500 Words, Day 19: #UXFail Crossover Edition / by dan turner

There's been a lot of commentary on iOS 7, ranging from hand-wringing to drooling, by people far smarter and more insightful than I. So I'm going to talk about iTunes 11.1, the update that came out to support the new iOS. The tl;dr version? I'm sad to say the new iTunes just exacerbates some of the usability issues I've already identified. At least in List View for podcasts, which, as I've said, I live in.

(And yes, this is a first world problem, and I'll continue to use iTunes, but what they're doing makes every interaction with the app more time- and effort-consuming for the same task, and so runs counter to my patented Reduce User Frustration (RUF) design principles.)

First: List View iTunes 11.1 now includes every single non-downloaded episode of every podcast you subscribe to.

There are many, many more of these

There are many, many more of these

As of this writing, I have over 1200 podcasts downloaded (I'll discuss Apple's weird fixation that we only want to listen to the latest Fresh Air or Philosophy Talk, as if these things are only good as breaking news, some other time), and now I have countless thousands more to scroll through in order to update my podcast playlist. Which I do daily. This adds up to a lot of extra scrolling. A lot.

Second: You cannot delete any of the non-downloaded podcasts, so you have no way to ameliorate this issue. I've tried the contextual menu...

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... I've tried the Edit menu...

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... and Delete and Command-Delete don't work. So, basically, get used to taking your scrolling fingers workout to a new level, and all the visual recognition issues that come with this mega-load of cognitive tasks.

Third: iTunes 11.1 (and earlier versions) place a blue dot ahead of the names of episodes that you haven't yet listened to. (Why there's a blue dot next to the podcast's overall title is problematic.) This is a good feature, giving you a quick-glance knowledge. But it's implemented problematically.

I can't count the times I've already tried to drag a blue-dotted episode to a playlist, only to have it not "take". The reason? That episode hasn't been downloaded yet. You can tell if you notice the little cloud icon far to the right. But iTunes 11.1 hands out the bright blue dots to downloaded and non-downloaded episodes alike; the eye naturally seeks out the dot, but not the cloud.

iTunesScreenSnapz005.png

It's a difficult issue, no doubt, balancing the desire for discovery (in this case, of older episodes) with simplicity and ease of use. As far as I can tell, the only way previously to download past episodes of subscribed podcasts was either to delete the entire title and resubscribe, or go to the iTunes Store and search, which is problematic in itself.

iTunesScreenSnapz006.png

So I have a great deal of sympathy for the UX team; it's a hard problem, and I don't have a good solution. But they don't seem headed in the right direction.

And that's 500 words.