A Modest Proposal

(You can help! Here’s the contact info)
Apple: http://www.apple.com/feedback/itunesapp.html
Nike: nikeplus@nike.com

I think about my MP3 player way too much.

Running with music is important to me. Running with friends or in races is better, but most of the time circumstances require that I run by myself. When I do, I always have a player with me. So I want it to be the right player.

When I went into a store and picked up a second generation nano, I fell in love. It felt just right in my hand – next to my girlfriend, the nano is the sexiest thing I’ve ever run with. It was easy to use. With a decent pair of headphones it sounded great (if you have an iPod and are still using the 50 cent earbuds that came with it, you have no idea). The nano became my constant companion on the road.

For the most part, the iPod meets my needs. But there’s one thing that’s been a problem. I’m not the world’s fastest runner, but I do like to challenge myself to get better. Intervals are a major tool all runners can use to improve.

I’ve got a Timex Ironman watch that I can set to do repeat intervals. Problem is, the watch signals the end of an interval by beeping. Since I’m listening to my iPod, I can’t hear the beeps. One thing I’ve tried is to remove the watchband from an old watch and carry it near my ear, stuffed in my hat or sweatband. Then I can hear the beep, but it’s uncomfortable, the watch often falls out, and I can’t see the watch when I want to glance at the time.

There’s an obvious solution to this problem. The iPod should know when the interval ends and play a signal through the headphones when it does. This should be easy to accomplish in any number of ways.

Apple can do it at almost no cost to them. The nano (and most other iPods, except for the Shuffle) already has a stopwatch. But it’s a crappy stopwatch. It can only be used as a timer, with simple start, stop, and split timing functions. For some reason you’ve got to pause the timer before you can stop it. And you can’t even recall all the splits when you’re done. Clearly, this needs improvement. And while fixing the stopwatch application, it would be easy to add the interval timing functionality we want, making the iPod a great tool for runners.

The simplest way to add intervals would be to add a single, configurable, interval which would repeat over and over, beeping at the end of each interval. It wouldn’t be much harder to add multiple intervals, so you could run for 5 minutes, rest for a minute, and then start over. Since the iPod already has a timer, all this is just a software change. It could be included in an iTunes update, like many other improvements Apple has made over the years.

With a little imagination, you could come up with other ideas. For example, you could have the iPod replace the beeps with appropriate sound clips (“Faster now!  “Take it easy!”).  Or it could look at the intervals you’ve set, and automatically select random songs from your music library that synch up with the intervals (of course, that would be difficult to do with short intervals).

Apple has business partners who might have more to gain by adding interval functionality to the iPod. The partners could add even more capabilities that would take advantage of their own products.

Nike has their Nike+iPod Sport Kit. The Nike+ package includes a small accelerometer pod (almost as cute as the iPod Shuffle) that fits in the midsole of specially designed Nike shoes. The pod can be attached to any model shoe using third-party devices or Velcro (or duct tape). There’s a receiver that plugs into your iPod and software that allows you to capture training data, compete with other Nike+ users, and set up the iPod to encourage you during your runs and congratulate you when you reach goals.

It is available at a very low price, the same way razors are cheap and blades are expensive. One of the “blades” Nike sells is a series of pre-built playlists that guide you through workouts by sequencing upbeat and slower songs. That’s fine (and profitable for Nike), but I want to listen to the music I like, selected randomly from all my available songs. I don’t want to be limited to pre-selected items, even if I built my own training playlists. Why can’t the Nike+ software allow us to easily set intervals directly, and feed simple beeps (or designated sound clips) into the stream of music? Since the system measures how far you run, it could also set intervals based on distance.

Timex makes an $80 watch that you can use to control your iPod. The watch has buttons that let you change songs, adjust the volume, or pause the music. It also works with a small receiver that plugs into the iPod. The Timex watch already has the functions we want, and a more accurate timer than the iPod. It just needs to play the beeps at the end of each interval through the iPod.

