New iPod Shuffle Usability


This weekend I managed to check out the new iPod shuffle in all its glory. I couldn’t believe how small it was! It seemed smaller than I expected. Almost too small. Very plain and simple, in just two colours; black and silver (disappointing for me as I prefer colourful iPods). What roused my interest was that the hardware contains just ONE button!!! It has three switch positions to either turn off, loop or shuffle tracks. All your other functions are accessed via a ‘+’, ‘-‘ and centre press on the headphone controls. Yep just THREE buttons! 

Of course it is lovely for the user to be given such a small array of buttons. It simplifies the experience, gives them less choice so less confusion (normally). I wish remote controls would take this approach more often!

The one thing that I found quite odd was the high positioning of the controls on the headphones wire. They are very high up. So high that you can’t look at them unless you take the headphones out of your ears. So you are really relying on your sense of touch to find and press the 3 controls. I didn’t think this was too difficult but it wasn’t as easy as I would expect, considering this is the only way to control the device. I felt these buttons could have benefited from some added tactile definition. Positioning the controls lower down the wire would have been ideal and meant less movement required by the user’s arm to change tracks, which would be most welcomed when exercising.

I did consider whether they would have been better placing skip tracks on the volume keys. So that, for example, short press changes volume and long press changes tracks. But I remember conducting a study in the past where users were very split on what short press and long press would do. It was very easy for them to confuse the functionality of volume and skipping tracks when placed on the same key. So I fully believe Apple have made the right choice to place these differing functions on separate keys.

So this is one iPod where I’m afraid you will need to read the instructions as the functionality is very hidden. I suspect quite a few people will at first try changing tracks by using the + and – buttons. Navigating track lists sounds tricky. In fact, I’ve just read it twice and have forgotten how to do it already. But to be honest, I think although skipping tracks by double and triple clicking is completely new and requires some cognitive effort and learning, it is actually surprisingly easy to remember. It also helps that fast forwarding and rewinding require the same number of clicks as skipping tracks – you just have to remember to hold down on the last click. In essence they are the same actions. 

Apple are renowned for their ease of use so this new Shuffle will receive a lot of attention and no doubt some negative press surrounding the fact that learning is required to use this product. But we must remember that more buttons do require more hardware space, and if buttons are important to you, go and buy the other Shuffle version. If a small size and sleek look is important then Apple are offering this compact version with the trade-off that it will require actually reading the instruction manual on this occasion. But as the manual is a page long, hey it’s no big deal really. Personally when I’m at the gym I like buttons so I’m sticking with my current Shuffle 🙂 But thanks Apple for giving us the choice!

4 thoughts on “New iPod Shuffle Usability

  1. Mischa McLachlan says:

    have to say, i haven’t read the instructions at all on mine. within about 5 mins i understood how to navigate around, pick songs from different playlists as well, and use all the audio cues.

    Granted, i’ve used the Double-Squeeze to go forward, and tripple to go back on my iphone before. But the additional squeeze and hold (wait for beep), and then press when the playlist name comes up was new to me.

    But yeah, it’s certainly one more step trickier.. but honestly… i figured it out, took about 2 mins.

  2. Wevah says:

    What I like about having the controls so high up (on my iPhone, anyway) is that I can easily use them when I’ve run the cord under my overshirt or jacket.

  3. usabilitygal says:

    Good point Wevah. I wonder how many people do that and whether there are any male/female differences.

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