Quickly Make iPhone Ringtones with Fission

There are two ways to choose a ringtone for your phone. You can either choose one of the default ringtones available, or you can get personal, and choose something musical (or not) that expresses your personality. If you go the latter route, you can buy ringtones, and the iTunes Store is happy to sell you one.

But you may want to make your own ringtones using music you have. Using music from CDs that I’ve ripped, I’ve made several ringtones. One is for standard calls, and the other is for calls from friends or family, and I’ve got another for Messages.

There are many ways to do this, but I’m going to show you one using an app that I like called Fission. This $32 app is a great audio editor, which is fast and easy to use, and which doesn’t convert your audio files. If you want to edit an AAC or MP3 file, you’ll work with that file, and not have to convert it to and from a different format. You can also use it to edit FLAC and Apple Lossless files, or even convert among different file formats. This is called non-destructive editing.

Much of what I use Fission for is to split, edit and trim files, but it’s great for creating ringtones, and can even add them directly to your iTunes library. Here’s how it works.

First, find a song or other audio file you want to use for your ringtone. Make a copy of it first, so you don’t edit the original. If you want to use a song in your iTunes library, right-click it and choose Show in Finder or Show in Windows Explorer.

Launch Fisson, then drag the file onto its window. You’ll see the file’s waveform.

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Next, find the section of the music you want to use as a ringtone (you may want to use Fission’s zoom slider at the bottom left of the window to find the precise spot where you want this to begin or end). Ringtones can only be up to 40 seconds long, so make sure to choose something no longer than that.

When you’ve found the part you want to use, you can trim the song with Fission. Click at the beginning of the section you want to use then drag to the leftmost end of the window. The selection will take on a white background.

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Press the delete key to delete the highlighted section.

Go to the end of the bit you want as your ringtone, click, then drag to the right end of the window. Press the delete key. You’ll now have a 40-second or shorter bit of music. Play it in Fission to make sure it starts and ends correctly.

Next, choose File > Save as iPhone Ringtone. Fission will process the music, change its file type, and add it to your iTunes library. You’ll find it in the Tones library. (If you don’t see this, choose iTunes > Preferences, then check Tones in the Show section.) You can sync it to your iPhone, or even to other iOS devices to use as tones for alerts.

That’s all you need to do. You can make as many ringtones as you like, from just about any format music file. Feel free to try different ringtones and see which work best for you.

iTunes Tip: Create Smart Playlists by Decade

iTunes offers a lot of options for smart playlists. You can choose to make a playlist by genre, artist, rating, recently played, time and much more. But one type of smart playlist that isn’t obvious is one you can make by decade. If you like to organize your music by what was hot in the 1960s, 70s, 80s or 90s, it’s easy to do.

Create a new smart playlist. To do this, choose File > New > Smart Playlist, or click Playlists in the iTunes header bar when you’re in your Music library, then click the + button at the bottom-left of the iTunes window, and choose New Smart Playlist.

Next, choose the following conditions: Year   is in the range, then enter two years in the subsequent fields.

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In the example above, I’ve created a smart playlist for the 60s, and set the smart playlist to be 1960 to 1969; you can choose any years you want. For example, if you think that, musically, the 60s ran from, say, 1959 to 1972, you can use those years.

You can then set other conditions: perhaps choose songs rated above a certain number of stars, or songs you haven’t listened to recently. Click OK to save the smart playlist.

It goes without saying that you need to tag your music for the correct years. Any music that doesn’t have a year in its tags won’t show up in this smart playlist. To add a year to a song or album, select a song, or a group of tracks, then press Command-I. Click the Info tab, then enter a year in the Year field, as below. Click OK to save the year.

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If you need to find out what years your music was released, the best place to go is probably Wikipedia; there are entries for most popular albums. If you’ve purchased music from the iTunes Store, it will generally have years in its tags, but the years are most likely the year the album was released, which may be later than the original release date, in the case of a remastered album. So check carefully to make sure you’re not missing any year tags if you want to use these smart playlists.

