Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Sometimes Buttons are Better

I love my iPod Touch, but there's one thing about it that really bugs me: I can't easily skip tracks while I'm lying in bed in the dark listening to music.

As a teenager and young adult, I played three or four Walkmen to death, usually by staying up late at night and listening to music in the dark while reclining in bed. When I came to a song I wasn't in the mood to hear, I used the fast-forward switch to skip past it...a process that could take several seconds to minutes if the cassette tape was gummed up or the batteries weak. And of course hitting "play" at the right moment was pure guesswork. But it worked, if inefficiently.

The Touch should be a dream when it comes to this kind of listening, with its ability to skip tracks instantly and accurately. Unfortunately, there's no physical button that allows you to skip tracks forward or back; you have to use the touch screen. So each time you want to skip a song, you have to lift the player to your face, hit the big "does everything" button to reactivate the screen, slide your finger across the screen to enter the iPod interface proper, then hit the "next track" icon. This makes what should be a simple task that takes only an instant into a cumbersome process that takes seconds. When you have a large library of music on your iPod, those seconds add up.

It also spoils the mood. The darkness surrounding you gets interrupted by the glow of the screen. You have to shift your head and arms to manipulate the device, just when you were comfortable The glow and the movements are especially bothersome when you have a partner sleeping next to you; I've accidentally awakened Sylvia a few times this way, no matter how careful I am.

I picked up a pair of Apple's expensive add-on headphones because I learned they came with "skip track" buttons. Unfortunately, the buttons are located way up high on the headphones, practically next to your ear, so you have to lift your arm up instead of leaving it resting comfortably at your side, where my iPod rests when I'm listening to music in bed. To make matters worse, the buttons serve a dual purpose: they're redundant volume controls as well as skip track controls. Press one button to raise the volume, another to lower it. To skip a track, you have to "double click" the controls. To go back a song, you have to triple click. The number of clicks doesn't always register, so sometimes nothing happens, sometimes the song pauses, sometimes it goes back when I want it to go forward and vice versa.

I'm no engineer, but this design is completely useless for my purposes. The iPod Touch already has a dedicated volume control on its side, just as it should. Adding another volume control is both redundant and silly. At the very least Apple should have made single-clicking the default for navigating your tunes.

Apple, I know you want to eliminate buttons entirely and create a world of touchscreens for us. But for some activities, good old analog buttons are better. If your next iPod comes with dedicated, physical volume AND track skipping controls, you'll make me a happy man.


Sean said...

You didn't buy authentic (and overpriced) Apple headphones, did you?

Oh, Earl...

"A Jeff Of Armageddon" said...

So you'd junk your Apple if they came out with another that had buttons? Cue the lecture: that's not very green, Earl.

Of course, no surprise I am an avowed Apple-hater, so that's a bias right there. I Am A PC!!

The other day, I was at the goodwill store. They were selling high end personal CD players for $10 each. Not that CD's have the greatest dynamic range, but they can sound a lot better than lossy craptastic MP3 compression.

That, and CD players have buttons, and saving one from the landfill is just a bit green.

Thus endeth the lecture, thanks for bearing with it.

Earl J. Woods said...

Of course I wouldn't junk the old one; I'd put it in place on my home stereo, where I can control it via remote and the buttons are no longer an issue.

A CD player wouldn't really work for me for a host of reasons. Bulk, not enough songs on a CD, most of my music has been converted mp3 form now, etc. Plus I'm no audiophile, and I've never been able to discern the difference in sound quality between CDs, LPs, mp3s and what have you.

BLaZe said...

If you double click the home button, it brings up the music controls without having to actually enter the main screen. Its not perfect, but I've learned to control it in the dentists chair without looking so it can be done.

And of course there is shake to shuffle in your settings menu...

Although I essentially agree with you, the buttons were a better interface for music... but the old ipod didn't do Facebook, movies and email so...

rufus.baseball said...

Earl - any of the non-apple music devices out there would probably do the trick. Fair disclosure - I too am an avowed ipod hater. My sony walkman has a button to skip the tracks etc - very handy when I'm out running. Really any music player that doesn't make you a slave to itunes software would improve the quality of your life. Cheers, Mike