Mary Branscombe (marypcb) wrote,
Mary Branscombe

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design rant #2

I've been fuming about this for days and I wanted to share ;-) plus maybe some of you iPod fans will have a solution for me and I can recant.

My sweetie bought me a 20Gb iPod for Christmas. It's small, it's light, it's shiny; nice one. It sounds good, it has a remote control, it takes lots of music. Also nice. The UI is pretty good (I personally find the difference between the buttons confusing and poorly labelled and the only way to tell which way the hold button works is by using it). But as a portable music player, I thought it was going to be one of the nicest ones, even given the class actions Apple has paid up for over the power management bugs.

It seems, however, that I've misunderstood the priorities of portable music and power management. Now, I don't go out every day, so I don't use the whole power charge every day, so I don't charge it every evening (let me say a word here about the fact that I have to have the PC actually on to charge it, or plug the sync lead into the mains, so I can't have my iPod both charging and plugged in ready to transfer music unless I want to leave my PC on all the time). This means I charge the iPod, use it for a while, take it home and turn it off. I would have thought that this meant it would be ready to use, with only a little less power (batteries do lose charge, I know) when I pick it up a few days later, given that there's no moving parts, no dynamic memory to maintain, nothing to use the charge.

I'd think that saving battery life on a portable device that's turned off is pretty important, but no. Actually, it's much more important that the clock keeps the right time, so it runs down the battery and when I pick it up to use it again it's dead. Last time it was 20 minutes of use (waiting for the plane to get from the gate to the point where they want me to turn it off) and then it sat on the table for 11 days, which left it completely discharged. If I turn off my laptop for 11 days it doesn't use up the battery like that; I left my notebook in hibernation for ,as it happens, 11 days (iPod 7-18/1, notebook 9-20/1) and I turned it on this morning and it has the same battery life as when I turned it off, give or take a %.

So can I turn off this damn clock? I have a nice watch. I have a clock in my mobile, my PDA, my notebook, my microwave, my oven and even a pretty good one in my head (accurate to around 30 minutes usually). I don't need a clock in my MP3 player and I don't want the battery to be frittered away on this pointless feature. Given the Californian energy crisis, surely Apple know electricity costs money?

Switching works when people are happy to change their life to suit the way the cool new product makes them work to take advantage of it; no wonder they show such fervour, they have to convince themselves the change is all for the good.

I don't think wanting battery life on a portable to be a higher priority than an unrelated feature is unreasonable. But then I'm not buying into iLife, where iSynch will pull together the tattered threads of my existence into something that Steve can show in a keynote. This is why the whole switcher/iPod is an inflection point/it just works fervour memes leave me more chilled than cold; it's the Emperor's New Clothes. They're stylish, but unless you stay in the prescribed area with the hot air blowers, you won't feel very warm. Real design, real ergonomics would look at what users want to do and not compromise that with extra features that serve to push other products (well it has a clock and a calendar and contacts, so it's a PDA so now you need iSync and a Mac and iLife and dotmac and Keynote and anything else we can sell you just so you can enjoy the feature you wanted in the first place).

And I'm disappointed. I've been pro Apple for years. I've been the closet Mac fan in PC gatherings, always waiting for Macs to get good enough at what I needed to do so I could use one full time (until very recently, Office on the Mac couldn't hold a candle to the PC version; Mac OS X was neat but it couldn't connect to the servers at work or run the AOL software I needed for work). Instead, the PC stuff got better while I was waiting. And where the Mac OS worked very nicely for the things it did and couldn't be configured to do much extra, the PC let me bolt on clunky tricky things that gave me a wealth of possibilities; the fox knows many tricks, the hedgehog only one (no matter how big it is).

I wanted iPod to be as good as everyone said it was; I wanted it to transform the soundtrack to my life and make music effortless. But it's done nothing other hard drive MP3 players haven't already done for me, except they didn't eat their batteries when they were turned off. If only Macs and Apple kit were as good as we always hope they're going to; as good as they look in the adverts; as good as they are if you happen to live exactly the right life in every way, rather than your own particular life. If only they were configurable. I want my instant gratification MY WAY.
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