There’s hope. Vendors do catch on and improve their products, especially if they hear from their customers. I’ve seen it happen already with iPods. When the Shuffle came out, it could be clipped anywhere, but often long headphone cables would get in the way. Sony realized this, and came out with $40 headphones that sounded great and had an 18 inch cable, with an extension cable if you needed more length. The short cable easily tucks out of the way. (The Arriva “wireless” headphones designed expressly for the 2nd gen Shuffle are an even more interesting idea, but they don’t sound as good.)

So maybe we can get an interval timer for the iPod if we all let the companies know that we want it. If you’ve read this far, you probably agree that it’d be a good idea. Do your part to help! Send a request to Apple, Nike, or Timex – write your own or send them a link to this article. Pass a link to this article on to your running friends and have them ask too.

Here’s some contact info:
Apple: http://www.apple.com/feedback/itunesapp.html
Nike: write to nikeplus@nike.com
Timex: https://www.timex.com/gp/contact?ie=UTF8&timexBrand=core

Since first and foremost the iPod is a music player, I’m going to leave you with this from Alice’s Restaurant by Arlo Guthrie:

You know, if one person, just one person does it they may think he’s really sick and they won’t take him. And if two people, two people do it, in harmony, they may think they’re both faggots and they won’t take either of them. And three people do it, three, can you imagine, three people walking in, singing a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and walking out. They may think it’s an organization. And can you, can you imagine fifty people a day, I said fifty people a day walking in singing a bar of Alice’s Restaurant and walking out. And friends, they may thinks it’s a movement. And that’s what it is , the Alice’s Restaurant Anti-Massacre Movement, and all you got to do to join is sing it the next time it comes around on the guitar.

With feeling.

(LATE ADDITION 12/19/2008)


They make an interval timer for the iPod Touch that plays the beeps over your music. Now all I need is a Touch. What’s $200-$400 for a third iPod?

Add to FacebookAdd to DiggAdd to Del.icio.usAdd to StumbleuponAdd to RedditAdd to BlinklistAdd to Ma.gnoliaAdd to TechnoratiAdd to FurlAdd to Newsvine

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

25 thoughts on “A Modest Proposal

  • Bob Pomeroy

    I’m still firmly of the camp that once you put on an iPod to run, you’ve stepped out of the “sport” and aren’t running anymore. It’s just become an “activity”. and you become a jogger. You’d never play any other sport (baseball, soccer, football) wearing headphones.

    The one area I’d give in on, would be if the iPod Interval gave you grief if you were too slow. Instead of beeping in your ear it would say, “Slacker! That was supposed to be 6:00 pace and you only did 6:05 pace. Pick it up!”. Sort of an in-your-ear drill sargeant.

    BTW, I got a Touch for XMas, which is pretty cool. I run with a Garmin FR 305 and NEVER have or will wear headphones.

  • Mina

    A couple things here – if you set your Nike+ program to a timed run, the lovely lady voice (or the male voice, if that’s your thing) will give you updates at certain intervals. The only problem is that you can’t adjust them and I don’t know how they change by your selection. (for a 30 min, she tells you every 5, and no matter what time or distance you pick, you’ll always get a midpoint announcement.)

    Second, I’ve been using the Lance Armstrong: Run Longer iTunes workout that’s a 42 minute interval training. It’s 8 min warm up, 4min speed, 4 min recovery x4 with the last being an 8min cool down. The music is tolerable alterna-pop that speeds up at the high intensity (Weezer, The Feeling, QotSA, Wolfmother, etc) and Lance telling you when to speed up, slow down and get ready again. It’s decent, and after using it several times, I don’t hate it and haven’t gotten sick of the music since the pacing works for me and still feel some improvement on each session. There are a bunch of these coaching mixes on iTunes and each runs around $12.

    That makes me think that the easiest thing you could do right now is to make a mix. Find songs of the right length, create a playlist, and switch to your playlist when you’re ready for your intervals. Try to keep the songs for the speed intervals at a higher intensity, and the walk or slow jog intervals at a lower bpm so you don’t have to think too hard about what you’re supposed to do at any given time. Better yet, do your own podcast through Garage Band or similar software. This is what I’ve been working toward.

