I’ve recently been working on creating what we’re calling a “docking station” for iPods in the galleries. The idea is that people who bring their iPods to the Walker can dock it at this station and download various audio tours from Art On Call to it. Then they can cruise through the galleries and listen to artists and curators talk about said work on their own iPod. It’s really an alternative means to receiving the same info that AOC has. Plus it saves on your cell phone minutes and the recordings sound much better. Choice is good!
I was able to wrangle an old iMac from the IT dept to create a prototype of the station. It’s just one of those old, slow, first gen iMacs with the CRT monitors. Unlike the speedy new G5 iMacs we have in our lobby for web surfing, there’s no “kiosk” verion of iTunes. On the lobby kiosks we use wKiosk, which basically locks the entire system down for us, and, other than a few bugs in the program, works pretty well in this regard. But for an iPod docking station, we need to use iTunes, and as I’ve found out, what we’re attempting to do is not what iTunes, or the iPod for that matter, were built to do.
In essence I had to start from scratch when building this kiosk, as I couldn’t use any of the tricks I did on the lobby kiosks. I’ve got a lot of things covered at this point. I’ve created a user who has permission only to run iTunes. This means they can’t screw up the system or start launching other programs. That’s good! I’ve also been able to turn off things like the music store or music sharing with the “parental” prefs in iTunes. Double good! However, the bad news is they still have most of the control over iTunes as any normal user would. They can edit most of the prefs, quit the app, or even delete all the tracks in iTunes. Not good.
I somewhat have a solution to this. Quitting the app is ok, because iTunes will relaunch automatically when a user connects their iPod. For the other two, I think the solution is to have a master prefs and library file backed up on the machine. If for some reason someone is sneaking around and changes something (which will happen), all you need to do is revert to the master prefs or library. This requires a bit of baby sitting, to check up on the machine every once and a while to make sure it’s running properly, but this would be the case regardless of the tech or how bulletproof it is.
The thing that actually concerns me more than this though is how iPods dock with iTunes when the machine isn’t the user’s own. I need to test this out more, but so far the results seem to be sporadic. It looks like there are a couple of options as to what happens when an iPod is connected. Either there’s an automatic update of content, meaning the iPod will just download whatever is in the library and fill itself up, or it will be set to manual transfer, where you can drag and drop tracks to the iPod manually.
Automatic downloading is perhaps the most concerning for a few reasons. One is that it doesn’t give people the option to select which audio tour they want, and it just gives them everything, something I’d like to avoid. Again, choice is good! However, perhaps worse, each iPod is tethered to a specific libary (usually the users library on their home machine), and when you connect an iPod to a rogue machine, it gives you an alert saying as much, and asks if you want to delete the contents of the iPod and marry the iPod to the new machine.
That’s not exactly a great idea, especially for a user who’s on a trip from out of town and brought their iPod for things other than museum audio tours. There is however the option to cancel this overwrite, in which case, you can then set the iPod up for manual transfer, but it’s not totally clear how to do this to the user (it’s in the iTunes prefs), and you must unmount and then remount your iPod for this change to take place before you can actually begin the manual transfer (too complicated!).
The best thing that could happen is to somehow force the connection to be manual transfer when people connect their iPods. If it is, people can add whatever they want to the iPod without the worry of overwriting whatever they already have on it (assuming the iPod is not full already). The key is going to be testing this out with many iPods to see what sorts of things work and what do not with this set up. Right now it’s the main thing that’s worrisome.
I suppose that’s to be expected. I doubt anyone has really ever thought about using iTunes with Podcasts as a physical delivery method for audio tours to the public, and it’s obvious they were not created to be used in this way. Thus the quest continues on how to make this work in the most seemless way possible.
If anyone has any comments, questions, or ideas (!), please pass them along, I would love to hear about them.