I lost my iPod nano a couple of months ago; oops. Which gave me a chance to see some of how the iPod has evolved: I had to use my old iPod for a little while so I got reminded what the previous generation was like, and then I got to experience the newer model nano.

Some of the improvements between generations are obvious: the nano (either model) has flash memory, easily fits in your pocket, has a much better screen. I’d kind of forgotten how huge my first iPod was, which is ironic given that I was impressed how small it what when I got it. I’d also forgotten about other changes. My favorite improvement is that, when listing the podcasts, it puts a blue mark next to the episodes you haven’t listened to. So I don’t have to remember which episodes of JapanesePod101 I’ve listened to and which I haven’t. I’m sure the feature was easy to implement, but I really like it.

And then there’s the old nano versus the new one. The new one has a sturdier case, which feels better. I bought an iPod shield for it, but it seemed sturdy enough that the shield wasn’t necessary, and I thought I wouldn’t like the feel of the machine as much with the shield covering it. I was annoyed that, to get the 8GB model, I had to choose black (blue or pink seemed nicer to me), but I liked the storage more than the fashion statement. And the storage really does help – 4GB was fine, but with 8GB I don’t have to think twice before throwing music on it. (But I do have more than 8GB of music and podcasts stored in iTunes, so I’m sure I’ll be happy to upgrade again in the future.)

And another tiny improment. For the nano, they moved the headphone connector to the bottom, next to the dock connector – presumably there wasn’t room at the top after they moved the screen up. But the headphone and dock connector were right next to each other. So, when I was getting out of the car while shopping, I had the headphones plugged in (because I’d been listening to the iPod in a store) and the dock connector plugged in (with a radio transmitter on the other end, so I could listen in the car), and I had to unplug the headphones before my finger could squeeze the dock connector to unplug it.

Not a big deal, to be sure. But in the new model, they moved the dock connector to the side, so there’s room between the two, and I can unplug them independently. A little thing, but I’m glad they got that little thing right in the new model.

Having said that, my recent experience has made be a bit down on Apple. I’ve already complained about the latest iTunes version. The nano (at least the newest one, I can’t remember the old one) doesn’t work as well when scrolling through a long podcast description, for some reason. Worst of all, though, my new iPod was buggy. When first listening to it after syncing, it froze about half the time. Resetting cures the problem (toggle the hold switch back and forth, then hold down menu + center for a few seconds), after which it’s fine until the next time I sync, but it’s still broken. And there’s some haze under the screen – the case may be sturdier, but the screen still seems to have an issue.

So I went to the “Genius Bar” and got it replaced. You apparently have to make an appointment (which you can do from home); a bit annoying, but I’m willing to accept a bit of production leveling if it gives me a more predictable response time. I had to wait for a good 25 minutes or so, though, so I’m not sure it’s working in that regard. (While waiting, I got to watch the screen above the bar cycle through its spiel several times; you know, Apple, if you have to put information about how to reset an iPod on that screen, then maybe that’s a sign that the software is unacceptably buggy.)

Once I got to see somebody, he quickly acknowledged that I had a problem, and deserved a replacement; good for them. He then disappeared into the back room for 15 minutes or so; eventually, he emerged, saying that they didn’t have any replacement units, so they’d order one and I’d get a call in about three days. It actually took more like a week, but I now have my replacement (again, having to wait both before and during my appointment).

I have to think there’s a fair amount of waste in the process. It should have taken about 5 minutes to order the replacement, not 20: a couple of minutes to figure out that I needed a replacement, a minute to look on the computer to see if they had inventory, and then a couple of minutes to jot down my phone number and order the replacement. Instead, the genius wasted 15 minutes looking for one. Just what was he doing during that 15 minutes? Even if they don’t have electronic inventory control, you’d think that there would be one place to look for replacements. So I’m pretty sure that at least 13 of those 15 minutes were pure waste; if they’d get rid of that, their genius would have been about 4 times as efficient. Similarly, it shouldn’t have taken them as long to retrieve my replacement unit.

But I have a replacement now; I hope it works. I haven’t given it a try yet because I decided to put on the shield (in hopes that that would prevent the screen problem from recurring); the shield wants to set for a day before use. I’m still not sure the shield was the right idea; I don’t like the feel as much, and there are bubbles under it. The instructions say the bubbles will work out over the next couple of days; if not, I might be tempted to ditch the shield. I do wish I’d gone for the screen-only version of the shield instead of the full-body version: I see no reason for the latter in the latest generation nano.

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