this post is the answer to a question asked by Michael Woodard on an earlier post, and i thought the answer might be of use to others as well. be aware that this comparison is strictly my own opinion, and i would be delighted to hear from others that see things differently.
would an iPod Touch be a good second choice over the iPhone for a production tool? I know I would lose the telecommunication ability, but can I still get most of the same apps you covered at the workshop?
there are several reasons people ask me this question. for some, it is about the extra financial commitment involved with getting an iPhone ($15 or 25/month data plan on top of AT&T phone service, not to mention the phone can cost way more than the iPod Touch). for some, it is simply about not wanting AT&T’s decidedly weak phone service.
for people in LA, where these devices could really be utilized, AT&T’s service is either bad or unavailable in many pockets, meaning an iPhone is a bad choice for people whose business depends on staying connected. while AT&T is working on upgrading their network, i can’t argue with any of these arguments. i will say AT&T service isn’t as bad as everyone (including me) makes it out to be, but it’s not spectacular. the 3G service, on the other hand, i’ve never once had a problem with, and AT&T’s Edge network (2G) is sluggish by today’s standards, but still gets the job done and is available almost anywhere in the country. unfortunately, the poor phone service hurts sales for ground-breaking devices that function terrifically on a fantastic data network.
i’m sure you’re well aware that the iPod Touch is basically an iPhone without the phone, but let me point out what that means… primarily, it means no cellular Internet service and no GPS. some location services are accomplished through WiFi with decent accuracy (seems to work well enough for basic directions, weather, etc.) so that’s not a huge deal, but to me Internet access is a biggie. i’ve come to realize this with my WiFi-only iPad. i LOVE my iPad — so much, in fact, that i find myself feeling irritated when riding in a car or stopped to grab a bite while traveling and being unable to use e-mail, twitter, Safari, etc. i’m not just drinking the kool-aid, here. i really do prefer my iPad for things like watching video, e-mail, even web surfing.
my thinking with buying the WiFi iPad is simple: cost. it ain’t cigars and limos over here, and i needed to enter the iPad world as cost-efficiently as possible, especially since i knew i wanted to try out a lot of the accessories that come along with it. at $499, the 16GB iPad WiFi was the perfect choice. beyond that, i felt like enough places had WiFi available, usually for free. in a jam, i could always pull into a Starbucks to get connected.
turns out WiFi isn’t as available as I’d hoped. while it is still available in many places, often for free, i have found myself wanting to get online in places where i simply couldn’t. after having a mobile Sprint express card for years and now my iPhone, checking e-mail, twitter, facebook, etc. in the car has become routine for me, especially on long trips with someone else driving. my recent traveling from LA to Memphis to Nashville to Cleveland, TN had me wishing i could get that iPad Netflix app up and running in transit, even if it just meant listening to episodes of King of the Hill in the car while plowing down I-40.
but how does this translate to field work in the world of filmmaking?
some of the accessory apps have everything built-in. Storyboard Composer, pCAM Film + Digital, and Artemis Director’s Viewfinder are great examples of apps that have everything you need built-in. no Internet connection necessary.
but some of the apps rely on an Internet connection to get their data. take the Dropbox app for instance. it doesn’t download your 2GB of data onto your phone. you can favorite the items you know you’ll need for the day, but if you’re on set with no wifi, you’ll be unable to access any other info. i rely heavily on Dropbox on set, and while i usually try to favorite everything i need for the day before calltime, invariably i’ll need to access something on set from other days, usually for continuity. while my new iPad makes a great on-set device for viewing overheads and script sides, if there’s no WiFi available, i’ll have to pull it up on my iPhone instead. probably not a problem, but sometimes we use my phone for the slate, and i often put my phone on airplane mode (thus disabling the 3G) while on set to prevent vibrations and interruptions from facebook, twitter, text messages, phone calls, etc. it just becomes a hassle.
having had my iPad for a few months now, i see that i love and use it even more than i thought i would, and with WiFi certainly plentiful, but not EVERYwhere, i’d love to have a 3G one now, possibly with even more storage. the extra $130 for the 3G is a no-brainer, and finding the extra $25/month for the data shouldn’t be a problem. for now, though, i’ve made my purchase and am sticking to it. AT&T’s addition of the tethering option is a possibility, but i have some problems with it (but that’s another post).
so my experience with my iPhone and now the iPad should translate well to Michael’s original question. would the iPod Touch be a good second choice? the simple answer is, yes! with a heavy emphasis on “second.” in my opinion, if you’re about to drop around $300 or so on an iPod Touch, consider getting the 8G iPhone 3G. if you’re a new AT&T subscriber, it’s only $99. my iPhone is a 3G 16GB. i make use of the space, but could easily get by with 8GB, esp. considering i almost never use it as an iPod, and about 6GB is just music (and most of the rest of it is movies i keep on hand to show people, which i also almost never do). there are some nifty additions to the 3GS, for sure, but they weren’t enticing enough for me to upgrade. i am hoping for the next paycheck or two to cover my upgrade to the new 4.
i think the two biggest factor in this for a filmmaker are 1.) crew position on set and 2.) WiFi availability on set. certainly, the iPhone and iPad are not really considered cloud devices. however, many apps that are useful during filmmaking (Dropbox, weather apps, e.g.) rely on an Internet connection. if you’re an AD or UPM, having an Internet connection and access to all your information at all times is critical. buying an iPod Touch seems like a waste of money. if you’re a DP or gaffer, that’s a different story. your iPod Touch becomes a hand tool, a fancy DOF calculator, etc. until you need to use that power load calculator to run the gennie (sorry, it’s only a web app for now). if you live in a city with municipal WiFi, this may not be a problem, no matter your position. after all, a wifi connection should be much faster than a 3G connection. or if you’ve got a private wifi network piped into your shooting location or set, even better; your team’s devices can see each other, communicate, and other important on-set activities.
whatever your position on set, your phone is very important, and, personally, i would like to have as few redundant devices as possible. for a long time, i wanted my iPod and my phone to marry each other, but finances prohibited me from buying an iPhone for a while. at some point, i saw it was becoming an necessity for me to properly serve the people for whom i was freelancing, and i managed to gather up the cash and make the plunge. it hurt, but it was so worth it, and my productivity shot through the roof. if time is money, there’s no way to guage at which point my iPhone paid for itself, but it was early on.
the wifi/3G/LTE/4G landscape is constantly developing, and staying on top of it is difficult. even so, i hope this brain-dump has been helpful to Michael and others.