A hug to thugs

by Francois Joseph de Kermadec

Related link: http://apple.com/ipodnano/

For years, the iPod has been a music player. Then, it was a music player with notes, calendars and contacts. At the beginning of the week, it was a music player with notes, calendars, games, contacts and photo viewing capabilities. In other words, it had many features, some of them very nifty, but it was still, at heart, an extended music player.

Why? Because contacts, notes and calendars are potentially sensitive information that should never go around in an unlocked device or, at least, one that cannot be locked or protected easily on the go. Because they were lacking that very feature, iPods couldn't be used to store contacts by many and were even at the center of "security warnings" in some companies — which I think to be a bit extreme, especially since the few people in a company who have sensitive enough information on their devices to warrant such a warning are known to never pay attention to IT guidelines.

The nano, by introducing a screen lock feature, will finally make it easier for people to store information on their iPods and, by so doing, will make them tremendously more useful to a large audience. This new functionality also means the iPod team is introducing usability touches that, if they do not grab the headlines as much as a new feature (like Outlook auto-syncing) will slowly take the iPod from music player to personal assistant.

This certainly does not mean that the iPod is on its way to becoming an Apple tablet, an iPhone or a Mighty Mouse / iSight / Newton combo. It is obviously only a lone feature and, in itself, does not provide us with any information regarding the future of iPods as a whole. It does however indicate a slight shift in that it acknowledges that iPods can be used for more than music, even in a production environment. Even if it stopped there, the ability to secure data stored on the iPod, while it is mostly a cosmetic lock, completes all the features that were added over the past years. It is also the first time the iPod features "system" settings that take precedence over the menu navigation system (with perhaps the exception of the alarm clock mode) meaning the iPod operating system is starting to gain some "depth" for the user and establish itself as an elaborate piece of software, way beyond a simple firmware. Of course, this last point is more perceptual than anything else (the iPod firmware has always been quite elaborate from the start) but will without doubt get users accustomed to dealing with their iPods in a different way.

Now, of course, the iPod nano lock has its limitations and will not prevent a thief from stealing data — nothing is encrypted and the iPod remains available in disc mode, even when locked. The same however holds true of most telephones or PDAs and the screen lock feature could probably be compared to the locking screen saver we have come to know and love on our Macs. Unless someone is after your information, though, which the average malicious passerby won't be, it may be enough to have the iPod reset before it is sold again. At the very least, it will allow you to place a frantic phone call to your office and let them know that the world is about to crumble.

More information about the iPod nano screen lock feature can be obtained here. The limitations and warnings outlined in the article are worth keeping in mind so you may want to give it a good read before starting to secure your newborn.

Next step, FileVault for iPod! ;^)

How do you feel about iPod security?