Thursday, August 23, 2007

Apple’s new iPod Freestyle. Too good for our own good?

Anyone who knows me (which is to love me) knows that I’m generally a supporter of corporate trade secrets, IP, and so on. So when an Apple employee recently slipped me a working copy of their next iPod release, so I could blog about it, my first reaction was “No thanks. I’m not into the whole Apple Rumor thing. I already have a life.” The employee said “But this time it’s important. It’s a matter of public health. You must let people know before it’s too late.”

I honestly have no intention of harming Apple. I’m a huge fan of Apple, despite their sometimes-inadequate efforts to protect waterfowl. With my recent purchases of an iPhone, two iPods, and a MacBook Pro, I feel personally responsible for their latest record-breaking quarter. But the anonymous Apple employee had me a little spooked, and so I took the new iPod home, did some research on my own, and now I must reluctantly agree with the whistleblower. Someone has to spill these beans, and it may as well be me. This new iPod cannot be released; at least not now; not without more safety research.

iPod Freestyle Review: In one word, WOW!

First the good news. Apple has done it again! It’s called the “iPod Freestyle” and it’s truly a revolutionary leap forward in personal entertainment devices. I think we were all expecting Apple’s new iPod release to get a UI face-lift in the direction of their iPhone innovations; but they pulled a 180 and went in a completely new and minimalist and unexpected direction.

Within a few minutes of using the Freestyle, one quickly accepts the radical-but-complementary changes in both form and function. This new iPod makes the old iPod seem like a Walkman!

At a high level, this is what’s new in the iPod Freestyle:
  • Form: The Freestyle is no bigger than the headphones, and only as much of the headphones as needed to go from one ear to the other. That’s it! There’s no longer a question of where to hold the iPod, where to hold the long earphone cabling, how to keep them together, or how to untangle things. It’s simply one short unit that, when not in use, naturally stores itself as a high-tech, decorative(?) necklace. At the base of the headphone/necklace is a simple and small single- & multi-touch user input node (“pendant”).
  • Function: The Freestyle is the first iPod that streams audio directly over the air (in typical Apple style, they use the term “Freestyling” where everyone else uses “streaming”). The lines running to each ear act as the radio antennas. The iPod Freestyle itself has very little memory (only enough for intelligent caching of, at most, 30 minutes music); but because it has full WiFi or EDGE access, the Freestyle effectively has constant access to your entire iTunes or AT&T Music Store libraries. Combine this with podcast queuing, emerging internet-radio standards, and even FM radio (a nice little bonus), and it may be said that this is the first iPod with (effectively) infinite storage.
These pictures and comments should give a clearer idea about the innovative new Freestyle.

Here my unidentified spouse, wearing a disguise to protect her identity in case of litigation, demonstrates the iPod Freestyle as a typical listener. Note the size of the small “pendant” controlling unit, which is almost all battery. The battery is surprisingly lightweight. In our tests it supplied about 5 hours of listening time before needing a ½-hour recharge. My anonymous Apple source indicates there may be last-minute changes to the battery size to increase play time

In this series of images, we demonstrate some of the single- and multi-touch (a.k.a. “squeeze”) gestures for controlling volume, selection, pause/play, radio station, and so on. It only took us a minute to learn the controls, and that was without any manual.

Here we see that the Freestyle docks with any USB port for charging. My version of iTunes did not recognize the device. I’m told that the associated iTunes release will add support for selected favored radio stations (the unit we tested was pre-tuned to six popular Bay Area stations), and for intelligent queuing of podcasts.

These photographs demonstrate the kind of simple icing-on-the-cake features that make Apple products such a pleasure for consumers. When not listening to the iPod Freestyle it may simply be worn as a necklace. The earbuds are magnetized so they quickly snap together neatly around the back. Brilliant!

What’s the matter with iPod Freestyle?

I love this new device. Its drawbacks are barely worth mentioning (e.g., it still will not play side 2 of Abbey Road in correct sequence when in shuffle mode). If the Freestyle is released I predict it’s going to be a huge, huge hit.

So, what’s the problem?

Numerous studies have indicated that there is potential harm from close exposure to RF radiation emitted by cell phones and WiFi devices. The FDA has called for more testing. Until now the risks have seemed acceptable because devices are only used intermittently. But with the iPod Freestyle the RF antennas will be wrapped directly around our heads and are in constant use. This is very different than holding up a cell-phone for the occasional phone call--this is constant exposure! And with kids expected to be the most frequent users! Do we want to risk the brains of our future generations on technology that has not been fully tested?

The iPod Freestyle must not be released until proper scientific testing has been performed to verify that this device is safe, or to correct any problems if it is not safe. I don’t want to be alarmist. I just want to be careful. At most this is a delay. Apple will have its groundbreaking product. Just... all things in good time.

A call to action. What can you do about it?

Wireless products such as the iPhone are regulated by the FCC. But related health matters are only understood by the FDA Radiological Health Program. This is a fundamental disconnect, which only be remedied by an act of Congress. This remedy must come soon, before Apple unveils the iPod Freestyle at the September 5 Event and it becomes too late to control this product release in a safe manner.

Remember how society used to love the wonderfully innovative used of lead? asbestos? mercury? CFCs? thalidomide? These dangers were all embraced before their health effects were thoroughly understood, and the children overwhelmingly paid the price. Let’s not let that happen again.

Please, write your Senator and Congressional Representative now with the simple message: “Do not allow the FCC to approve the Apple iPod Freestyle until the FDA has thoroughly tested and approved the device.” Do it now. Do it for the children.


  1. iPod Freestyle wasn't the only Apple product leaked apparently: the pics on this post prove that iDontSeeAFreakingThing is on its way to all your domestic and international flights...

  2. Ahahahaha. Man I don't know what you're smoking but you should stop immediately. Apple will never ever come up with such a ridiculous and ugly device. But thanks for making me laugh. I like the pictures with the gesture and all that. You seem like a funny bunch!

  3. This is the Apple lawyers. We do not take kindly to your releasing these trade secrets. We’re, like, all mad and stuff. We demand that you remove those images immediately and seize and desist from all such future leaking of trade secrets, and such and so on and so forth.

    Also, tell us which employee squaked so can terminate their leaky ass.

  4. Brent this is awesome. Can I play with the freestyle :-)


  5. Sorry, Arindam. I wish I could let you play with it but I had to disassemble the Freestyle device. I needed the touch-sensitve battery to go back on my tube of toothpaste. I hate it when my toothpaste is uncapped.