Apple's iPod has had its share of hard knocks lately. Reports of sweatshop conditions at a Chinese iPod factory have made headlines. French lawmakers have tried to force Apple to open up its iTunes digital rights management so that iPod competitors can play music downloaded from iTunes. A new scene-stealing competitor, the MusicGremlin, lets users wirelessly download tunes directly to the device--a compelling feature the iPod has never offered to date.
If that's not enough, I regularly hear or read in the media complaints from iPod owners about easily scratched screens and built-in batteries that won't hold a charge after a year or so.
Despite these challenges, the iPod--with its considerable cachet and huge fan base--is still the portable media player to beat and, I suspect, will be for years to come. Further evidence of its rock-solid position is found in the cool new accessories that are being released all the time.
Here's a look at some of the newest or upcoming third-party iPod add-ons. I haven't had the chance to test any of these accessories, as some were not available as of this writing. But they look to be among the coolest new iPod accessories around--particularly for folks who like to do more with their iPods than simply listen to music.
Record in Stereo
A little-publicized feature in the fifth-generation (5G) iPod is its inherent ability to record in stereo. The iPod doesn't include a built-in microphone, however, though some other portable music players do. To use its recording function, you need a third-party accessory. Two such devices have been announced: XtremeMac's MicroMemo ($60) and Belkin's TuneTalk Stereo ($70). Both were expected to ship in July.
Play Back Video
The 5G iPod's ability to play back video was big news. But having watched an entire episode of "Lost" on my iPod's tiny screen, let me tell you: It's an experience I don't want to repeat. To the rescue are portable accessories that let you watch video stored on your iPod on screens larger than its 2.5-inch display--the iLuv Video System and ATO's iSee 360i, both $250.
The iLuv Video System has a 7-inch wide-screen display. It charges your iPod while you're viewing a video, and it can also play DVDs and CDs, according to the company.
By comparison, the iSee 360i has only a 3.6-inch color screen, but it can record video onto the iPod from a TV, camcorder, or other video source, the company says. And it works with the iPod Nano and iPod Mini in addition to the 5G models. The iSee 360i is available now in black or white.
Wake Up to Tunes
I've already reported on iHome's iPod alarm clock. The company is now offering more compact, travel versions of the iPod alarm clock. Alternatively known as iHome2Go or the iH26W, the clocks (in black or white) measure 7.5 by 4.3 by 1.8 inches (the table-top models are 9.2 by 2.7 by 5.5 inches). The travel clocks include a carrying case and a remote control; they cost $100, about same as the table-top models.
JBL has its own iPod alarm clock/docking station, the Time Machine (about $250), which is impressive for no reason other than its circular, "2001: A Space Odyssey" design. It's available in white or black at such online retailers as Amazon.com.
Pretend to Be Superman
With new protective cases from XtremeMac, comic-book and action-hero fans can now wrap their 5G iPods with the Superman or Batman logo, or bedeck their music player with an image of Darth Vader, Tweety Bird, Speed Racer, or Homer Simpson ($30 each). Cool or nerdy? You decide.
For more iPod accessory news, read "iPod and iTunes Entertainment Extras."