My first trip to an Apple store ... and I walked out empty handed!

My first trip to an Apple store ... and I walked out empty handed!

Summary: Yesterday I visited my local Apple store for the very first time. I’d gone there with the intention of buying two of the new 16GB iPod touch media players. In the end I walked out empty handed.

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TOPICS: Mobility, Apple, Hardware
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Yesterday I visited my local Apple store for the very first time.  I’d gone there with the intention of buying two of the new 16GB iPod touch media players.  In the end I walked out empty handed. 

OK, to begin with I should probably explain why this was my first trip to an Apple retail store.  There are two reasons really.  The first is that my local Apple store isn’t really all that local since it’s a good four to five hour round trip, and secondly, what does a guy who spends most of his time on PCs need at the Apple store?

The thing that struck me as different about the Apple store is just how much kit they have out for customers (and potential customers) to play with.  I was at the store to look at iPods but even I couldn’t resist having a play with an iMac (that new ultra-thin aluminum keyboard is not only a thing of beauty but it’s a lot more comfortable and ergonomic than it looks) and the Mac Pro is certainly worth a look by anyone looking for an all-in-one video editing solution.  If I’d been shopping on the ZDNet company credit card I’d have needed a team of Sherpas to help me carry the boxes to my car (I‘d also probably need a bigger car) but unfortunately I don’t have a company credit card, which is probably a good thing all round.  Anyway, I was there to look at iPods.

Next —>

The 3rd gen iPod nano

The first iPod that I got some hands on time with was the new iPod nano.  I already own a 2nd gen iPod nano and in my opinion that’s a fantastic bit of kit.  It’s not perfect, but it comes close.  I’ve been highly critical of the 3rd iPod nanogen iPod nano since they came out a few weeks ago.  Part of the problem is that I just can’t get over how darn ugly they look, but I’ve also been concerned that a 2–inch screen is just too small.  Having handled it I can say with all honesty that I still don’t like it.  The 3rd gen nano actually feels like a flat stone eroded smooth in the hand (or an oddly-shaped cookie) and the design actually grows on you after a few minutes of use.  The shell feels solid yet strangely organic in the hand and the small size doesn’t make the click-wheel too difficult to use.  Don’t dismiss it based on how it looks.

But the new nano isn’t for me.  To start with, I still think that the screen is too small for photos and video.  Sure, the colors are bright and the detail is good, but that still doesn’t change the fact that it’s a 2–inch screen.  Put an iPod nano and an iPod classic side-by-side and you instantly appreciate the extra half-inch of screen real estate on the classic.  Another problem I found with the new nanos is that the click-wheel is nowhere near as easy to use as the one on my 2nd gen nano.  The click-wheel on the nanos that I have feels fluid and easy to use, but the click-wheel on all the 3rd gen nanos I tried (and I tried five or six) feels clunky and nowhere near as sensitive.  Combine this with a menu that feels slow and cover flow that flows like molasses through a straw and you have a device that I just can’t bond with.  To top it off, it offers no more extra storage space compared to my existing black 2nd gen nano.

To be perfectly honest, when I handled the new nano I got the feeling that it’s a device full of compromises.  The screen is a compromise, the video playback is a compromise, and the new interface is a compromise.  I can see why Apple made the progression that it did, I’m just not sure that the nano is as good as it could be.  But give it credit where credit is due, at the price point, it’s about as good a player as you can get.

Next —>

The iPod classic

The next iPod that I had some hands-on time with was the iPod classic.  It’s odd but I’ve never had the desire to buy a hard drive-based iPod.  The new iPod classic has everything that I though a portable media player would need – bags of storage, decent battery life, usable screen – but put that all iPod classictogether and for some inexplicable reason I just don’t feel moved to buying one.  However, the new iPod classic is, without a doubt, a marvel of engineering.  To be able to cram 160GB, a battery capable of delivering 40 hours of music playback and a 2.5–inch display into a box that measures 4.1 x 2.4 x 0.53–inches and weighs a shade under 6 ounces is unbelievable.  When holding an iPod classic I was well aware that I was holding a box that was literally crammed with technology. 

