bluray is that we got Region B, while Japan/US is Region A, fortunately not everyone chooses to region code their discs).

Also upscaling DVD players are nothing new, for example the now OOP Oppo 983 is a great upscaling player (that does cost 400USD/400EUR though). But no matter how good the upscaler, it will not match a well done bluray disc, you can't simply create detail that simply isn't there in the first place.

Oh well, I suppose this is a bit off topic.

22:

I think you could equally argue that adding iPod connectivity (cf audio line-in) to cars reflects the fairly slow pace at which new technology enters the car market. The aftermarket stereo I added to my car last year (which contains the only integrated circuits in the whole car... kicking it old-school, that's me) has an usb port. So do 90% of the new-model headunits I see for sale. Why do you need an iPod when a thumbdrive half the size holds as many songs? The headunit itself can do all the random track selection and playlist reading you want.

Given that usb is a standard connector, I predict that its use in audio stuff will outlast the use of fancy proprietary iPod connections... I can't remember what the story is with iPods (DRM ftw?) but I know you can access the music on an iRiver by treating it as a usb hard drive.

23:

For myself I have no plans to buy an iPod. I also have a CD player in my car with a USB socket on the face and that enables to me to play my choice of mp3s copied from my computer without hassle and with absolutely no DRM bs to worry about. My own MP3 Player is similarly mundane, being a generic USB device that has simple controls and no excessive frills. Guess I'll try to be the exception that proves the rule for a while yet.

24:

I have an iRiver MP3 player which is quite lovely except that when I use its USB connection anywhere other than a PC it won't recharge, so had limited value in the car.

25:

Speaking of cars as iPod accessories, I nearly talked myself into buying a BMW when they were the first car I'd heard of to have native iPod support. But the idea of spending $30K+ on a 3-series as an iPod accessory didn't make it past the internal bullshit filter. But it was a near thing. I think not having a car payment tipped the scales. And now I bless the day. I can buy a couple of new iPods every year on the interest I don't pay.

26:

I have a 22-year-old Chevy Astro minivan. It came with a cassette player/radio and when that died, I got a CD player/radio. When that one died, I got another CD player/radio. So far, that's been fine. I spend most of my time at home where I can listen to CDs on the computer, the next most amount of time in the car (maybe 90 minutes an average week) where I can listen to CDs. I don't usually want to listen to things while I'm at the doctor's, grocery, or bookgroup.

I suspect that someday I'll get something digital to play music from, but I don't see it being soon.

27:

A brief (well, in theory... it dragged on a bit) note on iPods, DRM and the limitations thereof, since a couple of people brought it up:

- An iPod will play regular non-DRM music in both mp3 and aac standards.

- People often think aac is a 'proprietary Apple lock-in format'. It's not, it's an ISO & IEC standard and is used all over the place, from digital radio to the PSP.

- iTunes will not (generally speaking, there are occasional exceptions) copy music from an iPod to your computer, but you can treat it as a USB storage device and copy the files off yourself. Or, if you don't want to go grubbing around, there is software to do it for you (eg Senuti). This does not require 'hacking DRM' or anything like that, the files are not protected (the folder might be tagged 'hidden' in Windows, but isn't that the first option you turn off on a new install...?), it's just more convenient to automate the process.

- There's a myth that you can't use an iPod as a USB drive. This is because the option is turned off by default (the option is called Enable Disk Mode and is in iTunes somewhere).

- The option is turned off by default, because with Disk Mode disabled, you can unplug the device without having to unmount it first. iPods sell to a very large number of non-technical users who don't know what unmount means, so this increases the reliability of the devices because they don't get their filesystems scrambled by yanking them out while Windows still has data in the write cache.

- You do need to use iTunes to copy music to the drive, because it also needs to write info about it to a database. This information is used to speed up loading times on the iPod. You can get alternative, open-source software to do this, if you have an irrational loathing of iTunes.

- The only DRM anywhere in the process, is if you buy music from the iTunes Store. If you do this, well, that's your own damn fault. You could've bought it from Amazon, or Bleep, or eMusic, or got some CC music from archive.org, or whatever. It'll all play on an iPod.

- Not even all the music on the iTunes Store is DRM'd. You can purchase non-DRM versions of some of the tracks.

- According to most analysts, the only reason you can't buy non-DRM'd versions of all of the tracks in the iTunes Store is because the music-publishing industry refuses to license the music to Apple on those terms (offering it instead to Amazon) because they're afraid of the iTunes Store's popularity and their own slow slide into irrelevance. So they want to prop up an alternative in the hope of using as leverage.

28:

@10: Actually, I've read the article, and its source, and the source's source. I find no substantiation that they're distinguishing between the iPod connection and line-in when measuring compatibility. :\

29:

USB for power + analog line-in seems like it would be the most generally-useful setup.

