I too have ditched my large iPod for the iPod Shuffle, finding that I love the white-knuckle ride of random listening. But that doesn’t exclude the need for a better small-screen-based music experience.
The pseudo-analogue interface of the iPod clickwheel doesn’t cut it. It can be difficult to control when accessing huge alphabetically ordered lists, and the acceleration or inertia of the view can be really frustrating. The combinations of interactions: clicking into deeper lists, scrolling, clicking deeper, turn into long and tortuous experiences if you are engaged in any simultaneous activity. Plus its difficult to use through clothing, or with gloves.
Music and language
My first thought was something Jack and I discussed a long time ago, using a phone keypad to type the first few letters of a artist, album or genre and seeing the results in real-time, much like iTunes does on a desktop. I find myself using this a lot in iTunes rather than browsing lists.
h3. Navigating through movement
Since scrolling is inevitable to some degree, even within fine search results, what about using simple movement or tilt to control the search results? One of the problems with using movement for input is context: when is movement intended? And when is movement the result of walking or a bump in the road?
One solution could be a “squeeze and shake” quasi-mode: squeezing the device puts it into a receptive state.
Another could be more reliance on the 3 axes of tilt, which are less sensitive to larger movements of walking or transport.
I’m not sure about gestural interfaces, most of the prototypes I have seen are difficult to learn, and require a certain level of performativity that I’m not sure everyone wants to be doing in public space. But having accelerometers inside these devices should, and would, allow for the hacking together other personal, adaptive gestural interfaces that would perhaps access higher level functions of the device.
One gesture I think could be simple and effective would be covering the ear to switch tracks. To try this out we could add a light or capacitive touch sensor to each earbud.
With this I think we would have trouble with interference from other objects, like resting the head against a wall. But there’s something nicely personal and intimate about putting the hand next to the ear, as if to listen more intently.
Things that are truly analogue, like volume and time, should be mapped to analogue controls. I think one of the greatest unexplored areas in digital music is real-time audio-scrubbing, currently not well supported on any device, probably because of technical constraints. But scrubbing through an entire album, with a directly mapped input, would be a great way of finding the track you wanted.
Research projects like the DJammer are starting to look at this, specifically for DJs. But since music is inherently time-based there is more work to be done here for everyday players and devices. Let’s skip the interaction design habits we’ve learnt from the CD era and go back to vinyl :)
Evolution of the display
Where displays are required, I hope we can be free of small, fuzzy, low-contrast LCDs. With new displays being printable on paper, textiles and other surfaces there’s the possibility of improving the usability, readability and “glanceability” of the display.
We are beginning to see signs of this with this OLED display on this Sony Network Walkman where the display is under the surface of the product material, without a separate “glass” area.
For the white surface of an iPod, the high-contrast, paper-like surfaces of technologies like e-ink would make great, highly readable displays.
So I really need to get prototyping with accelerometers and display technologies, to understand simple movement and gesture in navigating music libraries. There are other questions to answer: I’m wondering if using movement to scroll through search results would create the appearance of a large screen space, through the lens of a small screen. As with bumptunes, I think many more opportunities will emerge as we make these things.