I was completely blown away when I first played around with an iPhone. However, with no desire to subscribe to a 3-year contract, I was relieved to hear that the iPod touch provided the same interface and similar functionality without any monthly services; an iPhone-without-the-phone, so to speak.
While the iPod Touch allows me to connect to my home wi-fi network and play with its supreme functionality, I can’t escape the feeling that Apple forgot to ensure a music listening experience which meets the same high standards. As a company focused on innovative user interfaces, anyone at Apple should have cringed when they read that.
Both of the problems detected involve a failure to capture a music lover’s flow of needs. Here, I would define music lover as anyone who is very particular about music, with urges to hear specific songs and an inability to sit through any song they are not in the mood for. The iPod touch runs into problems with the music lover’s experience when it is resting in the user’s pocket with a music library playing at random. I have identified two specific problems here:
1. Since I have 6 gigabytes of music randomly thrown into my ears as I walk the streets, it’s inevitable that a song which is inappropriate for the current moment will come on.
With my iPod Touch, I am forced to pull out the device, push a button to activate the screen display, swipe my finger on a slider displayed on the screen to remove the ‘hold’ feature, and finally push the ‘next song’ indicator displayed on the screen. This is not only a more complex user interaction involving both haptic and visual interaction, but pulling out the device itself is also very frustrating when you’re forced to take off your gloves and unbutton your jacket because you’re outside in Montreal when its -30C. Maybe it’s time for Steve Jobs to visit a cold climate! This problem can only be solved with an external remote which must be purchased separately.
Contrast this to my iPod Shuffle, where i could feel the surface of the player through the fabric of my pocket, hold down the play button to remove the ‘hold’ feature, feel the simple circular button interface and skip the song. I didn’t have to take the iPod out, put my hand in my pocket, or buy an external remote to get the job done. Oh, and did I forget to mention that it was only $40 when I bought it used from the owner of a Depanneur on Sherbrooke St?
2. I also noticed a second problem when listening to music at random with the iPod Touch in my pocket. When a song comes on, often I will be inspired to listen to a different, related song. For instance, my randomized playlist might give me “Shoo Shoo Boogie Boo” by Big Joe Turner. I might decide that I’d rather hear “Shake, Rattle and Roll” by Big Joe.
On the iPod Touch interface, there are convenient features which allow me to browse songs from the same album/artist; however, when I select one of these songs, it is impossible to instruct the device to resume my random playlist when the song finishes. I am forced to wait until the song is over to perform this function, forcing me to either hold on to my iPod until the song finishes, or take it out of my pocket again 5 minutes later.
With my Shuffle, the song-selection interaction is obviously limited by the lack of a screen. Even still, there are aspects to the interaction which are easier. The Shuffle controls randomization with a physical switch. I reach in my pocket, turn random play off, switch between songs in the current album, turn random back on. After playing my desired song, the player will continue its random playlist.
Why are these minor problems a big deal when, obviously, the benefits of the Touch compared to the Shuffle are tantamount? Here’s where the problem ties into User Experience! I can’t shake the undeniable feeling that Apple simply released the iPod Touch to cash in on the buzz surrounding the iPhone, without seriously considering its role as a music player, not a phone. I also can’t shake the fact that I was a victim of this marketing ploy, which severely decreases my trust in Apple products. That’s a big deal.
For anyone who doesn’t know Big Joe: Big Joe Turner – Shake Rattle and Roll