What’s interesting is that after having the opportunity to handle and use the iPod classic for a few minutes, when I went back to the iPod nano I could see nothing but the faults.  The screen on the iPod classic is small but it works, while the one on the nano is just small.  The interface on the classic is basic, and at times a little sparse, but it does the job, while on the nano it feels slow and inadequate.  Cover flow on the classic is silky smooth and a pleasure to use, while on the nano it’s a chore.  After being exposed to the iPod classic, I now didn’t just not like the 3rd gen nano, it made me angry.

Next —>

The iPod touch

Finally, I got some hands on time with the gadget that I’d come to see – the iPod touch.  Photos and video of the iPod touch really don’t prepare you for seeing it for the first time.  Switched off and sitting in the dock it looks like a iPod touchminiature version of the black monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey (if it played Also sprach Zarathustra each time it was fired up, it could complete the image).  Switch it on and the jet black screen instantly comes to life and the iPod touch is ready to use.

What really struck me about the iPod touch is just how intuitive and easy to use it is.  I’ve used more than my fair share of portable device (ranging from PDAs to GPS receivers) and the thing that almost all have in common is that in order to get the most out of them you have to learn how to use it properly and do things the way it wants you to do it.  The iPod touch is completely different.  Rather than being something that you have to learn to use, it seems to be designed intuitively from the ground up.  It’s a device that really is hard to fault. 

Part of what makes the iPod touch so pleasing to use is the feeling that Apple hasn’t cut corners to deliver a cheap device.  The touch is obviously built so that it’s powerful enough to cope with the operating system because at no time do you feel that it’s slow or sluggish in carrying out an operating.  The screen is luxuriously large, the touch sensitivity spot on, and the fit and finish what you might expect of a luxury car (think BMW or Mercedes) or expensive watch (Omega or Rolex). 

I was also surprised by the screen.  Sure, it picks up smudges easily but these don’t affect viewing pleasure as much as I expected.  Also, unlike other portable device the iPod touch doesn’t have a raised bezel around the screen, so a wipe actually removes the accumulated muck rather than forcing it into the edge of the bezel.  Nice.

If I was going to nitpick at the iPod touch I’d have to bring up small issues.  For example, take the browser.  Safari on a small device isn’t the utter disaster that Internet Explorer is on Windows Mobile, but it’s also nowhere near as good as Opera.  In fact, when it comes to rendering web pages on a small screen, Opera has everyone else beaten hands down.  But, on the iPod touch you’re stuck with Safari, which is OK, but it’s not as good as Opera.  Another nitpick would be what initially feels like a sluggishness on the part of the accelerometer that changes the screen display from portrait to landscape and back again.  I guess if this was too sensitive then it would be a pain to use, but I feel that a few milliseconds of extra responsiveness would be nice. 

Also, I was worried that the “negative black” screen issue reported by a few iPod touch owners was a widespread issue.  All the iPod touch devices that I looked at checked out just fine.

So why didn’t I buy a pair of iPod touches?  Simple, after phoning up earlier and being reassured of plenty of stock, by the time I got there all the stock was sold.  I’d been told on the phone that I couldn’t reserve a pair but once I got there (and introduced myself) that changed and that next time I should ask to speak to the manager and have what I want put on one side.  Next time I’ll know (Did I just say “next time?”  Does that mean that I’ll be making a regular thing of visiting Apple stores?).  The folks there are friendly and enthusiastic, and the place has a great vibe, something that’s usually lacking in the modern retail experience. 

So I walked out empty handed.  But I’ll be back … after all, there's a nice sushi place close by!

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Topics: Mobility, Apple, Hardware

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28 comments
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  • Good Post

    Apple has improved the UI for the 3G Nanos. The ones you played with and noticed sluggishness probably were not updated. Not sure how well the improvement is.

    http://arstechnica.com/journals/apple.ars/2007/09/17/10-1-firmware-update-to-new-ipods-improves-ui-speed
    gsteeno
    • I forgot to check ...

      But I think you're right. They could do with updating for sure.
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
  • RE: My first trip to an Apple store ... and I walked out empty handed!

