I have an iRiver. It’s fugly. Even its name is an aesthetically displeasing admission that the sole reason for its existence is to divert market share from the mighty iPod family.
You buy an iPod from a smiley, smart-casual white person in an authorized Mac dealership where the shelves are cleaner and brighter than those in most labs I’ve worked in. You buy an iRiver from a sulky, gawky Asian kid in a shop modelled after a market stall in Bladerunner. You haggle. His fingers perform a ritual dance on an oversized electronic calculator. When you’ve bought it and finally prised it out of its box, the iRiver’s strange, pinstripe-patterned surface comes covered in hard-to-peel-off stickers. Its accessories are fresh from being fished out of vats of lumpy, black molten plastic by stoop-backed Chinese political prisoners with electrodes clamped to their nipples. The manual boasts of the iRiver’s “extraordinarily sleek design”. It is as sleek as a yak.
I have complained (to outrage from the iPoderati) about the problems I had using iTunes, the computer software that comes with iPods, but must admit that the software that comes on iPods—so that you can actually operate the things—almost lives up to the almighty hype surrounding its usability.
I would never say the same of the iRiver operating system, yet another dimension of iRiver fugliness. The interface is hellish. The colours are garish. The documentation is in Engrish:
“Images and Text are OK!”
“Using Browser, you can perform the work connecting to external devices such as digital camera etc.”
“Skip the set period of time while playback.”
But I can play exactly what I like on it: MP3s, WAVs, WMAs, Ogg files; I can view images, watch video, browse documents, store data. I can connect it to just about any modern computer with a USB port, and to a number of different digital cameras. I buy my music. I rip it from CD. I put on my iRiver. I make as many copies as I like. Unlike an iPod (or, indeed, my old MiniDisc player) there is no frustrating and pointless “Digital Rights Management” extending skeletal corporate fingers into my life, slapping my wrist with rolled-up licence agreements. It’s my music. I paid for it. I’ll do what I like with it, thank you very much—including making copies for my friends to listen to—and Apple and Sony and Microsoft can go screw themselves.
A neat example of the iRiver ethos is that the ugliness of the interface to all this free and flexible activity can be fixed by its users. Indeed, iRiver encourages its customers to create, share, and install their own “skins” to change the look of the machine’s display to suit their own sensibilities. So much as glance at an iPod in a non-Apple-approved way and their attack lawyers will subpoena your mother, your hamster, and your three most recent sexual contacts.
I can even use my iRiver with the Devil’s own operating system: Linux. This means that I can apply a patchwork of rebel code to convert Apple’s locked-down music format to MP3s (or, indeed WAVs or WMAs) and listen to iTunes tracks without having to install iTunes. If I wanted to use my iRiver with a Windows machine I wouldn’t have to install iTunes or indeed any other kind of digital cruft to do so. Even upgrading the iRiver’s own built-in operating system is simply a case of downloading a file, unzipping it, plugging in my iRiver and dropping the file onto the machine. After I navigate through some menus and choose “Yes” from the last one the new software installs itself and switches the iRiver off. When I turn the machine back on it’s gone from version 1.07 to version 1.28.
One of the most telling criticisms Mac cult leader Steve Jobs ever made of Microsoft was that its products were “tasteless”. Even now, many technological generations after that verdict, Windows looks like Frankenstein’s monster next to the Apple’s Annalee Call of an operating system. But Windows won. It stole the essence of the Apple desktop. That it did this ineptly was less important than that it was prepared to offer this clumsiness to any hardware manufacturer interested in conforming to IBM standards. Apple stayed beautiful and aloof. Microsoft was anybody’s.
My iRiver is a shamelessly promiscuous, eager-to-please, shaggy mongrel of a machine. It rocks in a way the Ice Queen, best-in-show iPod—as pretty as it is—never will.
And, most importantly for a digital jukebox, it sounds superb.
Such a tragic case of geek envy… You could have had the iWinona, but you ended up with the iRene Ryan.
Readers should be aware that Hak is one of many who fell asleep next to an iPod and were snatched. Shortly before my purchase of an iRiver, when I was still pondering which way to swing, she pressed a green iPod into my hand and pleaded with me not to resist.
You say “Even its name is an aesthetically displeasing admission that the sole reason for its existence is to grub market share from the mighty iPod family” but…
Follow your own link to wikipedia and you see that iRiver was founded in 1999, while the iPod was first announced in October 2001.
These Koreans must be bloody clever to name a company just so they can take market share from something which won’t even be announced for 2 years!
You cannot resist the Reality Distortion Field – surrender to its embrace. While you are about it, get yerself a real *nix.
This has been a message on behalf of the Love Slaves of Steve™.
I’m with Hak! The iPod is so pretty… I would say it sounds great but then again I do listen to it with a Headroom Airhead and Sennheiser earphones. The iTunes program is a total pain in the arse, and worse, it tends to grow on you like fungus until you think that organizing your music that way is “cool”.
Since WMP 10 came out there is absolutely no reason to own an iPod with iTunes, I’ve had to put up with iTunes for months ever since my dear sister bought me an iPod and I’ve been longing to chuck it on eBay ever since. Every other MP3 player works on WMP 10 and that does everything iTunes can but better and faster.
iTunes cannot correctly use a central repository of songs, the XML index is located in one place only, and that’s on your own PC, it cannot be moved or networked, besides the fact iTunes cannot recognise standard Windows network paths, it is next to useless in a network.