    First thing I did was download MixMeister to get the bpm of all my songs, including Lance’s playlist, since I know that worked for me. Next, I’ll be updating the info for all my songs in iTunes with their bpm and tagging with several intervals I’d designate (probably Interval#1, Interval#2… to Interval#5 based on speed) so I can create playlists by sorting all my songs by interval and pulling songs that’ll suit the pace I want. (Someone on Nike+ gave an explanation of how to do this efficiently, I need to consult with that again.) Next, instead of using my own voice (that might be a little creepy) I’ve also begun to download soundclips from movies and Looney Toons cartoons and the like for my interval changes to make it a little more fun and will layer that over the mix at the appropriate times in Garage Band.

    Talk about over thinking it!

    If you give me an outline of what kind of intervals you’re looking for, perhaps you can help me with the beta test of my method?

  • rcharbon

    I care very little about the specific music I run to, as long as it’s something I like to listen to, and the songs don’t repeat all that much. What’s the use of having a huge pile of albums if the songs you actually play are limited? The music doesn’t need to be peppy to get me to run faster or anything like that. I’ll run to Smog. I certainly wouldn’t pay to get someone else’s music choices!

    Finding songs of the right length and lining them up appropriately would work, especially with the little clips between the intervals. But I wouldn’t want to create the playlist manually. Even I am not that obsessive :-)Software that would randomly select what I needed would be cool. Software that just inserts the interval alerts (beeps, clips, whatever) into the music stream would be a lot simpler.

  • rcharbon

    Nike responded. If we all send them a request, maybe they’ll actually listen 🙂
    Hi Ray,

    It’s great that your using the Nike+ system. We always welcome feedback from consumers and appreciate that you took the time to contact us.

    In regards to intervals, that is a great suggestion. We actually have something a little similar to what you are suggesting. There are coaching programs offered on iTunes that are a set of songs that a consumer can purchase as a program. The programs come in different lengths of time.

    As the music plays you will hear voice feedback, telling you to speed up for ‘x’ amount of minutes and then slow down. These interval training programs can be found on the Nike Sport Music section of iTunes. It is a continuous piece of music and you will also receive the individual tracks the purchase of the album. I encourage you to look into these tracks, as you will find they are a lot of fun to run to and are a great tool for training purposes.

    Again, thanks for your feedback, I will forward it to the proper department. Nike’s heritage is based on technically designed athletic products to enhance performance. It is through input from consumers like yourself that we are able to improve our products.

    Thanks for being apart of the Nike Running Community!


    Nike+/Nike Running
    to which I replied:

    I want to listen to MY music while I’m running. Otherwise, the huge pile of albums I’ve bought are just going to waste :-). And I want random selections from that music, not just the same thing over and over. I don’t care about the tempo of the music, I just need something to time the intervals and play a signal through the iPod when they’re over. Or measure the distance, according to my desires.

    The Nike+ is a really good idea. It can be a tool for serious runners, in addition to a fun thing for everyone, with a few simple changes. Hey, I’ll buy the software upgrade – sell it as an add on, or as a “pro” package for extra bucks if you must!

  • rob

    If you want to listen to your music you could create an ‘interval program’ with your own music and using a mic record your own voice prompts at the time intervals you want. Then mix the two together and create a ‘file’ you could then load up to your own iPod. Google for mp3 audio mixer and you’ll find something useful.

  • A J


    Hope you don’t mind me dropping in.
    I found this thread when googling for the exact same scenario you’re talking about.
    Short of making my own music mix there is not really much out there.
    I have an ironman triathlon watch too, and am always missing the interval beeps even without listening to music, especially when running in peak traffic times. Another solution Timex and other watch makers could use is have a vibrating motor in the watch to indicate the intervals.

  • fiona

    I’ve been wanting the same thing and posted a response over at the Nike+ website on the help forum. So far nobody from Nike has responded, but I’ll write to the people here. It’s totally crazy that you can’t set intervals on it — the mechanics and sounds are already in there and it really wouldn’t take much to set walk/run or run/fast intervals on the ipod nano through the Nike + system. Will post if I also get a response!

  • fiona

    Here’s my letter to Nike and Apple:

    Dear Nike,
    I absolutely LOVE my ipod and Nike+ system together. I’m running for the first time in my life and it’s awesome to have music, reminders along the way and then a chart when I get home. However, almost EVERY SINGLE learn-to-run program out there recommends intervals to train. These intervals help you gain speed, distance and improve your pace and endurance without hurting yourself, without losing motivation, and by keeping interest over a period of time.

