The folks over at Apple should be just about full of themselves by now.

They were just about dead-last in the MP3 support race (it was a photo-finish between them and Sony), and whipped out another jukebox program to join the ranks of Musicmatch, Real, and a metric ton of other products not worth the bandwidth used to download them.

I've hated these jukebox programs from day one. Likely because it was RealNetworks who struck first, bundling their increasingly system resident software with a nifty little app (close to 5MB in size) to help you sort your mp3's.

I'm sorry, did I ask for help? I think I can create folders on my filesystem just fine using the shell provided by my OS, thanks.

Another feature these programs celebrated was the ability to rip CDs into MP3s. Smashing idea, really, but can I specify what format I want them ripped to? No. you get a smattering of 24kbps .rm files, a few 96khz mp3's and some utterly useless .wma files.

My digital music library only needs to be in one format, and if I have any say in how those files are being encoded, I demand at least 192kbps.

Oh you want stereo? That'll be $19.95.

The blood boils.

Then the MP3 accessories start rolling out. Slowly. The Rio bursts onto the scene first, with a mere 64MB of storage space. Not terrible for first gen. It gets enough attention to make other companies think about making MP3 players. Better ones. With more storage and easier ways to identify tracks.

ID3 support on these devices comes along, and after a little bit of tweaking, all is well. There was still that little issue of the twelve billion different encoding schemes used for MP3 tracks, including those pesky VBR files that crop up every now and again, but this little annoyance is also rectified early into the second generation.

By this time, the players that work with CD-Rs are becoming cheap enough for no one to have an excuse not to have one. With a CD-R, it is possible to burn 700MB per disc, allowing, on average, a non-stop playtime of over thirteen hours. Groovy.

But the manufacturers didn't stop there. They started dropping miniature hard drives into the higher-end players, and things quickly started spinning out of control.

1GB MP3 players!

10GB MP3 players!

40GB?!?!? That much music doesn't exist yet! If all your MP3s were encoded at 96kbps and you filled 40GB of space, you would have a little more than seven years of continuous, non-repeating music to listen to.

Of course, Apple were the ones who decided there would be a market for a 7-year jukebox, and they decided that with their shiny design team, such a device would be worth a cool 500 bones.

If you're rich and have a lot of alone time, more power to you.

But Apple then decides that maybe they should make them more affordable. Apparently affordability and pastel have merged connotations over there, but this brought the price tag all the way down to $250.

Meanwhile, 700MB interchangeable-disc players have come down to just under thirty dollars. The user would only have to change discs twice a day for a varied playlist that blows the average radio station completely out of the water.

Still, there are those who believe that Apple is soverign. They are the loyal iPodders who laid down upwards of 300 bucks for a tiny white object that's a little too big and bulky to comfortably fit in your pocket.

They take them along everywhere they go, tunes a-blazing. I saw one guy driving in his car with those telltale white earphones jacked in. An act, I will remind you, is illegal.

Here's the sad thing. He could have spent anywhere from $90 to $500 and had an MP3 head unit installed in his '92 Integra and be compliant with the laws of our country.

Sure it's small, but nothing sounds that good through a pair of earbuds. I don't care if Bose themselves used the almighty research they keep flaunting to make these things have realistic bass response, if the trunk ain't rattlin', it ain't worth listenin' to.

I'm not sure why Windows users would want to use iTunes or own an iPod, it was hardly worth it to include support for the poor man's platform in the latest round of players.

If a PC user wanted to play back MP3's on an expensive handheld device, they could have purchased a Sony Clié three years ago. And you can take pictures with those.

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