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home > community > viewpoint > a modest proposal

A Modest Proposal
I think about my MP3 player way too much.

A Modest Proposal

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By Ray Charbonneau
Posted Wednesday, 16 January, 2008

Running with music is important to me. Running with friends or in races is better, but most of the time circumstances require that I run by myself. When I do, I always have a player with me. So I want it to be the right player.

When I went into a store and picked up a second generation nano, I fell in love. It felt just right in my hand – next to my girlfriend, the nano is the sexiest thing I’ve ever run with. It was easy to use. With a decent pair of headphones it sounded great (if you have an iPod and are still using the 50 cent earbuds that came with it, you have no idea). The nano became my constant companion on the road.

For the most part, the iPod meets my needs. But there’s one thing that’s been a problem. I’m not the world’s fastest runner, but I do like to challenge myself to get better. Intervals are a major tool all runners can use to improve.

I’ve got a Timex Ironman watch that I can set to do repeat intervals. Problem is, the watch signals the end of an interval by beeping. Since I’m listening to my iPod, I can’t hear the beeps. One thing I’ve tried is to remove the watchband from an old watch and carry it near my ear, stuffed in my hat or sweatband. Then I can hear the beep, but it’s uncomfortable, the watch often falls out, and I can’t see the watch when I want to glance at the time.

There’s an obvious solution to this problem. The iPod should know when the interval ends and play a signal through the headphones when it does. This should be easy to accomplish in any number of ways.

Apple can do it at almost no cost to them. The nano (and many other iPods) already has a stopwatch. But it’s a crappy stopwatch. It can only be used as a timer, with simple start, stop, and split timing functions. For some reason you’ve got to pause the timer before you can stop it. And you can’t even recall all the splits when you’re done. Clearly, this needs improvement. And while fixing the stopwatch application, it would be easy to add the interval timing functionality we want, making the iPod a great tool for runners.

The simplest way to add intervals would be to add a single, configurable, interval which would repeat over and over, beeping over the music at the end of each interval. It wouldn’t be much harder to add multiple intervals, so you could run for 5 minutes, rest for a minute, and then start over. Since the iPod already has a timer, all this is just a software change. It could be included in an iTunes update, like many other improvements Apple has made over the years.

With a little imagination, you could come up with other ideas. For example, you could have the iPod replace the beeps with appropriate sound clips (“Faster now!” “Take it easy!”).

Apple has business partners who might have more to gain by adding interval functionality to the iPod. The partners could add even more capabilities that would take advantage of their own products.

Nike has their Nike+iPod Sport Kit . The Nike+ package includes a small accelerometer pod (almost as cute as the iPod Shuffle) that fits in the midsole of specially designed Nike shoes. The pod can be attached to any model shoe using third-party devices or Velcro (or duct tape). There’s a receiver that plugs into your iPod and software that allows you to capture training data, compete with other Nike+ users, and set up the iPod to encourage you during your runs and congratulate you when you reach goals.

It is available at a very low price, the same way razors are cheap and blades are expensive. One of the “blades” Nike sells is a series of pre-built playlists that guide you through workouts by sequencing upbeat and slower songs. That’s fine (and profitable for Nike), but I want to listen to the music I like, selected randomly from all my available songs. I don’t want to be limited to pre-selected items, even if I build my own training playlists. Why can’t the Nike+ software allow us to easily set intervals directly, and feed simple beeps (or designated sound clips) into the stream of music? Since the system measures how far you run, it could also set intervals based on distance.

Timex makes an $80 watch that you can use to control your iPod . The watch has buttons that let you change songs, adjust the volume, or pause the music. It also works with a small receiver that gets plugged into the iPod. The Timex watch already has the functions we want, and a more accurate timer than the iPod. It just needs to play the beeps at the end of each interval through the iPod.

There’s hope. Vendors do catch on and improve their products, especially if they hear from their customers. I’ve seen it happen already with iPods. When the Shuffle came out, it could be clipped anywhere, but often long headphone cables would get in the way. Sony realized this, and came out with $40 headphones that sounded great and had an 18 inch cable, with an extension cable if you needed more length. The short cable easily tucks out of the way. (The Arriva “wireless” headphones designed expressly for the 2nd gen Shuffle are an even more interesting idea, but they don’t sound as good.)

So maybe we can get an interval timer for the iPod if we all let the companies know that we want it. If you’ve read this far, you probably agree that it’d be a good idea. Do your part to help! Send a request to Apple, Nike, or Timex – write your own or send them a link to this article. Pass a link to this article on to your running friends and have them ask too.

Here’s some contact info:
Nike: write to

Since first and foremost the iPod is a music player, I’m going to leave you with this from Alice’s Restaurant by Arlo Guthrie:

You know, if one person, just one person does it they may think he’s really sick and they won’t take him. And if two people, two people do it, in harmony, they may think they’re both faggots and they won’t take either of them. And three people do it, three, can you imagine, three people walking in, singing a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and walking out. They may think it’s an organization. And can you, can you imagine fifty people a day, I said fifty people a day walking in singing a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and walking out. And friends, they may thinks it’s a movement. And that’s what it is , the Alice’s Restaurant Anti-Massacre Movement, and all you got to do to join is sing it the next time it comes around on the guitar.

With feeling.



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