Friday, December 28, 2007

Apple forcing us to turn down the volume?

So, this story isn't new, been floating around teh intarwebs since before Xmas (and I've written about this before), but I still think it's worth taking a quick look at.
The Telegraph reported on Dec 23rd, that Apple has filed a patent that would allow future iPods to calculate how long you've been listening to music, at what volume you've been listening, and would gradually turn down the volume on you. This is supposed to be a big magnanimous gesture on Apple's part, as people can plug into music all day long thanks to huge amounts of storage available. As hearing loss can be a gradual event, most people might not even know they're doing damage.
This idea sounds great in theory (like a rev limiter on car helps save fuel and forces you to not do something too stupid), but I see some huge flaws.

First off, will this be a feature we can turn off? It sounds like a silly question at first, but Apple has shown a tendency (as do a lot of tech companies) towards locking consumers into doing things their way because they "know better" (iPhone I'm looking at you). If Mommies and Daddies get concerned about little Timmy's Nano, Jobs & Co could make this a new locked in "feature" to assuage concerns, or make it painfully difficult to disable.
Why would I want to turn it off? Well the majority of the time I listen to my iPod it's usually plugged into speakers of some kind. Also I hate proprietary docks and connectors, so I plug my Nano in using the headphone jack. In my car I have a line in, and at home my stereo has an "MP3 port" (which is just a fancy way of saying "line in"). In both cases I'll jack the Nano to about 80% volume and then control the actual speaker output via the stereo. If this system is monitoring the ipods output it's going to think I'm blasting my ears for hours at a time. I don't want to be fighting my MP3 player while driving...

Secondly, this issue with people listening to music too loud for too long is mostly Apple's fault at this point. A lot of people credit the success of the ipod with the distinctive design of the white earbuds. Well guess what? Those are HORRIBLE for your ears! They don't create any seal around the ear's opening, so your music is constantly having to compete with the sounds around you. The louder the noise, the louder you'll have to turn up your music. The ipod is a fantastic DAP. The headphones included are the worst dime store crap you could put in your ears.
If Apple really cared about protecting people's hearing, they would drop these headphones immediately, or would include an accessory like the Griffin Ear Jams to help with the problem. Even the Zune includes "premium" headphones which help with noise cancellation, and should allow people to enjoy music at lower volume.

When I do listen to Nano with headphones, it's either on Sony EX51's (pictured) or Sennheiser cx300's. Even when working out, I have a hard time listening above 50% volume, which according to the Telegraph (sidebar), is about as noisy as a loud restaurant or office building, and shouldn't damage the ears for about 24 hours of listening. That's a lot of music...

Check out the article @ The Telegraph. It is an interesting read, though I really think Apple might be missing the point.

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