I’ve spent more money than I wish to admit on docks for my iPods and iPhone. Those portable media devices have to be plugged into a computer to sync them with iTunes and load them up with data, you have to charge them with the same cable via computer or a wall wart AC adapter, and if you want to send sound out to a stereo you have to plug in a mini audio jack. And I hate how the cords tend to fall off the top of the computer or desk to the floor when you have them unplugged. So I bought overly expensive docks, mostly from Apple but one third-party knockoff that sadly seems a tad unreliable, to keep all of the cables in place and hold the devices upright for easy viewing.
But this docking-to-sync business seems silly when we have home WiFi and Bluetooth – charging by cable is far more efficient than wireless inductive charging, but why in the world should I need a USB cable to sync my iPhone when it is a mobile internet access device? Microsoft’s Zune media players have had wireless sync for several years, but Apple has yet to catch up with its own far more popular devices.
Recently I purchased an iPad and, sure enough, it needs to plug into the computer to sync. And worse, its power needs are too large for most USB ports so it has to be regularly plugged into a wall jack. Now Apple has truly annoyed me – I have to plug the iPad into the computer via USB to sync, but then it can’t charge. And so I have to plug it into a wall charger, but then it can’t sync. And people say Apple’s products are easy to use!
So I bought an iPad dock for my living room where I also keep my iPhone charging dock. I have the wall wart chargers in there so I can leave the iPhone or iPad on top of my stereo cabinet for charging overnight and also send the iPhone or iPad’s audio and video signals into my entertainment system. I have a remote for the iPhone’s so-called “universal” dock which lets me control its playback from across the room – that’s handy since I listen to podcasts on it while exercising each morning.
The iPad dock promised to also hold the iPad upright for use as a neat digital photo frame. Sadly, like the iPhone the iPad’s video out is restricted to certain video sources, so I can’t use it to surf the internet on my HDTV nor watch Netflix streaming movies that way. So I’ll use the iPad itself for surfing and continue to rely upon my Apple TV and my Tivo for online movies from Netflix, Amazon, and Apple.
And the iPad dock is a further disappointment since Apple’s vaunted industrial design has never extended to making its docks compatible with protective carrying cases. I keep my iPad in an Apple carrying case I purchased to protect it as it carry it around the house and out into the world. That case is necessarily a tight fit for the iPad – you don’t want it slipping out and crashing to the floor by accident. And while there are holes in the case so you can plug in the various cables, the dock is too tight a fit for the iPad to fit into it while inside Apple’s own case.
So I won’t be using that $30 iPad dock very much, which leaves the problem of those darn cables and how they tend to slip to the floor. The other day on Wired’s Gadget blog I stumbled across a simple, cheap, and effective solution. Just put a binder clip on the edge of your desk or stereo cabinet and it will keep the cables from slipping to the floor:
One clever hacker even devised a full iPhone dock using binder clips:
So my advice is to only purchase an Apple iPad dock if you don’t plan to also use their carrying case, and only buy Apple’s “universal” dock for your iPhone or iPod if you plan to make use of its remote control capabilities. And let us hope that eventually they adopt wireless synchronization…if only Steve Jobs hated cables as much as he hates buttons and ports.