Archive for the 'ipod' Category

iPad: Sit and listen, don’t speak

I recently had the opportunity to use an iPad for a while at work (I know, I’m already well behind the cool kids).  I found the device not wildly exciting, for two main reasons.

The first reason is that it is a single-user device, so in a situation where one has been bought for everyone to have a play with and try, the device is very nearly hamstrung. Admittedly with a little more effort I probably could have convinced the thing to talk to my itunes account and downloaded some free apps and cool stuff, but the fact that this was not obvious means this is not a device to be shared between people who don’t share passwords and credit card details.

The second thing that was more immediately obvious, and more confounding was that within even a few moments of interaction it was clear the iPad is very much a device for consumption, and not for production. Although the touch screen would make the ipad an obvious choice for some kind of gestural or pen-based input, this isn’t available (perhaps Apple are still smarting from the spectacular failure of the Newton?), and the native “keyboard” is noticeably clunky to use. This means that for all production purposes–even those which involve consuming media (such as annotating books or pictures, gestural photo or video editing)–that would seem ideally suited to a touch-based interface, the iPad in it’s native state is essentially useless. Even doing a Google search on this thing is hard. And while there are pens you can buy, and keyboards, and apps and all kinds of workarounds, it doesn’t change the fact that all of these things are not what this large and expensive piece of equipment was designed for.

I’m not alone in my assessment of these limitations of course. Larry Marcus says that the iPad is no replacement for a laptop unless you are primarily a consumer. Nathan Jurgenson at Sociology Lens reinfirces that prosumption is not where it’s at for the iPad. Jeff Jarvis, in his must-read review calls the iPad vapid and shallow, and points out how it is a move backwards from the open content the web made possible. Cory Doctorow takes it one step further and points out the iPad itself is a closed device. Jonathan Zittrain points out that even Apps don’t make the iPad open because they are vetted (and makes some very interesting points about a large antitrust suit against another technology company).

None of this is to say that the iPad doesn’t have a market; Jake Simms thinks “grown ups” will like it, Steve Myers reports on a panel at SXSW that suggested the iPad is designed for “laid back” computing, and Kathy E. Gill says we will have to wait and see how people use it in their consumption activities.

Personally, I won’t be getting an iPad; I have a netbook that does all the consumption things an iPad does except nice ebook reading, and there are cheaper ebook readers (if and when I decide to get one) and plenty of prduction things besides. While iPads are very du jour, I think they have missed a number of interesting interaction possibilities afforded by a touch screen, and I will be interested to see where they go from here.  Any iPad users care to comment on their use?

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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.

Inclusive design, standardization, and the iPod shuffle

Remember back in 2001, when in October, white headphones appeared everywhere seemingly overnight, and all of a sudden anything that wanted to be trendy and fresh was an i-Something? Since it was first unveiled, the iPod has captured the attention and devotion of users around the globe — initially just music lovers, but later users of all kinds of media.

So why is it that the iPod was as much a revolution (if not more) than the walkman? I would guess there were four major factors (and Leander Kahney and other commentators would agree with me):

  • The iTunes music store tie-in. In the past few years the iTunes music store has been heavily criticised for selling “DRM infected” m4ps that only play on Apple players, and to my mind this is a valid criticism (though one that is being eroded as music retailers come on board DRM free and competition opens up). However, in 2001, the music store was a music revolution — you could buy a whole bunch of stuff (some that was difficult to get any other way) on a per-song basis, legally and for a reasonable price. And it was all integrated with a device that you could cart all of it around on and play it on.
  • Meeting a need. The iPod was the first small device with long battery life and storage for a significant amount of music. And unlike travelling CD players, iPods almost never skipped. Way back when I bought my first iPod (I have a third generation 15 GB and a second generation 1GB Shuffle), in 2003, it weighed about as much as two CDs in their cases, took up much less space, and could hold about 3,500 songs. It still isn’t full, and my music goes with me when I travel.
  • Not a real iPod ad

  • Design and the cool factor. Apparently they white headphones were a happy accident, but they became iconic, and the iPod became a must have. The advertising campaign helped with this — the primary colours with silhouettes rocking out to their music grabbed people’s attention so much that people started making their own takes on them (as above), and services to iPod your own photos professionally popped up on the web.
  • Usability. Not only did the iPod do something that users wanted, it was easy to do it. The device, the music store, and the software are easy to install and use — and this didn’t happen by accident, it was a designed in feature. Some commentators go so far as to claim that the usability of iPods is the reason why people love them so much.

I don’t actually think usability alone can account for the emotion — I think it is the whole user experience of the right thing that is not only easy to use, but sexy as well.

So, imagine my disappointment to discover a fairly serious oversight in my shuffle. The second generation shuffle is designed in the shape of a clip (see below) . The clip is great, it clips onto clothing or backpacks readily and effectively. But it is designed for men, or more specifically, people who wear men’s shirts. This makes me feel just a little bit like my shuffle wasn’t designed for me, and if it weren’t for the shuffle being otherwise excellent, could affect how I feel about it.

For historical reasons, men’s and women’s shirts button in opposite directions — the buttons on men’s shirts are on the right, and women’s are on the left. Originally this was a usability consideration, men dressed themselves, and women were dressed by maids, so the buttons are closest to the right hand of the dresser — unfortunately, though, we have never moved past this even though women no longer have maids. The second generation iPod shuffle’s interface is up the right way (with the headphones going into the top) when it is clipped to a menswear shirt, but upside down (with all the functions going backwards and the headphone cord looping down and then pugging up into the iPod) when clipped to a womenswear shirt. This is particularly unfortunate, given that menswear is significantly more likely to have a pocket to clip the iPod to, and therefore an alternative where the interface is rotated 90 degrees rather than 180.

Now, this may seem like nitpicking, and it probably is — but for a company and a product that has such an excellent user experience track record, small disappointments like this (particularly when they affect 50% of the potential user population, though maybe slightly less of the actual user population) are surprising. What should Apple have done about it? Well, ideally clothing would all be changed so it was more usable in modern times, but given that this is wildly unlikely (because this is a standard, and they are notoriously hard to change), I would have suggested one of things:

  • An “equal-opportunities” user interface where the clip was vertical instead of horizontal
  • Selling left and right clipping iPod shuffles
  • Having a reversible clip.

Apple have a lot of it right, and I am not about to throw my shuffle out just because I have to work a little bit harder to find somewhere to clip it, but I do think this is an excellent example of how small things matter to a user experience, and that standardization isn’t always a great idea. Still, though…I’ve seen the iPod touch. And I want one.


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