I think the iPod-specific dock-connector setups are going to be a fairly brief phase. If you're just transferring music or using the iPod as an external hard drive for the car stereo, USB can do the job just as well as a dock connector. If you're playing music directly from the device, a jack to the line-in socket works okay, as long as you don't mind using the iPod itself to browse songs. And as soon as the head unit browsing software gets to be any good you might as well just use your iPod as a hard disk, and then it really doesn't matter if it's an iPod or a thumb drive or a whatever-it-is-Microsoft-calls-their-music-player, so USB will be better.

I guess if in 2020 you're the kid stuck with the worn-out old 2008 car with the iPod dock connector stereo, you might need to dig up an iPod to connect to it, like you might have needed to make a tape for the deck in the old 1985 car you got in 1998. But that's a niche.

But as others have said, the number of cars with real, dock-connector iPod integration is small compared to those with just a line-in jack. It's pretty hilarious that new cars are still being offered in 2008 without a line-in jack, but they are and that's the other half of the 50% figure, I bet.

But I figure cars will soon just have USB, and pretty soon after that, just a super-high-speed version of Bluetooth, or plain old wifi for data transfer. Portable devices won't have physical connectors for anything except charging.

What the world REALLY needs is for Apple's magnetic power connector to be installed on every brand of laptop. Now that would be progress.

30:

The 8-track tape was the darling of the automotive world too.

Given Apple's tendency to modify the iPod interface at the drop of a hat, I don't have much faith in the "standard". Given the bulk of the current interface and the increasing ubiquity of Bluetooth I'd say big fad.

31:

Ipod? Who needs a dedicated mp3 player to listen to music?

One can do it almost as well on a newer mobile phone. There's a Micro-SD card reader in mine, and 4gbs of music are quite enough. And if not, flash memory capacities are still going up.

Besides, I wouldn't be seen dead with any piece of iCrap.

32:

A number of the cars I've looked at that touted Ipod connectivity actually meant they had line-in. One or two models had both - Ipod and line-in. Another Iriver fan here so I prefer line-in too. There is another nice innovation in modern cars - multiple accessories jacks. What used to be called cigarette lighters.

33:

The standard data interconnect for transportable media to be used in cars won't be out for a couple of years yet, but it's already being designed into other kit (Sony's current version of this for their digital cameras, "Transferjet" is proprietary, whattasurprise). It's a very short-range (a few cm) fast wireless data system triggered by laying the device on a receptive surface, with no electrical connections to make (or break).

Get into the car, put your iPod or other compatible media device in the tray on the dash and the car does everything else for you. The kids can watch DVDs in the back seat with wireless headphones while you listen to your favourite sounds on the car's audio system. Park up, pick up the media device and it switches off. Go home, drop it into the base station tray and let it resync and update. Contactless inductive charging will also be part of this system too.

34:

To clear up some of the misinformation about so-called "standards" and the alleged inevitability of whatever crappy kludge the giant monopolistic corporation try to ram down our throats:

@Vito falsely claims: HD TVs accept both standard inputs such as composite video and SCART for us Europeans. Some also offer a VGA input if you want to hook up your computer (or you can use a DVI-HDMI cable, hell, some cards even have a HDMI out connector) and there's also component input.

Excellent piece of disinformation. Contains just enough truth to deceive people, while remaining essentially a lie. Analog inputs on HDTVs are typically restricted to standard definition. So if you're restricted to SD, why bother calling it Hi Def?

@vito continues with the misinformation: As far as I know, BluRay protection has been cracked and you can easily rip it and re-encode it to to format of your choice (my only gripe with bluray is that we got Region B, while Japan/US is Region A, fortunately not everyone chooses to region code their discs).

Again, wrong. In BluRay, compromised keys get revoked once cracked.

To complete his round of misinformation, @Vito falsely claims:

Also upscaling DVD players are nothing new, for example the now OOP Oppo 983 is a great upscaling player (that does cost 400USD/400EUR though).

Upscaling DVD players that use DSP to recover submerged detail and smooth MPEG-2 encoding artifacts are quite new. The DSP technology has been around for a while -- it came out of MIT, where DSP recovery of submerged detail was originally used to enhance radio astronomy data. But now this level of DSP processing is arriving in desktop video players, which is something radically new.

It's worth mentioning how the algorithms work. They load into memory successive examples of a picture onscreen as it moves and then compare the data sets -- for example, when a camera zooms in on a face, there's more detail visible then when the camera is hooting from far away. The DSP figures out the detail on the zoomed-in face and reconstructs the same level of detail on the face when it's far away, adding information to the picture that wasn't there.

You really need to learn something about DSP before you make these kinds of flagrantly false claims:

But no matter how good the upscaler, it will not match a well done bluray disc, you can't simply create detail that simply isn't there in the first place.

It's simple and easy to add detail that wasn't there in the first place. It's called deconvolution. Deblurring algorithms do it all the time. Look up transfer functions and digital signal processing and read a book sometime -- you'll learn something.

