A good (and surprising) user experience: Laundering the shuffle

Yesterday morning (a Monday no less) I had one of those “oh, $%#@*” moments while packing my work bag.  I was ready to pack my iPod shuffle (a second generation, for anyone considering trying this at home), when I realised it was not with my phone and my wallet, and I knew exactly where it was: In the pocket of a polar fleece jacket that had been laundered the night before.  Having heard a few stories of miraculous technology survival, and knowing that the shuffle is essentially just flash memory, I thought I would see whether it was still working.  I pressed the play button, and though no sound came from the headphones, the light came on.  It turned out that both the iPod and the headphones survived, but that the headphones took a day longer to dry out and begin working again. I’m not sure if this is a designed part of the iPod shuffle second generation user experience or not, but I sure am glad of it.

While I wouldn’t recommend laundering your shuffle deliberately, I have seen more than one example of people with a similar story to tell.  Given that (as one of the posters here says) ‘shuffles are designed for pockets’, designing them to be as laundry-resistant as possible (and not advertising the fact that they are) is an excellent user experience strategy:

  • It takes into account the likelihood of error — it is probably not unlikely that these devices that fit easily in a pocket and are light enough to go unnoticed will get laundered (or dropped into a lake, or exposed to the rain or–in one case–run over).  Not only is this error taken into account, users do not (always) suffer catastrophically for it.
  • The user’s expectation (that water will bust their iPod) is surpassed, rather than not met.  If Apple had labelled their devices water resistant, in cases where this failed (and after all, who knows if I would be enjoying music right now if it had been a hot water cycle) people would be disappointed.  Instead, people get something they don’t expect and are delighted (this is not to say that it is necessarily a good idea to set expectations lower than what will always be delivered–an unusual pleasant surprise will be remembered, a common pleasant surprise will eventually become an expected experience).

Like I say, I don’t know if this is a design feature or a happy accident, but either way, right now I am seriously impressed with my iPod, and that is always a user experience win.

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3 Responses to “A good (and surprising) user experience: Laundering the shuffle”


  1. 1 tony Tuesday, May 6, 2008 at 2:30 pm

    I wonder if the Shuffle’s size gives it added strength over say a Nano or Video iPod? Still, iPods in general seem to be pretty robust except for complaints about scratches.

    The first day I got my Nano – and before I’d bought a case for it – I dropped it on a concrete path, but it kept playing and remarkably had no scratches. Here’s a stress test for the Nano that I read before I bought mine.

  2. 2 danamckay Monday, May 12, 2008 at 1:32 pm

    Sorry Tony, your post got caught in my spam queue, which was apparently a little aggressive. One of those examples I listed is of a nano that lived, but I have to guess you’re right — the shuffle is smaller (and also has only the one connector, which at the time of laundering had my headphones in it).

  3. 3 mazatlan Monday, August 4, 2008 at 6:07 pm

    Given that it has a battery inside it, you would think this would have ended in disaster, since battery plus water equals problems.

    I reckon its simplicity would have helped save it. For example, no part of it slides open or can be unscrewed, and the number of buttons and mechanical parts is low. There are less places for water to get in, and with it generally designed to be as tiny as possible they would have made it fit together as snugly as they could.


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