    This article is a complete waste of my time.
    Prognosticator
  • Apple store is a great experience indeed

    I have one of these near my house in Dallas. When I first walked in a year or so ago, I was surprised at just how inviting these stores are versus, say, a Dell store (there is one at a nearby mall).

    The contrast reminded me of when I visited east and west Berlin in 1993. You can guess which one was more like East Berlin. I still do not own a Mac and unlikely to but only because I feel Windows is "good enough", I know it pretty well and I usually build my own PC. If not for that, I'd be an Mac head.
    Prognosticator
  • What do PC users need at an Apple store? What about iPods.

    Adrian writes: "what does a guy who spends most of
    his time on PCs need at the Apple store"

    What about iPods? Over 80% of those hundreds of
    millions of iPods that have been sold have been to PC
    users. Many of these PC users have purchased them
    from Apple stores.

    I think your 4 hour round trip is a better excuse. Still,
    Apple has placed its stores in high traffic areas and
    countless Windows users who don't have to travel as
    far are having the revelation you had.
    YinToYourYang-22527499
    • What about iPods?

      I always thought that you bought them from Amazon!
      Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
      • Retail space provides valuable kit experience

        People choose to visit Amazon. But the Apple Stores are in your face with the kits that
        you mentioned.

        Statistically, that's a lot of Windows users shopping those malls. How many people
        did you see when you visited the store?
        YinToYourYang-22527499
        • How many people in the store?

          ... lots! About 40 ... oddly enough though, didn't see anyone buy anything.
          Adrian Kingsley-Hughes
          • Not buying is not necessarily a bad thing

            I visited the music many times before I had the money to buy my first Gibson. It
            didn't bother me much to just dream about in the mean time. People can get fixated
            with things that are just-beyond-reach.

            Maybe PCs are passe because been devalued too much.
            YinToYourYang-22527499
    • Yeah, but

      You can also buy an iPod at Walmart (in store only, models vary, according to the website).

      They had the new nanos at the local one here, but no touches (you know I had to check lol).

      I, personally, would rather buy one from Apple directly, I'm just noting. :)
      laura.b
      • Hey...

        Good point!
        Kromaethius
  • somehow I knew how the story ends! :)

    I am quite keen to get my hands on Touch as well, but after reading what has been left or left out.. I will probably wait until Iphone comes to my country.. :(
    kriskl
  • I think you're wrong

    As a week-long owner of the 3rd gen nano (which I called "fatboy" when it was
    announced and then when I saw it in the flesh just had to buy) and a June 29
    owner of an iPhone, I think you're wrong, and here's why:

    The "classic" is the doddering iPod, not the nano. It has the typical hard drive
    characteristic of having to spin up before it properly responds. The nano is the
    new iPod for everyone, the classic is only there for the nuts who have to carry
    every single song with them wherever they go.

    The "touch" is a crippled iPhone. Half the features are missing (volume buttons,
    speaker, useful apps). It's also fitted with a cheaper and inferior screen, even
    though the negative black batch is being replaced. It does nothing an iPhone can't
    do better, except for the 16GB option, and I predict Macworld January will remedy
    that if you can hold out that long.

    The "nano" is a thing of beauty. The 2" display is gorgeous, and not at all inferior
    to the classic's 2.5", either for viewing movies (where both are compromises
    anyway) or reading. It is 204 dpi, with the result that the text looks crisp and
    razor sharp, almost as though printed in laser toner. (It's higher dpi than the Sony
    Reader which is designed to mimic the printed page.)

    The "iPhone" is far better value for money for the extra $100 over the 8 GB touch,
    and worth the 8 GB sacrifice over the equivalent priced 16 GB touch. You get so
    many more features, and with a few mins of hacking, don't need to sign up to
    AT&T to use it.

    So, there you have it. I'm right, you're wrong, and every is entitled to their
    opinion!
    mikataur
    • I would say...

      The iTouch is what i would want, EXCEPT for storage space. I more consider it an iPhone without the need for an overprised phone section on lockdown to AT&T, which I neither need nor want, but I do want the single most innovative part of the iPhone: The touchscreen technology.

