09.01, Tuesday 12 Apr 2005

My 40Gb iPod has been ousted by a new 1Gb iPod shuffle. To be fair, I'd pay the money just for the fact I have an entire pocket freed up*, but I love it apart from that. First, the gripes: I have a large music collection and a terrible memory. I want a timed playlist of what I've listened to because I can often remember "I liked the 3 songs after song X which was at roughly 9am"--but that's just not available. So: new music discovery without the trackname payoff. It's very like radio. The use of the tactile interface to change tracks and volume is good too - the shuffle lives on the lanyard under my pullover so I have to be able to feel the buttons - but the button placement puts the iPod "look" above the interaction design. To explain: if you're listening to songs blind, you really need two functions: next, and play/stop. Finding the next track button at the moment requires knowing the orientation of the player which isn't always easy: it should be larger.

Things I like. Dan Hill's hymn to shuffle mode is spot on: it's curatorial culture and simplicity. The strength of the collage is reinforced by the constraints of the design: no screen means you have to listen to a song to evaluate it (ie, changing tracks is tedious); the lanyard puts the shuffle under your coat where it's harder to change tracks. You have to endure the music, and so it forces you to face your piss-poor playlist selection and take the minutes-long punishment... which of course throws into sharp relief the highs when the collage works just oh so well. I'd go further: the shuffle behaviour is not just true of music, but true of any relatively affluent or adventure-seeking lifestyle. If you don't like what's happening in your life: Next. If you're bored with your city, or your job, or your friends, or your significant other: Next. And if next still isn't good enough, Next! Rich kid meets hobo. It also taps into the cult of the individual, heigh-ho.

Things the shuffle should do: Apple understood the use of the shuffle well enough for the marketing and to cut out expensive features, but not well enough to change the famous circular interface itself. The Next button should be huge (and it also needs to record use: hitting Next is a useful datapoint). The Play toggle should be like a biro click-pen. The lack of a physically stateful Play button means the LED is next to useless: is it playing or is it off? I have no idea. Coming back to recalling what I was listening to, I need to be able to rate songs as I hear them. The shuffle needs a suck sensor on the end: Suck harder to rate higher (unintuitive linguistically, but I think it'd work).

* The classic iPod takes up an entire pocket. My other pocket has my wallet, my keys and my phone. Consequently all my pockets have holes in them. Moving away from the iPod form factor is a good move, not just because it monopolises space (the size as well as the shiny metal back is responsible for that), but because it's out of step with device size+shape. The modern form factor is that of the mobile phone: a fat oblong. You can have two of these per pocket and a handful of change. It fits in the palm, and comfortably in any pocket you're likely to have. There are pockets made in suits for exactly this size. New cameras are this size. You could probably sell a change of underwear and some breathmints in a disposable package this size. When we have glue devices - to plug into tvs to play games and see photos, to provide connectivity to a group, to play adhoc karaoke - they aspire to this size. What else?

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