One evening I discovered why my games were running slow, due to some nasty little iPod detection routine in the background called ipodservice.exe, I now have to kill this process every time I exit iTunes.
The final straw was when I put the iPod in its charging bracket (a inMotion unit actually) but forgot to turn on the power connection (the adapter gets unusually hot), the f*cking thing ran out of power whilst idly connected to the USB port, what other device runs out of power just by being connected to a power providing port ? I have a camera that _charges_ on USB power only !
For the money, this is not the kind of design I expect, and we are talking a model and software several generations removed from the original with plenty of time for improvements. I paid nothing, but even the time and trouble I spent getting this thing to work was not worth it.
The one single redeeming feature of the iPod is a little add-on called iTrip, this converts the output into an FM signal that can be picked up in the car radio, much better than those pseudo-cassette units. But hey, they are actually illegal in the UK !
When it was founded the company was called ReignCom. It got into the business by making MP3 chips. It didn’t start making MP3 players until 2000 and even then did so under the badges of other companies, namely Rio and SVC. Early ReignCom players were called “Riovolt” and “Soul” respectively.
This article shows that coming up with its recognisable brand name was one of ReignCom’s smartest moves. As you correctly point out the, iPod appeared in October 2001. The first iRiver appeared in September 2002.
No time travel required.
I tunes is definitely crap. Personally, I don’t own a true MP3 player, much less an iPod, but iTunes comes as part of the Quicktime download so you’re forced to check it out if you want to view some of the more “aloof” video downloads you may run into. RealPlayer is much better, relatively speaking.
I’m waiting until I find a decent brand of player that has a both an FM tuner on it and more than 128 megs of memory before I drop the ducats on a toy that will be half the price two years from now. All the TVs at the Y have FM trasmitters on the audio, and I simply won’t hit the weights or the treadmill without being able to watch Sportscenter at the same time once football season comes around again.
I’ve had iPods since late 2001. The first one fell in the loo (I’ve been very careful since), but its replacement has served me well for 3 years. I can’t be bothered with radio/video/better/faster, let alone bloated Microsoft software: iTunes/iPod is beautifully simple and uncluttered.
Interesting that so many people complain that iTunes is crap. Presumably none of you use it in its natural environment, but run it on whichever flavour of Swiss-cheese-ware is being flogged out of Redmond at the moment. Except Pooter, who would have to run it in emulation on his emulator.
I use iTunes on a Mac, and find it to be so-so. Not great, annoying in many ways, but handy for converting AIFFs to MP3. In general, I avoid it. I’d much rather burn to a CD and stick it a CD-player.
What really pisses me off is that it insists on sticking a little gap between each track. When playing CDs whose tracks are mixed into each other seamlessly, that’s a real pain in the arse. In fact, does any MP3 player not do this?
Squander Two: there’s a setting somewhere to remove the time gaps between songs in most MP3 players. What frustrates me is that I can’t apply it specifically to one folder of MP3s. It’s a nifty thing to have when you’re listening to house music, but really horrid when you’ve got say, the “Best of the 70s and 80s” playlist running.
Damian: I forgot to tell you — I love your yak. As for that ill-bred dog, I think it bears a slight resemblance to me.
I don’t want to start a row or anything… but this ign review of the iRiver SlimX is from Feb 1, 2002 and this cnet review was written in January 2002.
(OK that is after the ipod was announced, but a lot earlier than September 2002)
Also, and I know its always possible they have had a Stalinist revision of history but, the company history at the iRiver site says that iriver co. Ltd was established in July 2000 and the iMP series was launched in Nov 2000. But then the iriver America site says that “iriver was established in 1999 by ReignCom.” so who knows?
Or indeed who cares? Its a good piece of kit regardless of when the name was registered, and I wouldn’t swap my old HP-120 for anything. (Except an HP-140 obviously)
That could be the most beautiful thing a woman has ever said to me.
That’s just sad! 😛
“iTunes cannot correctly use a central repository of songs, the XML index is located in one place only, and that’s on your own PC, it cannot be moved or networked, besides the fact iTunes cannot recognise standard Windows network paths, it is next to useless in a network.”
This is so wrong it’s hard to know where to start. Using Windows obviously rots the brain! If iTunes cannot use a central repository of songs, where’s the iTunes Library? Hyperspace? What does “correctly” mean? Does naughty iTunes not say “please” when it uses its central repository? How many places do you need an index? Why would you want to move it? Why would anyone recognise “standard Windows paths” that are not standard precisely because Microsoft chose not to honour the existing standard Unix file structure and created its own bastardised version with the stunning innovation of backslashes instead of forward slashes (can anyone say Not Invented Here?). And as for being “next to useless in a network”: wow, talk about the Big Lie. Any PC or Mac on the same network can access the iTunes library of any other. Using Airtunes you can connect any hifi to your iTunes library, wirelessly. I don’t think the word “useless” means what you think it means.
[…] time back I raved about the freedom my fat, ugly iRiver gives me compared to an iPod. Now you can make your iRiver free-er or liberate […]
I too am an iRiver user, first for the sound quality which is streets ahead of an ipod and second because it is flexible enough to play what I want to play from what source and in what format I want. The fact that no pimply urchin would try and nick such an unattractive piece of hardware is also an advantage…