The iPod Touch: A business tool, too

If you want the CFO to sign off on buying one, this checklist should help

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Hacking the iPod

That limited functionality brings me to my next point: This gadget could be so much better if Apple just let us play with it a little bit. And while the company has announced plans to offer a software development kit for the iPhone and iPod Touch next year, there's nothing out yet, at least not officially. I decided it would be fun to see how much more business functionality I could get out of the iPod Touch after applying a few much-touted hacks.

Note: If you have to tell the CFO you plan to hack your iPod, you're not likely to get an OK. And besides, why risk invalidating your warranty? So don't try this at home. All I'm pointing out is how much potential the device has, and how much more value it will offer, once new apps are created. And they will be created.

Having a hacked iPhone, I lifted a lot of the applications I already own directly from that device and transferred them to the iPod Touch. Some preferences files and bundles needed to be moved as well. Once installer.app was on my iPod, hacking it took only a few minutes. Here's a sampler of what I added, which should give you an idea of how powerful this device could grow to be.

The first thing I added was the Notes application from my iPhone. This is a simple, yet extremely elegant program that allows you to take notes using the keyboard on the iPod. It will also sync with the Notes in Leopard. Apple should have included it in the iPod Touch as a default application.

Notes on iPod Touch
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Notes works like a dream on my iPod.

Next, I added the Maps app. While it is of little use in the car without AT&T's EDGE Network -- which is what the iPhone uses when a Wi-Fi connection isn't available -- Maps is great for plotting out trips beforehand and works just as well as it does on the iPhone. Think of it as Google Earth in your pocket.

The most important thing for me is having an offline mail client. What better than Apple's mobile Mail app for the iPhone? It works fantastically well on the iPod with four concurrent IMAP clients. My only gripe is that you can't set the frequency for checking the e-mail servers to less than five minutes. However, because you can write offline and sync when you hit a wireless access point, it is a natural fit. Why Apple chose not to include it is beyond me, unless it wants to upsell users to the iPhone.

The Weather app -- another iPhone fav of mine -- is great for quickly checking forecasts in your favorite destinations. It also caches this information for offline use, making it another good fit.

Apple's iPhone applications aren't the only ones that work well with the iPod Touch; hacked third-party apps work pretty well, too.

 
VNSea.app on iPod Touch
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VNSea.app is a VNC remote desktop client.
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The first one I tried was VNSea.app, a VNC remote desktop client. The installation was painless, it connected to my Mac OS X and Windows servers quickly, and the remote functionality worked well.

The only downside is the obviously small screen, which doesn't have the ability to pan. That means you only control the upper 320-by-480-pixel portion of your screen. I found that if I put my important apps up top, I was in pretty good shape. It also makes a great Wi-Fi remote control for your Mac Mini media center.

Next, I added the Apollo IM client. Although I prefer the interface of another mobile application, MobileChat, Apollo lets me connect to my corporate MSN network as well. So for my purposes, it gets the nod. This is a perfect example of an application the iPod Touch needs. If Apple won't add it, then it should at least let others do so.

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