About a month ago, I finally took the plunge and bought a 5th generation iPod (60gb). I’ve never owned an iPod before. I’ve owned many non-Apple mp3 players and have had mixed results. Now that I’ve finally taken the plunge, I’m pretty happy I did. You don’t need me to tell you that the iPod is a well-designed, sleek little portable music player. The world has already placed their vote.
With all that said, I’d like to throw on some protective gear and highlight what I think are some incredibly nagging and downright lousy aspects to the iPod’s user interface. Yes. That’s right. I’m going to criticize the iPod’s highly-regarded user interface. Say a little prayer for Rich…
- I Really Need To Play Next. The iPod just asks to be touched. Even if I’m just listening to music, I like to peruse my collection. Albums. Genres. Artists. As so often happens, I’m ready to play the next track – after the one I’m listening to ends. Yeh, I can stop the current song, but I’d like to queue songs without interrupting the current song. This is especially useful for parties or in a car where you want to queue stuff on the fly.
- Why Is Shuffle So Far Away? If I’ve queued up a playlist or an artist’s entire catalogue, I’ll often want to go into shuffle mode. To do that today, I have to navigate back out to the Main Menu to hit shuffle. Why can’t I just toggle? Maybe hold down one of the buttons to turn shuffle on or off?
- A Recently Played Mess. Maybe I’m an edge case, but this one absolutely kills me. I’m an album-centric user. I think in albums, not a la carte songs. Very often, I want to get to my new albums. So I navigate the Recently Played playlist and click into…a rolling list of songs. My four albums are now one big playlist. Very painful. I’m left sifting through the album or artist name to find my new albums. There are many ways to fix this. It could be a simple setting on the device or a flag on the playist itself in iTunes.
- The Alphabet Is WIldly Overrated I cannot put into words how sick I am of seeing the same eight artists show up first when I navigate to the artists listing on my iPod. So often, I’m thinking more about browsing than finding. Why can’t I resort by genre? Or recently added?
- Show Me More As I Navigate. I have a fairly large music collection. I can’t always connect the album name with the artist – at least not immediately. As I highlight albums, show me a little more about it. A nice little thumbnail and the artist name would be fine. In many places, the iPod does a poor job of providing context to the user. It’s a navigate-through-pages type of experience, which has its shortfalls.
Now, I know that I’m a power user compared to the typical iPod user. Apple’s designers aren’t stupid. While the iPod’s interface may seem a bit over-simplified and the amount of interface controls are quite minimal, its paid off for them. These design constraints actually broadened Apple’s potential audience. That said, I don’t think that’s a good enough reason to not provide some of the additional power I’m seeking. A Play Next feature is pretty self-explanatory, for example. Also, many of these capabilities can be added but effectively hidden away from the more novice users.
With all my gripes, it’s hard to argue that there is a portable music player that is better than the iPod. I’ve messed with devices from Creative, iRiver and others and they all fall short…until now. My brother recently picked up a Toshiba Gigabeat S and I have to say…the interface of that device is outstanding. It’s incredibly intuitive and addresses many of the gripes I’ve outlined above. I’m going to keep my iPod because it’s good enough for me and I already invested in some accessories. But I encourage anyone looking to buy a high capacity portable media player to take a look at the Gigabeat. It is very sweet. CNet recently did a head-to-head roundup between the Gigabeat and the iPod and the Gigabeat was selected as the superior device.