I was quite impressed by Apple’s recent iPod announcements. Most companies, I think, would have been coasting for some time if they had as dominant a product as the iPod. Apple, however, is continuing to push ahead with a constant stream of improvements ranging from the subtle to the groundbreaking. Which is awesome: what I want is for companies to make the best products in the world and then figure out how to make them even better, to continue to open up new possibilities. There were some things that made me wonder – in particular, the way they handled ringtones was so stunningly anti-consumer that I had to assume there was some sort of behind-the-scenes negotiation that caused it to make sense somehow – but all in all I thought it was great.

I started to wonder, though, when I read that their new user interface was quite a bit slower than their old one. I’m all for user interface improvements, but eye candy and UI improvements aren’t the same thing at all, and I’m not nearly as big a fan of Cover Flow as Steve Jobs is. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against a bit of eye candy, but not at the expense of taking 41 seconds to boot a frigging MP3 player. So maybe I was too rash to assume that they’re doing a constant stream of improvements: maybe this is the sign of the design starting to go off the rails?

And then I learned that Apple apparently is trying to prevent users from syncing their iPods without using iTunes. Which really hit a nerve with me, for reasons I don’t entirely understand. (I don’t have the same emotional reaction to, say, Nintendo trying to prevent me from using their hardware with disks/cartidges that they didn’t press/manufacture.) I think it’s partly a reaction to their going from a somewhat open platform to a closed platform, and partly the narrow concrete effects of their actions. A de-facto monopolistic tie of having 99% of iPod users use iTunes isn’t good enough: they have to make it very clear to us that they’re not seeking to become a monopoly as an accidental outcome of making the best product out there, they’re seeking to become a monopoly because they want power and they want us to know it.

This is where I’m supposed to say that I’ll never buy another iPod again. The truth is, though, that I care enough about having a good interface to listen to music and podcasts that I’m not at all comfortable with saying that. I am, however, actively rooting for them to get their asses handed to them in European courtrooms.

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