Ah, the second guess. Province of the critic and the outsider, luxury of those not constrained by the realities of budgets, time, politics, and physics. Though no stranger to the art myself, I could never guess what combination of these challenges faced the designers and engineers at Apple that resulted in the curiosity known as the early-2009 iPod Shuffle, which MacWorld, in a fit of amusingly appropriate pop-culture reference, declared yesterday: “This is not Sparta. This is madness.”
But I’m not here to guess. I’m here to second-guess.
The new Shuffle compresses a full suite of playlist controls into a single button, melded into the earphone cord. Click to pause, double-click to advance, triple-click to reverse, hold to listen to the track title, keep holding to enter playlist selection, and then, as the device begins speaking names of playlists, click again to say when.
Donald A. Norman would not be impressed. But further criticism at this point would border on the tiresome—I propose instead a solution.
Is the functionality evident? Perhaps not immediately, but the training seminar should be considerably shorter. Here is the theory: The existing design does not fully take advantage of the linear controls that are the volume switches. I have repurposed them to not only control volume and sometimes playlist selection, but track selection as well, moving all three to the same level of hierarchy. The context is determined by a three-way slider switch not unlike the shuffle control on the player itself.
Volume, most important, is at the top; track, second-most frequently accessed, is at the bottom; playlist, the tertiary feature, is in the middle (middle switch positions require greater manual precision to select).
Lastly, I have explicitly labeled the play/pause button, as it is no longer the play/pause/next track/previous track/tell me all the playlists button. The user now merely selects the playlist with the slider in playlist mode, either hits play/pause to begin that playlist, or moves the slider to track mode and advances through the track listing of the playlist, to hit play/pause there.
Madness no more.
Slide image by CarbonNYC
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