35:

Thanks, Canis, because I was actually pretty curious about stuff like that. My old mp3 player, one of the simpler USB-based models described above, died on the flight to Tokyo this summer, and I haven't gotten it to work since. Now that I've gotten used to my Mac, and now that one of my friends has a Touch that I can lust after, I've been itching to get my hands on one. I miss the auditory condom that once protected me from other people's cell phone conversations.

36:

William@14 says "This will finally let us stop storing all that old vinyl, too!"

You say that like it's a good thing! Seriously, ripping vinyl is a PITA - unless it's a real rarity it's much easier to just download it from your favourite filesharing network. Vinyl rips also don't fit in with your other music files, since the superior dynamic range of vinyl means you will have a much lower average level of signal unless you choose to clip the peaks or apply some compression algorithm. But now that you have a turntable you can actually listen to all that vinyl. I find the effort required - putting the needle on the record and all the associated rituals - really helps me to focus on the music. If I just want background noise I can queue up a load of mp3s but if I actually want to listen to music it's vinyl every time.

37:

iRiver made the best pure mp3 players ever, and Rockbox makes them the ultimate portable music accessory. Plus, the optical SPDIF in/out glows a cool red in the dark. Ironically, in the mp3 space, Apple was dull and locked in like Microsoft and iRiver was like Apple...

Having said that, surely within 10 years or so we won't *need* appendages like the ipod to add audio to our cars. They will come with WAN connectivity built-in, and will stream music from services and home servers. I drove cross-country (USA) a while back and managed to plug in my little 3G HTC phone and stream internet radio almost everywhere (well, when I could get a Sprint/Verizon EVDO signal). The coolest part? Streaming youtube through the phone onto a laptop while driving through the Utah salt flats.

Basically, the car becomes one hella large mobile WiFi access point... God knows it's got better antennae possibilities than a dinky little handheld.

38:

Hey Charlie,

buckypaper hits the mainstream news.

http://tech.yahoo.com/news/ap/20081018/ap_on_hi_te/tec_buckypaper

I don't know if it'll be a trend or become a standard, but it's been getting some play right now...

39:

"Analog inputs on HDTVs are typically restricted to standard definition."

On what planet? Every HDTV I've ever looked at had one (or usually more) composite video inputs and VGA inputs. Those are analog, high-definition inputs with no copy protection.

No idea what the rest of that argument is about, mind you.

40:

Seconding the comment of Jacob Davies at #39; my Dynex-brand HDTV has VGA input and is quite capable of using that input to play HDTV downloads from iTunes in full resolution.

41:

In fact, Apple has made incompatible changes to the connector. I have an Alpine iPod connector and Apple has made breaking changes with the most recent units (skinny nanos and iPhone 2.0). They play music, but won't charge. They won't charge off an old firewire cable either. Most irritating to my wife when her spiffy new iPod dies 6 hours into a roadtrip.

42:

@41: Nokia did some similar things with their chargers too - the device plugs look identical to the naked eye, but the two versions charge different models.

I bought a cheap cigarette-lighter to USB plug so that I can just use device-standard cables in the car. Most use a mini-USB cable so I'm covered for a number of devices.

I'd like to see some standardization for transformers. I went to buy a bluetooth earpiece for my phone, and found that I couldn't use the phone charger on it. In fact the earpiece transformer was bigger than my earpiece + phone + phone charger combined! I turned down the sale immediately.

43:

Michael @41: working from memory: original iPods were firewire devices. 2nd gen iPods were dual-use firewire and USB. 3rd gen and on were USB-only but retained backward compatability with the firewire power bus for use with old chargers. They dropped firewire support in the 5th generation. And they've phased out firewire charging post-5th gen.

AIUI, A number of 3rd party vendors (and older Apple chargers) were designed to put out charge current using the firewire circuitry because it fed more juice to the device than USB. But this is no longer supported on the newest generation machines. What you're complaining about is Apple not supporting a standard they moved away from 3 generations ago -- I don't think that's entirely fair, although I feel your pain (I have a couple of old iPods kicking around as music cartridges, and a couple of new ones, notably a 3rd gen iPod nano and an iPhone, and this causes compatability headaches).

Mike @42: the phone manufacturers have agreed a standard for both interfacing and charging -- it's micro-USB, and it is just beginning to appear in new gizmos. (It's in the nokia N810 web tablet, for example.) Not to be confused with the mini-USB sockets used in most current-gen smartphones.

44:

An Ipod dock may become a defacto auto standard but that doesn't mean it will hold an Ipod. How many parallel printer cables have you owned? How many Centronics printers have you owned?
Interconnection standards can last a long time after their original use. As far as I can tell, the choice of 600 ohms for balanced line impedance in professional audio is drerived from the standard telegraphy coils in the late 19th century.

45:

An Ipod dock may become a defacto auto standard but that doesn't mean it will hold an Ipod. How many parallel printer cables have you owned? How many Centronics printers have you owned?
Interconnection standards can last a long time after their original use. As far as I can tell, the choice of 600 ohms for balanced line impedance in professional audio is drerived from the standard telegraphy coils in the late 19th century.

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