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Objects of My Obsession October 19, 2007

Posted by Brian L. Belen in Technology, Video Games.
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The iPod touch has occupied an inordinate amount of my attention over the past few weeks. When first announced, it quickly jumped to the top of my “must! buy! now!” list — until it became clear that it lacked several key features and fell short of working like a PDA. As a result, I’ve been spending a lot of time following efforts by the iPhone/iPod touch hacker community to “jailbreak” the device, biding time to see how things develop.

This week it finally happened: the iPod touch has been jailbroken. What’s more, it no longer takes sophisticated command line programing to get it done, as a couple of applications (at least one written by a 13-year old) can take all the fuss out of the process with just a few clicks of the mouse.

Honestly, I thought I’d be elated by the news, but I have mixed feelings about it. At a minimum, it just means that the gauntlet has been thrown down and another round of cat and mouse between Apple and the much broader end-user community has begun. I say end-user rather than “hackers” because, really, all these guys want to do is to expand the functionality of the product. While it’s remarkable how quickly the iPod touch jailbreak effort has borne fruit, it’s nonetheless worrisome that a future software update from the Cupertino crew may undo the modifications, if not brick the device outright.

I remain hopeful that Apple will see the light and realize that opening up the platform to programmers actually benefits their bottom line. At its simplest, the more the device can do for its potential end-users (such as myself), the more those people will be driven to buy it. Believe me, learning that enabling the add-entry functionality to the calendar just required including perhaps two lines of code to the jailbreak process left a very bitter taste in my mouth: to my mind, it meant that Apple deliberately crippled the device and thereby made their consumers worse off. Apple appears to have have already made a few steps to smooth things over: earlier in the week they drummed up publicity for iPhone and iPod touch Web Applications — a pathetic gesture in my opinion, albeit a well-meaning one — and more recently they’ve announced the availability of software developer kits as early as February of ’08. Only time will tell what this bodes for the iPhone and iPod touch.

As much as I am already very tempted to head out to the Fifth Avenue store to get a new iPod, what’s kept me fence-sitting is the new object of my obsession: an Xbox 360.

It all started with a trailer for Ace Combat 6 that absolutely blew me away. So I started paying attention, and even my Wii fanboy sensibilities have to admit that the 360 is impressive. It truly is next-generation, and with the library of games already available, it’s a very compelling console to invest in, more so now that Microsoft’s announced a $350 package with two games just in time for the holiday season.

Given my situation, the problem with the 360 is just twofold. First, it represents a completely new investment (I don’t have the original Xbox) and a potentially costly one at that: its games cost around $60 a pop. Second, and more to the point, stories of the dreaded “red ring of death” problem that has plagued the machine — forcing people to suffer through having their consoles replaced multiple times — don’t inspire much confidence.

Times like these I remember why I decided to undergo a self-imposed “tech embargo”, and for the most part I’ve kept to it faithfully. Then again, as those closest to me know all too well, my willpower in such matters tends to last only as long as the release of the next shiny object that grabs my attention.

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