John Eliot Gardiner’s Complete Bach Cantatas Released as Box Set

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One of the most exciting performance and recording projects of recent years was John Eliot Gardiner’s Bach Cantata Pilgrimage. In just over a year, Gardiner, together with The Monteverdi Choir and The English Baroque Soloists, toured the world, performing all of Bach’s sacred cantatas in dozens of venues. The performances were recorded by Deutsche Grammophon, who released only four CDs before throwing in the towel. With all of this music recorded, Gardiner set up his own label, SDG, and released the remaining recordings.

I bought all of these releases on subscription, and this is one of the finest sets of cantatas I know. Now, finally, SDG is releasing a box set of the complete cantatas. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) This limited edition set will contain 56 CDs: the 28 volumes from the SDG series (some were one disc, most were two), and the four CDs that Deutsche Grammophon released, so it will contain the entire set of cantatas. There will also be a CD-ROM with an index of the cantatas, sung texts, and full notes.

I have all the individual volumes, including the DG recordings, so I won’t be buying this, but if you like Bach, don’t miss this set. It’s currently listed at £139, which is a bargain, compared to what I paid for the individual discs, or $283, which is a bit more, but still a fair price. Of all the sets of Bach cantatas, it’s my favorite; perhaps it will be yours as well.

Read more about Bach’s cantatas.

Grateful Dead, 1977: The Best Year for Tuning Up

This came out last year, but it’s good to remind people of one of the more interesting Grateful Dead recordings circulating. It’s all of the Grateful Dead’s tuning for the year 1977; more than an hour and a half of tuning up.

If you’ve ever attended a Dead show, you know that the tuning was part of the show. It could be creative, or boring, or just long. So Michael David Murphy took available recordings and edited all of 1977’s tuning into a single tuning experience.

You can also grab it on archive.org, if you’re interested in the 24-bit FLAC version, for example.

Bob Dylan: Complete Album Collection

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Today sees the release of Bob Dylan’s Complete Album Collection, Vol. 1., (Amazon.com, Amazon UK) along with a limited edition of the same set(Amazon.com) which contains the music on a USB stick in a harmonica box. The latter was originally to have the music in 320 kbps MP3 files and high-resolution FLAC files, but somewhere along the line – after people, including myself, ordered the set – the FLAC files became standard CD resolution.

No matter; this set represents much of a life of music making, from the earliest eponymous 1962 album to 2012’s Tempest. There are 30 “side tracks,” live and unreleased tracks, as bonuses. These are all of Dylan’s official releases, not including his Bootleg Series, a total of 11 releases, covering 15 CDs worth of live and alternate takes. Clearly, Vol. 2 is intended to cover the rest of Dylan’s work. Could his record label be banking on the retirement or demise of Dylan to release the second volume? We’ll see.

886444259729.170x170-75.jpgIt goes without saying that this is probably the most important oeuvre in American popular music, and, while there are some weak albums in Dylan’s career, there are more than enough unforgettable ones to make up for the rest.

If you don’t want the CDs, the iTunes Store has four “digital box sets” which cover The 60s, The 70s, the 80s and the 90s-00s. You won’t get the “side tracks,” but you will get all 35 studio albums and 6 live albums that Bob has released over the years. You’ll pay about the same amount for the iTunes versions: $170 for all of them, without the “side tracks,” compared to (currently) $180 on Amazon.com. So if you’re a Dylan fan, it makes a lot more sense to buy the plastic.

Go ahead; you know this should be your Christmas present. You can even open the box and listen to Dylan’s 2009 Christmas in the Heart, a collection of traditional Christmas songs sung by Bob in his own, um, inimitable way. But just remember, every time you play that album, a puppy dies.

TuneSpan Splits Your iTunes Library Across Multiple Drives

If you follow my blog, and my articles in Macworld, where I’m The iTunes Guy, you know I have a very large iTunes library. Currently, I have over 71,000 tracks in my main music library, for just under 700 GB, and about 30,000 tracks in a second library of music that takes up 320 GB. I’ve got about 240 GB of movies and 260 GB of TV shows. Altogether, that’s about 1.5 TB.

Yet if you look at my iTunes Media folder, you won’t see all of those files.


