The iPod is the member of the Apple family that is overshadowed by the newer, more popular kids on the block. Yet it was the iPod that was the “gateway drug” for many of today’s Apple fans, opening the eyes of a generation to how consumer electronics should be built and used. Author, blogger and early morning podcaster Tim Chaten has just published an iBook that celebrates the history and future of Apple’s media consumption device. iPod Evolution (US$7.99 launch price, regular price $9.99) is currently available for pre-order and will be available for download on January 31, 2013 — the first day of Macworld/iWorld.
In iPod Evolution, Chaten explores the life cycle of the iPod by looking at the devices from a number of different viewpoints: hardware, software, marketing, fitness, accessories, and “beyond Apple” (the MFi program and hardware/software mods).
The hardware evolution of the various models of iPod make up the first part of the book. Chaten does his best to make the descriptions of the changes in iPod hardware over the years as interesting as possible. For each device, there are charts showing storage capacities for different generations; the size, weigh, and materials making up each generation; a description of the battery life; screen type, depth, and resolution; the case colors available (where applicable) and the physical interface used to interact with the device.
Gallery: iPod Evolution by Timothy Chaten
Chaten includes a number of photographs in this section, making it easy for the reader to discern the differences between models. That’s important for the reader who may have picked up the book in order to learn more about a vintage iPod, especially one of those ancient Classics from the early 2000’s.
Each chapter of the book begins with a nice dark gray header page that includes a stylized image of an iPod of one type or another. The book itself is in a two-column landscape orientation that’s easy to navigate through. Chaten often puts the second column to good use by including a photo. He notes that he’ll be providing a free update to the book soon, adding videos and more photos.
There were a few chapters that I thought were outstanding. Chapter 8, on generational similarities, points out that the first generations of most iPod devices were pure and unsullied, the third generations were market failures, and the most recent generations are refined both in hardware and software.
Chaten points out a little-known mode in Chapter 9 — diagnostic mode — that all non-iOS iPods with a screen can be booted into. It’s a useful way of finding out more about your device as well as helping in troubleshooting.
While many Apple devices including the iPod touch can easily export screenshots, that’s not the case with the iPod classic, mini (remember it?), and nano. As such, it’s necessary for authors to take actual photographs of the device screens with a camera. While most of the screenshots are well done, some of the images taken off of iPod classic screens are fuzzy and show some keystone effect. Having had the same issue when publishing an iPod book in the mid-2000s, I know that Chaten did the best possible job getting those screenshots.
Some other topics are covered that I don’t think I’ve seen documented anywhere else. For example, the FM radio built into the fifth, sixth, and seventh generation iPod nano is a little-known tool that is really pretty impressive — especially when you realize that it will display song, artist and station info for those stations that support Radio Data System.
Especially effective in the latter part of iPod Evolution is the use of galleries. Tapping on these iBook widgets takes you through a virtual slideshow made up of several images. It’s a great way to see related screenshots one after another, and I wish that Chaten had chosen to use them throughout the book, particularly in early chapters where he sometimes drops a few screenshots on a few pages where one gallery would provide a much easier way to view those images.
His last chapter reminds the reader that the iPod was the device that taught Apple many things, specifically in the realm of pricing and distribution. Without the iPod’s impact on the public psyche and Apple’s corporate culture, newer products like the iPhone and iPad may never have become the successful icons we see today. Even the book’s title, iPod Evolution, is a subtle reminder that many of Apple’s current products include a bit of iPod DNA in their design and construction.
All in all, iPod Evolution is a great resource for anyone who owns or collects iPods, or who is interested in the history of this now relatively neglected Apple family member. Chaten writes in a friendly, conversational style that is very readable. While the book may not appeal to everyone, iPod Evolution is certainly the definitive history and reference for the iPod family.