      I am one of those that wants ALL my songs and video there. Thats the point of a video MP3 player for me, not having to CHOOSE what to put on. The ability to play what i want out of my entire collection at a whim makes me VERY interested.

      I would be the person who wants a HDD based iTouch
      ivanotter
  • New Apple notebook

    I just bought a new Apple notebook with 120G drive 1Mg Ram etc. What can I do with it ?? I was reading that you can run 2 or 3 programs at once....what programs are they ? Can't I run XP or other Microsoft programs ?? If not it is for sale NOW !! Anyone please reply to pwcrain@msn.com THANKS
    pwcrain
    • Why did you buy a MAC?

      If Windows programs are the deciding factor you are the only one to blame for buying a MAC. Looks to me like there is a troll among us.

      P.S.

      You are aware a MAC will run Windows if using Bootcamp?
      soonerproud
      • Multiple Plaints...

        Let me just get it out in the open - "Mac" is not an acronym. It's a shorthand for
        it's predecessor, the Macintosh. Therefore, it's not all uppercase. Resource?
        http://www.apple.com - look at the middle of the very top of the page. "Mac".

        While Bootcamp is a great option, it's also one of the less user-friendly ways. I
        prefer Wine (winehq.org), Parallels, ($80 - parallelsdesktop.com) VMware, ($80
        - vmware.com/fusion), or if you're looking for a free alternative, VirtualBox works
        nicely.

        He obviously bought a Mac because they are extremely powerful machines.
        Even at the time he purchased this MacBook, it was much more powerful than
        most of the PCs available at the time. That was my deciding factor, and that
        was in September of '09. I looked at Dell, HP, Gateway, Asus, Acer, Toshiba,
        Sony, even Compaq. None of their laptops had the same amount of power at a
        lesser price point than the MacBook Pro I own now. Sure, they all had 17"
        laptops that were less expensive than mine, but for a 15" with an Intel 3.06GHz
        Core 2 Duo processor, 8GB of DDR3, a 500GB HDD @7200 rpm, the dual
        graphics card setup (no PC had the 9400M and the 9600GT, some of the more
        powerful cards at the time), AND a 7 hour battery no other PC came close to
        comparing. Not to mention that the Macs just look so much better than a PC
        anyway. Aluminum vs. Plastic - is there any comparison?

        Also, the versatility of the operating system is astounding. Mac OS X will run
        any OS you want - Windows, through Boot Camp or a virtual environment, and
        any distro of Linux through virtualization. From a developer's point of view,
        every copy of OS X has its Xcode tools installer on the disk. With it,
        development for Mac OS X and iPhone OS is only a few clicks away. Being
        able to run multiple OSs at once, the development advantages, and the
        graphical capabilities (with a REAL high quality graphics card, which is very
        hard to come by in a PC, unless you build it yourself) are only the tip of the
        iceberg when it comes to Mac OS X.
        Ktroje
  • A quibble about your usage of 'PC'

    "what does a guy who spends most of his time on PCs need at the Apple store?"

    It seems evident that by 'PC', you actually mean 'Windows." That's functionally the equivalent of a guy in the 1920's saying 'Model T' when he actually means 'automobile.' It simply ignores the fact that any computer that you own personally is by definition a PC.

    That being said, you should lighten up and not dwell on the negatives. It would be a terrible thing for you to buy things based simply on how much they don't suck instead of buying them for how much you like them.
    Letophoro
    • History

      Actually, the term "PC" dates back to the original IBM PC, and has since stuck as the generic term for a "IBM compatible" computer rather than just any old personal computer. You are right, Macs are also pcs, just not a PC.
      itpro_z
      • True enough as far as it goes.

        "Actually, the term "PC" dates back to the original IBM PC, and has since stuck as the generic term for a "IBM compatible" computer rather than just any old personal computer. You are right, Macs are also pcs, just not a PC."

        True enough, but the description was hardware oriented. That is, an IBM PC compatible machine performed the same hardware functions as an IBM PC. Even then the term PC was OS agnostic given that the PC could also run CP/M or DR DOS.

        The equation of PC == Windows came after hardware manufacturers were "incentivized" to license Windows for every PC they sold.
        Letophoro