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Over the years, I’ve had to struggle with organizing all my files, juggling increasingly large hard drives to store them. Until I discovered the $15 TuneSpan, a bit more than a year ago. TuneSpan was the iTunes utility that I had long been looking for. While you can store your iTunes media on different drives using iTunes, it’s a bit complicated to do so. If iTunes organizes your files, then it copies them all to your iTunes Media folder. In my case, putting all my files in that folder would take up too much space.

What TuneSpan does is let you “span,” or move, any or all of the files in your iTunes library to other drives or volumes. My Music volume is already an external drive connected to my Mac mini, but I have a second drive also connected to that Mac where I shunt off the files I don’t want on the Music drive.

TuneSpan lets you select which files you want to move, moves them, but keeps pointers to them in the iTunes library file. This is no mean feat, and it’s something you can’t do easily on your own. Just launch TuneSpan, choose the files you want to move, choose a location for them, and the app will copy everything, then tidy up your iTunes library.

For example, I have about 100 GB of high-resolution music files in my iTunes library. Since these are big files, I felt it would be easier to shunt them off to a second drive.

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You select the items you want to span, drag them to the bottom section of TuneSpan’s interface, then click the Span button and wait. The copy process can take a while, depending on how many files you’re moving and how fast the data can be moved (USB, FireWire or Thunderbolt).

When TuneSpan has finished copying the files and verifying them, it quits and relaunches iTunes. Your music or videos are still in your iTunes library, but on a different drive. You can play or tag them as if they were local, and iTunes is none the wiser.

If you have a large iTunes library, TuneSpan is a life-saver. No more will you need to upgrade to larger and larger hard drives; just use multiple drives and let TuneSpan organize your files where you want them. TuneSpan is a must-have utility for anyone with a lot of media files in their iTunes library.

Buy TuneSpan from the Mac App Store.

Theater Review: Richard II, by the Royal Shakespeare Company, with David Tennant

You generally enter a theater with certain expectations. You may be familiar with the play, or you may know one or more of the actors. Last night’s production of Richard II, at the Royal Shakespeare Theater in Stratford-Upon-Avon, checked both of those boxes. I’ve read Richard II, and seen film adaptations, and I’ve seen David Tennant perform, most notably in the RSC’s filmed adaption of Hamlet (Amazon.com, Amazon UK, iTunes Store).

David Tennant is quite a well-known actor here in the UK, notably for having been Doctor Who for several years. While I’ve never seen him in Doctor Who, I have seen him in other television series. (Just last week, another short series with Tennant, The Escape Artist, started broadcasting.)

Many of the people attending this sold-out performance of Richard II were coming to see David Tennant, not to see Shakespeare. Tennant is no Shakespeare newbie; in addition to the Hamlet I mentioned above, he’s appeared in four other RSC Shakespeare productions, as well as several other non-Shakespeare plays put on by the RSC. Tennant is a brilliant Hamlet, and Richard II seemed like a perfect role for him.

Curiously, much of the British press, when reviewing the play, stressed Tennant’s long hair, such as a review in The Telegraph, which says, “His hair takes some getting used to.” Or the Daily Mail, which said, “But there is no getting away from the fact that in the centre of the show is that astonishing hairdo worn by David Tennant’s nail-varnished Richard.”

Frankly, the hair, being nothing more than a costume, was not worth focusing on. It’s better to just look at the role, and the way he performed it. Tennant does inhabit the role of Richard II, but, unfortunately, the rest of the cast is not up to his level.


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Last night’s production was a bit disappointing. The company seemed tired, perhaps because they had played a matinee in the afternoon, or maybe because the play has now been running for a month, making it harder to keep up the energy.

The play opened with a coffin at the center of the stage, and the Duchess of Gloucester, played by Jane Lapotiere, leaning on the coffin in sorrow. During the entire first scene, where Thomas Mowbray and Henry Bolingbroke accuse each other of treason, she lays her head on the coffin. After the king attempts to make peace between them, he orders Mowbray and Bolingbroke to fight.

The Duchess, alone now with John of Gaunt, laments the murder of her husband by Thomas Mowbray, while John of Gaunt, feels that Richard was responsible. Lapotaire is a venerable Shakespearean actor, but I felt her speeches here – her only part in the play is in this scene – wavered between being over-acted and too hard to hear.

