11 , 2003
I'm a proud owner of a new car. It's small, it's fast, it's fuel
efficient, and it's armed with a 6-speaker CD-stereo system that
doesn't have a cassette deck. At first glance this doesn't seem
to be that big of an issue. We are smack dab in the middle of the
digital era, right? So, what do I do about my iPod?
makers of nifty products for your Mac, propose the iTrip as the solution. It's a
compact FM transmitter with a form factor custom designed to fit
the iPod -- plug it right into the top, and tune a FM radio to hear
the music. Perfect for a car without the tape deck, but also useful
if you want to carry around a pirate radio station in your pocket.
As most FM transmitters are only set up to transmit one one to
five different FM stations, the iTrip has the clear advantage as
it is able to transmit on almost any station on the FM band. Pop
in the iTrip CD into your Mac, click install, and in iTunes you
should spot a new playlist called "iTrip Stations" with songs like
"95.7" or "103.3". Sync that up to your pocket warrior, and you're
set -- with the iTrip connected, when you play one of those files,
your iTrip will begin to transmit on that station. Also, the iTrip
doesn't require an additional battery, instead it sucks a little
power from the iPod itself (through the cuff around the head-phone
jack) making it a very quick, simple, and tight package.
While that all looks great, using the iTrip is not so quick, simple,
and tight. First, you have to find a frequency to transmit on. Any
decently powered radio station is going to overpower its small transmitter.
While there isn't a list of "clear" radio stations out there, V-Soft
does have a list of all the received
stations by zip code. I inputted my zip code, and then started cruising
the rest of the stations in my car to find one that had complete
static. Once I played the appropriate MP3 on my iPod, the iTrip
flashed to life, started transmitting, and the radio static went
dead. I queued up one of my playlists and music started happily
playing through my speakers. Just don't plan on playing your entire
collection on random if you keep your iTrip files on board, otherwise
you might either end up hearing some weird sounds or your iTrip
will go frequency hopping.
But the difficulties don't end there. The instant I started driving
around, my under-powered iTrip lost that clear channel. If fact,
if you live near a large city (like me), then chances are that you
won't have many clear stations for you to use. Once you start getting
on the move, things change too. Forget any hopes of navigating the
iPod's interface while keeping at least one hand on the wheel --
if you don't have a clear station for your entire route, then either
forgo the whole thing or plan rest stops so you can retune.
For $35, this is might be a great deal if you have an original
iPod (Griffin Technology claims that they will have a new version
for the newest iPod in a few weeks) and if you live in the suburbs
or a rural area. If you do live in a big city however, and your
car is armed with a cassette deck, spend the $5 and just buy yourself
a wired adapter.
Krikorian is a graduate student and a British
Telecom fellow in the Physics
and Media Group at the MIT Center
for Bits and Atoms / Media
Lab. He is the author of Tivo
Hacks, from O'Reilly & Associates.