Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Buttons = Good

The 2nd generation iPod Shuffle was one of the most beautifully designed mass manufactured products ever (IMHO). Granted, it had the dreaded click wheel, but its size, shape, and the fact that it was basically a clip with a music player built in made it one masterfully designed object. It bordered on being too small to be practical, but it was still large enough so that it was possible to find after you put it down.

Ever the optimist, I thought Apple would improve the Shuffle by keeping the shape, but replacing the click wheel with discrete buttons that would be easier to find and distinguish by touch. And maybe add a little screen?

Sadly, this was not to be, the new iPod shuffle eschews buttons to the point of sacrificing usability. It is also too small and nondescript. Put it down and I dare you to find it again.

The controls are on the headphones which ties the player to the headphones. Don't like the included headphones? Tough, get used to it. It's Apple's way or the highway.

Why even bother having the headphones plug in? you can not change them, so a more fully thought out design would simply integrate them with the player. There is simply no need to have them as a detachable part. It's an odd oversight for a company known for its design prowess.

Granted, most people will probably still be able to pick it up and just start using it, but there are several features that will be opaque to those who don't read the manual. But, for such a simple product, should there even be a manual?

These hidden features are all based on audio feedback feature of the new shuffle, it now talks to you. I hate the idea of my audio device talking to me, but no one will know they are there, so I guess that it's a wash.

But why build features into a product that people won't use, that people can't use because they don't know they are there.

The hardcore Apple consumers, not the fanboys, but the ones that buy a new iPod every year because they break, or loose, or just want to replace their old iPod don't read the manual. They just want to pick it up and use it, taking the cues on how to use the player from the player itself.

It's just bad design to obfuscate the functions of a product.

Edit: Almost as soon as I published this post, I realized that there are plenty of good reasons to obfuscate functions of a product, especially software. Many products (like Microsoft Word) have huge features sets that only a handful of people use. So obfusscating those features clear up the interface for the average user, but leave them there for the power user.
Now, the iPod Touch is incredible. And now that it works with the Kindle Bookstore, it's even more incredible. I had a chance to have a look at a the Kindle App for the iPhone and, though it was a little small, found it to be a cool and usable eBook reader. Granted, I'm still young enough to set the type to its smallest setting, that does make a big difference. If you can not read it at the smallest text size, it becomes very tedious to flip the page every two seconds. I wonder too if it will also cause excessive eye strain having to constantly go from line to line as you are forced to with such short lines of text.

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