Managing files — so what?

Considering Patel’s previous article about the iPod nano, Apple’s timid new iPod nano sidesteps a smartwatch revolution, I wasn’t really surprised by his iPod nano review for The Verge. Yet there are passages that strike me as a bit too sarcastic or hyperbolic, and I’d like to share my views on the matter.

Patel writes:

Files. Managing files. Endless files, in formats. Remember files? With file extensions? And sizes and bad metadata and missing cover art and all those weirdo checkboxes in iTunes that make compilation albums either go together or not go together or maybe make tracks appear in seemingly random order throughout your huge list of music files? Using the seventh-generation iPod nano in 2012 involves taking a trip back to a world in which files really matter. Files, man. Files in iTunes. You want to listen to music with an iPod nano? Then you better get ready to open iTunes and plug in a cable and transfer some hot nasty files. It’s like taking a time machine to 2010, before Apple itself started pushing everyone away from files and towards iCloud.

Yes, I remember files. Easy, because I have them before my eyes right now. Video files, text files, formatted text files, audio files, PDF files, PNG files, JPEG files, TIFF files, GIF files, preference files, source code files, you name it. And speaking of iTunes, my main library (roughly 60 GB — not that huge, perhaps, though I have a separate library for classical music that weighs about 90 GB) is in perfect order already. Yes, there have been messy situations in the past, with missing album covers and tracks not correctly grouped, but that mostly happened when I used to import some old CDs and sometimes there wasn’t a perfect match in the Gracenote database. Making the right adjustments has never been a really time-consuming thing for me, and for bad MP3 tags and general audio file management I’ve always relied on a couple of applications — Max and xACT — which are great tools for the job.

And what’s that about “taking a trip back to a world in which files really matter”? As if today files had vanished into thin air. We may indeed live in a post-PC era, but we haven’t yet entered a post-files era. Files are still everywhere, and yes, they’re in iCloud too. And should we talk about what a sandboxed mess managing files in iCloud is? If you’ve missed it, take a look at this interesting Macworld article by Christopher Breen, titled When Documents in the Cloud aren’t.

Another thing I don’t get is this sudden hate for cables and everything that’s wired. Don’t get me wrong, I too find annoying to have a desk full of cables, and have welcomed Bluetooth keyboards, mice and trackpads. I, too, like and appreciate the benefits of syncing stuff via the cloud, and my workflow would be shattered if I lacked things like Dropbox and Simplenote. But really, we’re talking about putting some music on an iPod every now and then, what’s so horribly wrong in using a cable to do that? It’s the same cable you’d use to charge the iPod, in the end.

Speaking of cables in general, I still find wired connections to be more reliable than wireless solutions in some use cases. I witnessed a Time Machine backup over wireless to a Time Capsule not long ago and, well, let’s say I really like my Time Machine backups over a FireWire 800 connection. Every time I have to download huge files from the Internet (for instance when I had to download the Mac OS X Lion and Mountain Lion installers), I still prefer a direct Gigabit Ethernet connection to the router, which in my mixed home network setup is still the fastest option. (I also remember the time when iPods connected to the Mac via FireWire instead of USB or Wi-Fi, those were fast transfers). Oh, and have you tried restoring your iOS device from an iCloud backup? Not exactly blindingly fast, right? That’s the future though. Literally, because we’re not quite there yet. Only few spots in the world can enjoy a truly fast, reliable, forget-about-cables, wireless connection. People who live in those spots tend to have a slightly different perspective on these matters — they see wonderful trees, for sure, but I don’t think they have a clear idea of the condition of the global forest, so to speak.

The problem is that asking regular people to manage their iPod’s music files in 2012 is basically the same as asking them to actually code their own iPhone apps.

Boom! Really? Bit of a stretch here, yes?

I agree on one, undeniable point: that the iPod is losing relevance. However, this doesn’t mean that there’s no target audience for it anymore. As I said in my previous piece Siding with the new ‘timid’ iPod nano:

Not every user of modern gadgets out there shares the same habits as us geeks. Not everyone has the latest iPhone, iPod touch or iPad. Some people use a ‘classic’ iPod for listening to music and don’t have an iPhone (or any other multi-touch smartphone for that matter). Some people prefer buying an iPod nano instead of an iPod touch or an iPhone for their preadolescent children. Some people may like the simplicity of the non-iOS iPods but prefer other platforms for their phones and tablets. Some people may not even afford anything above the nano’s price point. These are just the first counterexamples that come to mind.

In his review, Patel says that “streaming services like Spotify and Rdio and Pandora are clearly the future” and I won’t argue that, but again I’ll say that yes, they’re clearly the future, not the present. Let’s put aside the fact that those streaming services are not even available in more than a bunch of countries. To enjoy a service like Spotify, your device has to have a Wi-Fi connection — even better, a cellular connection. Yes, you have the (premium) option of transferring music files locally for listening when your iPhone or iPad are not connected to a network, but then you would be back to managing files locally, something horribly ‘clunky and archaic’ according to Patel.

Imagine an iPod that worked like a Kindle: you get a free cellular service worldwide and you can listen to your purchased iTunes music — and any music from whatever third-party service you subscribe to — directly streamed to your device, every time you want, wherever you are. You also have to imagine a robust worldwide cellular coverage, of course. That would be great. But we’re not there yet, at least globally. And probably we should be already. For the time being, connecting your iPod to the Mac via a cable every now and then, selecting a bunch of songs (and audiobooks and podcasts), and copying them to the iPod while it’s charging doesn’t seem such a big deal to me.

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About Riccardo Mori

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