I've been playing with my new iPod touch since receiving this gift from members of the Peer Mentor Program on Thursday. It was a genuinely surprising present. I received it (along with a wonderful oversized card that includes messages from dozens of students) at the end of a ceremony about which I had stressed about since last August. To be truthful though, while I was delighted at the prospect of an iPod with a bigger screen, I didn't initially "get" this new toy. It's just an iPod that allows you to "scroll" and "flip" through pages with your fingers, right? Wow, was I wrong. Now that I've had a weekend to play with this thing, I've concluded that the iPod touch is easily the coolest gadget I've owned for a long time.
Let's begin with its best feature, the fact that it's wireless. On some level, I guess I'd known that the Touch is wireless since it came out last year. But I confused that capability with all the bad press I'd read about the iPhone, which required users to sign into a two-year contract with AT&T. As a (begrudging) Verizon user, I was annoyed at the limitations and costs built into a device that's supposed to make my life easier. Contemplating the iPod Touch, I simply presumed a similar deal. Happily, this is not the case. The Touch offers the same kind of wireless access I've grown to love with my MacBook. Read a signal? You're online. No contract needed.
Of course, I'd also heard that many of the cool features that came with the iPhone were lacking with the Touch. Again, old and no longer accurate news. My new toy allows me to access the weather, mapping tools (with satellite imagery), YouTube videos, gmail, and the broader WWW. While it doesn't have a camera, I'm happy to let my Verizon phone handle that duty (along with more pedestrian concerns as making and receiving phone calls). In short, the Touch offers me practically everything I wanted with an iPhone -- without the hassle of a contract or the awkward configuration that risks ugly smudges on the screen when I make a call.
Oh yes, the touch screen. Recalling my first generation iPod, I bristled at the thought of a screen that gets scratched in a light breeze. And those ugly, oily prints would only worsen the experience, or so I thought. Well, I've only had the Touch for a few days, but thus far I'm delighted. I bought a leather carrying case and a transparent screen protector and have experienced no hassles. A couple wipes with a micro-fiber cloth and my Touch looks good as new.
Accessing the web in this manner demands touch anyway. While the browser reveals the web just as it appears on my laptop, the appearance of 2-point font is a little hard on the eyes. Behold the power of double-tap: a quick dut-dut of fingers and the page zooms in to the area I want to read. Expand or pinch my fingers a bit and I get even more control over the size of the page. Rotate the Touch in my hand and the screen flips to horizontal mode (an effect whose animated coolness still manages to amaze me). From that perspective, even narrow columns become practically oversized, certainly large enough to read. Certainly, it's not an ideal solution for all pages. But it gets the job done "in a pinch."
Even typing on the screen is easier than I anticipated. Whenever I tap on an input field, a graphical keyboard appears, with each keystroke popping a brief indication of the latter I just tapped: feedback to know what I'm typing. As with the web browser, this component is limited enough for me to avoid typing a thesis on my Touch. But a quick response to an email received on the bus? No problem.
As with most Apple products these days, the iPod Touch contains hidden elegance that users like myself will generally not notice. I know that an impressive amount of thinking went into making a device that works so well, inspiring the old "how did I ever live without this?" exclamation. And yet the Touch merely promises the world I long to inhabit, when all our information is digitized and accessible everywhere.
Inspired by movies like Minority Report, I await the day when practically everything becomes a terminal to the datasphere, when we can conjure up wikipedia pages from thin air just by wiggling our fingers a bit. One day we'll look back on even the most impressive tools like the iPod Touch and wonder in amazement how we tolerated being tied to devices we had to hold, devices we could drop or lose.
But that's the future. Right now I remember yesterday at Coffee Cat, reading Facebook via my iPod. From that page, I learned that Vienna was having a stressful day. Returning home, I found her door closed. I never would have known to knock and chat with her, but this handy device helped me check in with my daughter. She's OK, just dealing with end-of-high school hassles. But the notion that a music player could also keep me posted on my family -- that's too cool for words. Here are five, anyway.
I love my iPod Touch!