Another post from the archives of, originally posted on Tue 17 Jun 2008 at

I've been spending a lot of time researching into the reception to the new iPhone, and there's something that I keep on reading; people complaining about the amount of storage space.

Basically, when the iPod first came out in 2001, one of the big selling points was that you could put your whole CD collection onto its 5Gb hard drive. (That's about 1,000 songs- a decent sized CD collection.)

But music collections are getting bigger. A recent study said that just under half of the 1,800 or so tracks on an average teenagers' iPod is illegally copied, and other studies have come to similar conclusions. So the average music collection must also be getting bigger.

Also, as well as music, there are also podcasts, video and photos that are now also taking up space on people's portable media devices. As a result, it seems reasonable that expectations have increased in terms of what storage people expect on their devices.

The thing is, are people using their iPods (or whatever MP3 player they choose) the same way that they were when the idea of not carrying around a stack of tapes or CDs was still a novelty? Am I the only who has realised that I don't need my entire music collection between recharges?

The thing that's significantly changed the way I listen to music isn't the amount that you can store on an MP3 player. Admittedly, that's probably got a lot to do with the way that I always used to carry around a back-breaking collection of tapes, then CDs, then minidiscs, so having more music than I would actually listen to wasn't a big behavioural change for me. (It just means that now I can carry more books around…) Partly it's because most of the tapes/CDs/minidiscs that I was carrying would have been the mix tapes (then mix CDs, then mix minidiscs) that I used to spend hours putting together. (Often while organising my CDs…)

The thing that's changed music for me is Smart Playlists. The way these work is similar to normal playlists, which in turn are similar to mix tapes, except you don't spend as much time putting them together— which isn't necessarily a good thing. The difference is that instead of creating a collection of songs, you create rules and let iTunes (or Windows Media Player, Amarok or whatever you use to manage your MP3 collection) build the playlist for you.

For example, I have a playlist that is made up of a random collection of 40 songs I've not listened to for more than 6 months. I have another playlist that is made up of everything that's "fresh"- tracks that have been added to my collection in the last month. So every time I connect my iPod, those playlists get updated.

Then there are playlists that contain my favourite songs (that I've rated 4 or 5 stars) that I've listened to the least recently, which keeps them on a kind of rotation.

So instead of spending hours arranging and rearranging my CDs, now I spend hours organising my iTunes library and crafting the perfect set of rules that hits a balance between the music I really like, the music I haven't heard for ages and the new stuff in my collection.

What this means is that even when I only had 4Gb of storage space (I have 8Gb now, but about 3 Gb are taken up by videos, podcasts and photos), I've always had far more music than really needed, and most of it has been stuff I've not listened to recently. in fact, it's virtually impossible for me to get bored or tired of a particular track; if I start to tire of something then I drop its ratings by a star or two and it moves to a lighter rotation.

Combine this with WiFi, a 3G connection and unlimited internet downloads and surely there must be enough music and video out there to keep anyone amused for at least as long as the battery lasts?

Or is it just me?