    Currently this involves a stopwatch as well as my ipod and Nike+ system. It seems that it would be so relatively simple to create an interval program on the ipod for use with the Nike+ chip. There is already the clock/stopwatch, a series of sounds and voices that could be repurposed, and a program to keep track of distance or time. For example, some programs instruct a series of time-based intervals (like run for 5 minutes, walk for 1 minute, repeat 7 times) and some programs instruct a series of distance-based intervals (run for a mile, walk for 40 seconds). Both of these versions are incredibly popular, and are by far the way most people learn to run any kind of distance. Even marathon trainers use the Galloway method, which instructs a period of walking at certain points as recovery time.

    I’ve created a really adhoc way of putting intervals on my iPod, and I know there are a few “training playlists” one can purchase with a few intervals built in. However, the training programs have you increase the running intervals over the course of each week, so a set playlist isn’t useful for that purpose. Plus, I have lots and lots of my own music — I don’t find that music particularly inspiring or fun

    So, does Nike+ and Apple have any plans to incorporate interval training into the new software version of the program? It seems like it would be so relatively simple, given the intelligence of the program already, to include this option. I would even BUY this as a plug-in option if it was available.

    Please let me know if this is in the works!
    thank you,

  • rcharbon

    I use the in-ear earbuds. Currently, I’m using the Sennheiser CX400. Decent sound and a short cable (with an extension if needed). Before those, I was using the Sony MDR-EX71SLA/B, which are a bit cheaper, but still sound good and have the short cable. I have a Etymotic Research ER6i on order from Amazon which were $69, down from $149. The bluetooth Etymotic ETY8 sounded awesome, but they were cumbersome and not good for running, so they weren’t worth the expense ($300) and I returned them.

    On the one hand, the more expensive earbuds do sound better. On the other hand, those tiny wires break quickly and can’t be fixed. Spending too much on something with as short a life as these is not all that smart.

  • Steve

    I was early adopter of the Nike+ system and immediately started submitting a suggestion that they do just what you are asking for. To date I’ve heard nothing from them and that’s par for the course with Apple. They could be working on it or could have already decided against it, but for reasons of their own they just won’t ever say. Anyway, I think a lot of people responding here don’t get your point. I want to be able to not only run to the music that inspires me but also to make changes on the fly. When I ran the Marine Corps Marathon a couple of years ago I wore a watch with an interval timer on it, and I often couldn’t hear it. I was using a John Bingham run/walk interval system, running 4 minutes and walking 1. But it was hotter than normal that day and people were passing out in the road by mile 20. I changed my watch to run 3 walk 2 and finished the run. Even if I could have taken multiple hours of music and somehow managed to put beeps in 4 minutes and 1 minute intervals I could NEVER have changed it to 3 and 2 out there on the road when conditions called for it. But the iPod, in my opinion, could easily be upgraded to do exactly that, and very elegently. What’s more, it would be a HUGE selling point and Apple would be rewarded handsomely by the running community for doing it. They are really missing the boat on this one.

  • Dina

    I totally agree, with the urgent need for a interval timer on the nike plus. There is one available on the inernet that vibrates, but I already have so many gadgets on when I am running I don’t want to carry or wear anything else. I really do hope that this is addressed quickly…I am training for the chicago marathon and need all the help I can get with building speed.

  • TommyT

    This is exactly what I’ve been wanting Apple to add in one of their software updates. I work out at a gym that has a series of machines where you swap every minute (a “circuit”). There’s a timer that beeps every minute for a machine change. The music they play is crap and I want to be able to work out with my iPod, but I can’t hear the beep if I do. Hopefully this will be addressed soon.

  • Ingeborg Stapley

    Substantially, the article is actually the freshest on this valuable topic. I fit in with your conclusions and will thirstily look forward to your upcoming updates. Just saying thanks will not just be enough, for the great lucidity in your writing. I will at once grab your rss feed to stay abreast of any updates. De lightful work and much success in your business dealings!