Both Bolingbroke and Mowbray were well cast, with Nigel Lindsay playing the former, the man who would become king. His rough and coarse manner and speech were an interesting counterpoint to Tennant’s Richard, whose haughty and somewhat effeminate nature showed the two of them to be opposites in many ways.

Much of the first part of the play, which sets up Bolingbroke’s coup d’état, and Richard’s deposition, was sluggish. While there was some fine acting – notably Michael Pennington as John of Gaunt and Oliver Ford Davies as the Duke of York – the entire company seemed hesitant. Richard II is only present in a couple of scenes during this period, and the play only really came alive for me in Act III, Scene 2, when Richard has returned from Ireland, and learns that Bolingbroke has claimed his late father’s (John of Gaunt) estate, that Ricard annexed when the latter died, and has raised an army. Tennant showed Richard II’s humanity in the speech that begins:

“No matter where; of comfort no man speak:
Let’s talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs;
Make dust our paper and with rainy eyes
Write sorrow on the bosom of the earth,
Let’s choose executors and talk of wills:
And yet not so, for what can we bequeath
Save our deposed bodies to the ground?”


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The long deposition scene, in Act IV, Scene 1, was excellently played, with Tennant playing perfectly the fallen king:

“Now mark me, how I will undo myself;
I give this heavy weight from off my head
And this unwieldy sceptre from my hand,
The pride of kingly sway from out my heart;”

For most of the play, the set was minimalist, with the coffin on stage in the beginning, and nary a bit of furniture, with one or two exceptions. However, there was an interesting sort of scaffolding that held the throne, which descended from above the stage at times, suggesting the link between the king and heaven. This throne worked in some scenes, but in Act III, Scene 3, Bolingbroke, the Duke of York and Northumberland were speaking to Richard II who was standing atop the walls of a castle, but were facing away from him, toward the audience.

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And during the scene when Richard is in prison, the top of much of the stage pivoted up, showing Tennant in a dark hole. In that scene, Aumerle kills Richard II – which is not in the original play. Perhaps director Gregory Doran thought the scene where Aumerle asks the now king Henry IV to pardon him for his treasonous plans, prior to the prison scene, doesn’t fit very well unless Aumerle has some other role in the play.

In the final scene, Henry hears of those conspirators who were killed, and Aumerle brings the body, in a coffin, to Henry. This scene, with its many deaths, lacked gravitas; it was over too quickly, and there was little more than words. Here was a newly crowned king looking at the king he had replaced, perhaps thinking what Richard II said in Act III:

“How some have been deposed; some slain in war,
Some haunted by the ghosts they have deposed;
Some poison’d by their wives: some sleeping kill’d;
All murder’d”

Richard II is an exploration of tyranny and the violence it engenders, and each new king must understand, as Richard II did, that his days are numbered. (The word “death” appears 45 times in the play.) That new king should have shown, in some way, that he was aware what might await him, but the play ended too quickly. The recent filmed version of Richard II, which was part of The Hollow Crown television series (Amazon.com, Amazon UK, iTunes Store), showed this much better, with a long, slow ending where Henry seems to see his future in the face of dead Richard.

Paul Englishby’s original music was excellent; it was a slightly atonal medieval-style vocal music, with three sopranos perched high up to the right of the stage, and a group of instrumental musicians in the same spot to the left. It gave the play an interesting feel, especially as the women started singing before the play began – and before the house lights went down – and after the curtain calls. There is a CD available of this music, which also contains some speeches from the play; curiously, while it’s sold on CD at the RSC, it only seems to be available by download from the iTunes Store outside of Stratford-Upon-Avon.

There was much to like in this production, and much that could have been better. David Tennant was brilliant in the two main sections of the play when Richard II becomes aware of his own mortality and when he gives up his crown. Some of the acting was excellent; some was middling. I felt that the set was too stark for much of the play, and this gave the actors little to do. But Tennant did shine in this role, and if you can’t get a ticket to see it in Stratford-Upon-Avon, or later in London, the RSC is broadcasting it live to cinemas in the UK and around the world on November 13.

