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By Joel Klebanoff

iPod, Robot

Unlike one of my literary heroes, the late Douglas Adams, I hate deadlines despite the fact that, being a top-notch procrastinator, they're the only reason I ever accomplish anything. (In a previous column, I noted that Adams was quoted as saying, "I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by.") The deadlines I hate the most are the ones based on strict, immovable criteria, such as the publication date of a magazine. I often work myself into a tizzy trying to come up with something to rant about in this space. My angst intensifies as the deadline approaches. On far too many occasions, I've feared that I would be forced to plunge a ceremonial dagger into my gut to atone for what, at the time, seemed to be an unavoidable impending failure.

Fortunately, I always find something to fume about, but frequently I find it in just barely enough time to make my deadline. If I were one to believe in miracles, I'd say that having a subject always show its face in the nick of time is miraculous, but I don't believe in miracles. I believe in lean Montreal smoked meat sandwiches, the curative power of chicken soup, and the importance of guilt as a civilizing force in society, but not in miracles. If I'm wrong and my frequent last-minute discoveries of tirade topics are, in deed, paranormal phenomena, it would be nice if the miracles occurred before I sharpened my hara-kiri knife, not after as has repeatedly been the case of late.

I don't want to sound ungrateful. I'm not complaining about the fortuitous appearance of tirade topics after hours of fruitless searching. I'm just saying it would be nice to get them earlier, that's all.

This week I have to thank Associated Press for staving off my need to perform the ultimate act of atonement. Just as my anguish over my failure to come up with a subject for this week's column was about to get the better of me, I came across an August 31, 2006, AP story about a Japanese company, ZMP Inc., that is selling a robot that acts as a speaker system for an iPod. You stick your iPod into the robot and it will play your music through its integrated speakers. Of course, being a robot, that's not all it can do. It can dance and, by making use of an included remote control, you can also have it follow you around.

Just as an aside, you've really got to love Apple. Not only is it making a fortune on the iPod, but Apple has also fostered a major new economy around it. According to a February 3, 2006, New York Times article, there were, at that point, approximately 2,000 add-ons made specifically for the iPod, representing a market that is expected to be worth about $1 billion this year. That's just add-ons, mind you. It doesn't include the money spent on the iPod itself. In fact, the article quoted an industry analyst as saying that for every $1 spent on an iPod, at least $3 is spent on accessories for it. Just think of how many people would be out of work if it weren't for sales of iPods and their accoutrements. But I digress.

Getting back to the iPod robot mentioned in the AP story, it's being sold under the name Miuro, which is short for "music innovation based on utility robot technology." Wow! Isn't that a terrific burst of marketing creativity that's going to immediately endear you to the robot?

The mobility feature of Miuro is a terrific benefit because, as the president of ZMP, Hisashi Taniguchi, was quoted as saying, "The robot helps you listen to music wherever you are without even thinking about it." Um, excuse me? This is an iPod we're talking about. The device, particularly the smaller nano version, fits into the average shirt pocket with plenty of room to spare. You could probably simultaneously drop one of those especially thin cell phones into the same pocket and not create a visible bulge. I suspect that Apple earns a lot of revenue by selling replacements to people who lose their iPods after they fall under the smallest of dust bunnies. I find it very hard to believe that finding ways to listen to their music wherever they are is a huge issue for iPod owners.

Oh, you say, but it doesn't just play your tunes and follow you around, it also dances to the music. Isn't that just the cutest thing? No. No, it's not. Sure, it might be amusing for about the first 60 seconds, but try telling me with a straight face that's not going to get incredibly annoying after the novelty wears off. If you can, you're a much better actor than I am.

I'm not really being fair to Miuro. It has other capabilities. It can also wirelessly connect to a PC to play music from iTunes and other sources. Oh yeah, now there's a feature that's going to make me run out and spend the $930 (US) that ZMP is charging for Miuro in Japan. Sales elsewhere are expected to start in the second half of 2007. I couldn't find any information on what the price is anticipated to be when that happens.

So why should you buy this product? Apparently, it's a matter of convenience. According to Taniguchi, having a robot follow you around playing your music is useful because, "Sometimes I don't even have the energy to put on a CD." Whoa! Hold it right there. I've got a couple of comments about that. First, we're talking about music stored on iPods and/or computer hard drives. Correct me if I'm wrong, but playing tunes from those sources doesn't involve putting on a CD even if you don't have one of his robots. Second, he sometimes doesn't even have the energy to put on a CD? Boy, I'll bet the company's investors were exceptionally happy to hear about his periodic complete lack of vigor.

You'll not be surprised to hear that I'm unimpressed with this robot's capabilities. If you're going to put smarts into a music-playing robot, don't use those smarts to have it do a jig or walk around. Give it speech synthesis capabilities instead. Then it can be programmed to utter profound pearls of wisdom such as, "What the hell is that crap you're listening to? You call that inharmonious, migraine-inducing throbbing you're listening to, which, to make matters worse, is accompanied by that caustic caterwauling of idiotic lyrics, music? Do humanity a favor. If musical taste is hereditary, don't have any children. Ever."

Or, showing concern for aural health, it could say something to the effect of, "If you don't turn the volume of that maddening racket down, I will. Don't think I can't. I'm in control here. You may not care if you go deaf, but people two blocks over called to complain about the damage you're doing to their hearing."

Now that would be a useful iPod accessory, but maybe that's just the old fogy in me talking.

This article originally appeared as part of a weekly series of "Tech Tirades" in MC TNT from MC Press Online. The first year's worth of Tech Tirades does not appear here. Instead, you can find them in BYTE-ing Satire.

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