Music in color?

by havoc

It blows my mind that you can go to Apple’s web site and just
read what makes the iPod a better design than most music players, but
their competition can’t seem to figure it out. So Apple continues to
crush them. It’s just not that complicated: the iPod lets you listen
to all your music. That’s it. Apple gives you the design secret right
on their web page, saying things like “you can put all your music in
your pocket.” That’s why it’s better than a CD player.

If you have that design principle, you can know that the following
things aren’t all that important:

  • lightest weight
  • color screen
  • support for tons of formats
  • solid state storage and resulting greater reliability

Original iPod had none of that compared to the competition. Those
things can be nice, but only if they don’t break the core: a
convenient way to listen to all your music. The big amazing secret to
Apple’s design is simply knowing what the heck the device is for and
consistently applying that knowledge.

Note the iPod Shuffle. Apple’s flash player still preserves the
“listen to all your music” aspect
, with the “randomly shuffle new
songs onto it every day” trick.

Similarly, I remember reading that they wanted to be able to jump
to any song in some small number of clicks. Again, all your music, at
your fingertips. There’s a design vision here. They know why it’s
better than a CD player and focus on ensuring the details of the
product support the design objective.

This isn’t the same as saying the iPod is “user friendly.” “User
friendly” is just another lame checkbox in a lame feature list.
Design goals resolve tradeoffs; “user friendly” does not.
“User friendly” is like an empty company mission statement
that fails to distinguish a company from its competitors: “our mission
is to sell stuff, and be a good company to work for.” Design goals
will always be notable for how they are not
shared by other possible and actual products; they eliminate as many
directions as they add.

Other music players keep taking a feature-list-based approach to their
product. They are all “our player has more megapixels!” or “we
support 613 different codecs!” or “now with 53 buttons instead of 3!”
or whatever. They mishmash the tradeoffs in an incoherent way, never
focusing on clear design goals and thus unable to decide what’s
important. If you don’t understand the design, you don’t know whether
small size or 40GB hard drive is the more important feature.

What brought on this rant? Today I saw a music player
package with a screenshot of a terrible-looking UI and the prominent
tagline “Because Music is Just Better in Color.”
It seems this is Toshiba‘s
big idea for their line of music players.

Last I checked, I don’t give a crap how many color megapixels my music
player has. I can’t believe they are making a mostly-irrelevant
feature the center of their ad campaign. They may as well write
Clueless About Product Design in magic marker on their forehead.

Sure, iPod Photo is cute, but it’s not why the iPod is a big seller.

(This post was originally found at http://log.ometer.com/2005-11.html#12)

My Twitter account is @havocp.
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