The iPad mini is a Book; the iPad Air is a Magazine

I wrote about my first impressions of the iPad Air yesterday, and posted that article about two hours after I got the Air. Later, I posted an update, saying:

new-yorker.png“Aside from the use of the iPad as a content creation device, which is not my use case, it seems to me that the full-sized iPad is a magazine and the iPad mini a book. You may disagree, but the size of the iPad Air, to me, makes reading magazines much easier. I can still read books comfortably — and surf the web, answer email, scan Twitter — but I find the iPad mini a bit small for non-responsive layout magazines, such as The New Yorker.”

This, to me, is the biggest difference between the two devices. Jason Snell, writing at Macworld, corroborated my thoughts, saying:

“In my past year as an iPad mini user, there were two kinds of reading that I basically stopped doing on my tablet: digital editions of print magazines and comic books. These are both formats that just work better with a larger screen, because everything is larger. The iPad Air’s screen is simply closer to the intended page size of those periodicals than that of the iPad mini.”

And that, to me, is the key difference between the two devices. Notwithstanding any type of content creation, or the mere desire to have a bigger display for reading web pages or playing games, the iPad Air, for me, is ideal for reading magazines; the iPad mini still shines as a book-reading device. Naturally, I use my iPad for more than just that, but, like Jason, I had stopped reading magazines on the iPad mini, because they were too small.

Looks like it’s time to catch up with those back issues of The New Yorker

Essential Music: Bob Dylan, Blood on the Tracks

dylan-blood.jpgIf you follow my writings, you’ll have noticed that Bob Dylan is one of my favorite musicians. I’ve got all of his albums, and listen to his music a lot. In this recent article, The Music I Listen To Most, you’ll see that Dylan comes up in fourth position, behind The Grateful Dead, Franz Schubert and Johann Sebastian Bach; that’s by play counts in my iTunes library.

There are lots of great Dylan albums, from Highway 61 Revisited to Blond on Blond, but the one that stands out most for me is Blood on the Tracks. (Amazon.com, Amazon UK, iTunes Store) It’s not just that it has many great, memorable songs, but there’s a unity in this album that doesn’t exist in most of Dylan’s other records. Many of my most-loved Dylan songs are on other albums – Desolation Row, Visions of Johanna, Forever Young, Cold Irons Bound, etc. – but Blood on the Tracks is an album that you listen to in extenso, because it tells a story.

When I wrote iPod & iTunes Garage, back in 2004, I asked a number of writers and musicians what their “essential music” was. My friend Peter Robinson, author of the Inspector Banks series of mysteries, wrote the following:

“Much as I love all kinds of instrumental and orchestral music, at the end of the day I’m a word guy, and if you’re a word guy, Dylan’s your man. We were spoiled by an embarrassment of riches until the infamous motorcycle accident in July, 1966, and after the stark surprise of 1968’s John Wesley Harding we seemed to be stranded in a wasteland of ersatz Americana. There were great songs, of course, Lay, Lady, Lay and Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door, for example, and Planet Waves has many fine moments, but nothing could quite match the shock and pleasure of that moment in early 1975 when I set the needle gently on Blood on the Tracks for the first time and heard Tangled Up In Blue. Even better, it wasn’t a fluke. Next came Simple Twist of Fate, You’re a Big Girl Now and Idiot Wind, his most vicious song since 1965’s Positively 4th Street. The only disappointment is an overlong Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts, which never quite seemed to fit, to my mind, but that’s a minor quibble, especially as it’s followed by the incomparable melancholy of If You See Her, Say Hello and the eerily redemptive Shelter from the Storm. There may be other contenders, but Blood on the Tracks surely remains the classic adult break-up album of all time.”

