The iPod: All Decked Out
Apple's (AAPL ) updates of its wildly popular iPod line this year didn't just give consumers another reason to buy the music player. It gave them -- and friends and family members who plan to give gifts -- a new bounty of iPod accessories to choose from as well.
That's because the design of the iPod nano and the video iPod means many of the old accessories can't be used with the new devices. Both require new cases, for example. With the nano, it's easy to see why. The incredibly thin device is a completely different shape than the iPod mini, which it replaced. But even its video cousin, which is the same size as the previous-generation non-video iPods, needs a new wrap. That's because the headphone jack on the top of the device moved from the center to the side, and the screen is a great deal larger than earlier versions. No owner should go case-less. Consumers have complained about how easily these devices are scratched, particularly the nano.
There already are some slick cases on the market. My favorite for the nano: WaterField Designs' $22 case (sfbags.com). It has a subtle checkerboard pattern weaved into the nylon on the outside and a cushiony neoprene liner to protect the device. But the thing that sets it apart is a wide elastic strap on one side to stow your headphones when the nano is not in use. Incase makes the stylish $20 nano Wallet in black or pink leather. It comes with a compartment on the flap to stash credit cards (goincase.com). Marware has the most whimsical offerings with its $20 Sportsuit Safari, a protective sleeve that comes in seven faux-fur styles, including giraffe and zebra (marware.com). To dress up a nano under a tree, Marware offers the seasonally appropriate Sportsuit Santa, a $20 plush red case trimmed with white fur.
The video iPod is new enough that only a handful of cases are available for it. The best is Belkin's $30 Kickstand Case, a leather cover that opens and folds in half to become a stand allowing a viewer to watch videos on an airplane tray table, for example, without having to hold the device (belkin.com). Pretty slick. Marware has come out with its tried-and-true Sportsuit Convertible for $40, a snug neoprene case with a protective flap that covers the face of the iPod and an all-important pocket on the outside of the flap to stash the earphones.
Just about any earphone will work with the new iPods. But for the nano, take a look at Apple's nano Lanyard Headphones (apple.com). A little pricey at $40, they snap into the headphone jack and dock connector at the bottom of the nano and let you wear the iPod around your neck. It even hangs upside down, allowing users to flip the player up and not have to read an upside-down screen.
Accessory makers are just beginning to devise clever ways to take advantage of the video iPod's capabilities. One of the best is Apple's QuickTime 7 Pro software. At $30, it gives home-video buffs tools to convert their home movies into files that can be downloaded to and played on an iPod.
Sharing video is easy, too -- with the right gear. A must-have is the $19 AV Cable, also from Apple. The cable, which connects your iPod to the red, yellow, and white composite RCA jacks on a TV, was originally intended to play slideshows from last year's iPod Photo on TV. But it handles video, too. Want to go higher end? Try Digital Lifestyle Outfitters' $100 HomeDock, a base station that links the iPod to a home theater system, pumping the video's accompanying soundtrack through stereo speakers (dlo.com).
Anyone who gets carried away with video will soon discover it taxes the iPod's battery far more than music does. The 30 gigabyte iPod runs out of juice after just two hours of video play. That means anyone planning to use it on a long-haul flight will appreciate Nyko's iBoost, a $70 battery pack that can add another 7 hours of video playtime (nyko.com).
For anyone with an iPod, listening to your music in the car has become very easy. Griffin Technology's iTrip FM Transmitter, which shoots music over airwaves to an unused FM radio signal, has set a standard for elegant design (griffintechnology.com). Its earlier models took advantage of the remote port on the top of previous generation iPods, but Apple has eliminated that port with the new breed. So Griffin has come out with a new iTrip, at $50, that snaps into the dock connector at the bottom of the new iPods. Be forewarned, though: FM Transmitters don't work particularly well in urban areas with packed radio dials.
The iPod toy category is one that's just beginning to bloom. One of the early entries: the $30 I-Dog from Hasbro (hasbro.com). Plug an iPod into the pintsize robotic canine and watch it light up and turn different colors to your music. To be fair, it's not purely an iPod item, since it will connect to most music sources. But the name clearly suggests the market it's targeting.
Some new accessories work with the old iPods as well, such as the $100 iHome clock radio (ihomeaudio.com). Just pop an iPod into the iHome's dock to wake up to favorite tunes. The gadget even charges the unit overnight and serves as a speaker system, too.
Speck Products seems to have cornered the market on iPod silliness (speckproducts.com). Slip a nano into the $35 iGuy stand, and all of a sudden it's goofiness personified. The rubber stand has a cartoonish body with movable arms. Speck's $35 Grass FunSkin is a case designed to look like grass is sprouting from a nano. It's hardly the most functional iPod accessory. But that's not really the point, is it?
By Jay Greene