A few weeks ago I wrote a column declaring that it was the wrong time to buy an iPod
--particularly for those of us who already own iPods
--and it managed to provoke a few hostile responses from readers. One reader wrote
, "How can you sit there and write such a pathetic article? If you call this 'reporting' then so help us all. You are clearly not a fan of Apple products seeing as you try to slant them as much as possible. This is an absolute disgrace, for a company such as CNET, I expected a better article and unbiased review."
First, thanks to the readers who eloquently replied to the irate reader(s) and said they found the article informative--or at least somewhat so--and that if you read it closely, you'd realize I'm not an Apple hater; rather, I'm just somewhat fickle with my affections for the company's products. Second, to be clear, this is a column (read: opinion); I'm not reviewing products per se, as the only official CNET review is one that has a rating on it. And I'm not trying to win a Pulitzer (last I checked, they usually give those out for covering real wars, not gadget wars). But I am in the muck. Up to my head in it. And that gives me license to take potshots at the big shots now and then.
Which brings us to the subject of this column. Rarely do I write about a single feature on single product, but after re-reading that previous column, I realized what really bothered me about the new iPods: they don't have any support for wirelessly streaming audio. Now, a lot of people were expecting--or at least hoping--that the latest batch of iPods would support wireless stereo streaming via Bluetooth. But it never materialized, even after several blogs "reported" (so help us all) that the iPod Touch might have a Bluetooth feature.
Why do you think Apple left Bluetooth off the latest iPods?
Because the iPod Touch
, new Nano
, and iPhone
are such sleek, sexy products, a lot of people have forgiven Apple for leaving stereo Bluetooth off them. (The iPhone doesn't count, either: its Bluetooth option is currently limited to the monaural flavor that's good only for headset calls, not the A2DP "Advanced Audio Distribution Profile" that enables high-quality stereo. Apple can probably add A2DP with a firmware update--if it so chooses.) Both the Touch and iPhone have built-in Wi-Fi, but that's not for streaming audio to wireless headphones or a wireless speaker system like I'm doing now with the Samsung YP-P2
MP3 player that I have sitting on my desk. Similar to the Touch, the YP-P2 also has a touch screen. The P2's touch screen isn't as responsive as the Touch's--and overall the Samsung unit isn't quite as good as the Touch. But it's less expensive and has some features the Touch doesn't have (A2DP Bluetooth, a built-in mic for recording voice notes, and an FM radio). There's no Wi-Fi, but that doesn't bother me since I have a 3G phone that has a Web browser.
Right about now some of you are probably shaking your head and saying, "Gee Mr. Fully Equipped, what's so [insert expletive] great about streaming audio wirelessly? Who cares?" To which I respond, stealing a line from Chinatown: "It's the future, Mr. Gittes."
It is. I swear. The fact is once you go wireless, it's hard to go back. The biggest drawback to most of these iPod speaker systems is that when you dock your iPod, you have limited control over it with the credit-card-size remotes that typically ship with the systems. Also, you can't see what's on your iPod's screen unless you're standing a few feet from it.
Overall, Samsung's Bluetooth-equipped YP-P2 isn't as good as the iPod Touch, but it's better in some ways.
But with built-in stereo Bluetooth, you can use your iPod (or Samsung YP-P2) as your normally would and it becomes a fully functional color-screen remote (the range is about 30 feet). I have the YP-P2 linked up to a Bluetooth speaker, the Parrot Boombox, and it's a pretty sweet little setup. If you're willing to pop a Bluetooth dongle on the bottom of your iPod and attach a small external Bluetooth receiver to your audio system, Logitech, Belkin, and others, have options. But trimming out the accessories and going direct feels a lot cleaner and liberating. It's the way it should be.
So, why didn't Apple include wireless stereo streaming in its latest batch of iPods and the iPhone? Obviously, it could have; it has the technological wherewithal to pull it off. Easily. So, why not?
Well, the Apple faithful will tell you that Apple didn't do it because Bluetooth just doesn't cut it yet as an audio wireless streaming platform. And there's certainly some truth to that. Bluetooth isn't incredibly reliable, you get some dropouts, and your already compressed music gets compressed even further when you start streaming. But Bluetooth has come a long way in a year. Bluetooth 2.0 coupled with EDR (Enhanced Data Rate) offers better bandwidth, and I've found the connection between the Samsung YP-P2 and the Parrot Boombox has been steady over the last couple of hours. It sounds pretty good, too.
Part of me is willing to accept that Apple doesn't think Bluetooth is ready for prime time. But a more cynical side of me gets the feeling that the reason why Apple didn't include support for stereo Bluetooth streaming is that it didn't want to shave any revenue off its licensing fees for the multitude of iPod audio accessories that are out there. Many of you are probably aware that any manufacturer that incorporates an iPod dock into its product has to pay Apple a licensing fee for the "Made for iPod" certification. However, that wouldn't be the case for Bluetooth. Parrot, for example, doesn't have to pay Apple to make a Bluetooth speaker. (Instead, the company probably has to pay a licensing fee to the Bluetooth folks.)
Of course, you could argue that this is a smart move by Apple and good business practice. And you'd be right. But it's not necessarily the best thing for consumers--a somewhat notorious path that Apple's followed as of late. The question, of course, is whether Apple will come up with its own proprietary form of wireless audio streaming. There are some other, allegedly superior solutions out there, including Kleer Audio LP, which RCA is using in some of its MP3 players. But I'm afraid the proprietary route may be the more likely scenario for Apple.
Or maybe not. People seem endlessly forgiving of the feature deficit in Apple's products, with the oh-so-slick design trumping such basics as replaceable batteries, FM radios, and expandable storage that are becoming standard features in competing players. Maybe Apple's betting that wireless audio streaming is the latest feature that it can do without. But I hope not. An iPod Touch or an iPhone with a 32GB of memory and Bluetooth stereo would definitely be something worth waiting for.
Why do you think Apple left Bluetooth off the latest iPods? Click the TalkBack button to get your two cents in.