Peter nails it; it is the classic break-up album, but it’s so much more. If only for Tangled Up in Blue and Simple Twist of Fate, this would be a memorable album, but add the other tracks, and it’s a pure masterpiece. I’ve long felt that Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts was the weak song on the disc, but I’m starting to change my opinion, especially after hearing the original New York recording of it. (I’ll get to that in a minute…)

9780306812316_p0_v1_s260x420.jpgBlood on the Tracks has an interesting history, which is well documented by Andy Gill and Kevin Odegard in the book A Simple Twist of Fate: Bob Dylan and the Making of Blood on the Tracks (Amazon.com, Amazon UK). Dylan first recorded the album in New York, with a group of session musicians, in September, 1974. He recorded all the songs in just four sessions over ten days, but after playing it for his brother, decided he wanted to re-record five of the songs.

He went to Minneapolis, Minnesota, where his brother booked studio time, and found a handful of excellent musicians, and did two sessions in December. The New York sessions yielded the following songs:

Simple Twist of Fate
You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go
Meet Me in the Morning
Shelter From the Storm
Buckets of Rain

And the other five tracks come from the Minnesota sessions:

Tangled Up in Blue
You’re a Big Girl Now
Idiot Wind
Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts
If You See Her, Say Hello

It’s interesting to listen to the original versions of some of these songs; many of them have been released on various official Bootleg Series volumes, and Biograph also contains two songs that didn’t make it on the album, but that are also brilliant compositions: Call Letter Blues and Up to Me. (See the list below for details of all official releases.)

The original New York session test pressing is fairly easy to find as a bootleg. Listening to that original version – the one that Dylan first planned to release – makes me wonder if he should have just gone with the first recordings. In particular, Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts works much better in its acoustic form than in the later Minneapolis recording. And there’s more unity in the mostly-acoustic recordings from the New York sessions.

Here are the tracks that are available on official releases, but not the final album versions. They include alternate versions from the New York sessions, as well as two tracks that weren’t on the album from the same sessions. (Links are to the iTunes Store.) If you haven’t heard these tracks, and like Blood on the Tracks, you should definitely get them.

I hope that Dylan will release another Bootleg Series with all the New York recordings, and other outtakes from this period, similar to the recent set from the period of Self Portrait.

iWant: An iPod Pro

Let’s face it: the iPod is dying. Apple still sells the iPod classic – with 160 GB storage on a hard disk – the iPod nano, the iPod shuffle, and the iPod touch, but the iPod family, overall, is on its last legs. Look at these numbers, showing iPod sales over the past few years (source: Macworld):

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Apple’s still selling more than 12 million units a year, but that’s down from 19 million just two years ago. Compare that to iPhone units (source: Macworld):

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Apple is selling more than 37 million iPhones a quarter; the iPad sells more units than the iPod as well.

So, with this in mind, I think it’s time that Apple release an iPod pro. I imagine this as a hard-drive based iPod (because of the storage capacity), with the ability to play high-resolution files, and with a digital optical output. This would allow users to connect a portable DAC (digital-analog converter) and headphone amp, and have excellent sound through their headphones anywhere. Granted, you wouldn’t appreciate this when walking on a busy street, but there are times when you want to listen to music on good headphones, and don’t want to be connected to your stereo.

The iPod pro would have to have more capacity than the current iPod classic: with high-resolution albums taking up a gigabyte or more each (for 24-bit, 96 kHz files), a 250 GB hard disk would hold about 200 albums. If you stuck with Apple Lossless, you’d be able to store around 500 albums, which would be fine for most users. (Or, they could go to 512 GB of flash storage… Costly, but this is for a market that might be willing to pay for it.)

Apple could eliminate the digital optical output by including a DAC worthy of the name “pro.” The Chinese company Fiio has released a portable music player with an excellent DAC, which supports music up to 24-bit and 192 kHz, and which sells for around $200 (Amazon.com, Amazon UK). Apple could use a similar quality DAC, and still come in at, say, $300 or so, with a goodly amount of storage.

And they could let Jony Ive have free reign over the design of the iPod pro, making a device that could stand out from what we’re used to with the iPod. If it doesn’t need iOS, Apple could use this to try out a new type of user interface.

The market wouldn’t be very large, but neither is the market for Apple’s forthcoming Mac Pro. Apple is showing, with the Mac Pro, that they can sell a cutting-edge Mac for the handful of people who want one; why not do the same with an iPod, for those who want high-quality sound in a portable music player?