Retrospective: The iPod Classic UI And Why It Was And Remains Successful
Since 2001, Apple has revamped, revised, and reinvigorated the iPod Classic product line. During all this, one thing has remained constant: the user interface (UI). For the best part of 10 years, the UI has remained constant: a circular scroll wheel with a scrolling sitting just above. Apple has become renowned for building user experiences that work. In their words, they “just work”. Why? What are the hooks of good user interface?
Firstly, it has to be easy to use. A user must be able to get to where they want to go with no trouble. That means that users must be no more than three seconds away from their destination within the user interface. To do that, the navigation must be expertly signposted: menus and options must make sense.
Secondly, it has to be attractive. A user must enjoy looking at the menus they are using. Building something that works is just okay. Building something that works and looks good is what users will use.
Third, it must behave the way users expect it to work. Software defects with user interfaces cause the following problems: unhappy users, an opinion that the company building the product is lazy, and the idea that the product has not been thought through.
Finally, the UI must have an ecosystem behind that works. I love ecosystems: the services that support the end products. The iPod Classic has iTunes. It’s worldwide, and it works well.
Why has the iPod Classic UI worked? It is easy to use, it is attractive, it behaves exactly the way the user expects, and it has an ecosystem behind it. The user interface is the face of all this.
When a UI doesn’t have match these four requirements it fails. As an example, look at Zune. It has an excellent UI, it is attractive, and it works as expected. However, it has no ecosystem. No iTunes quality service. This is why it hasn’t yet succeeded.
For a UI to be successful it needs to work well with the user and it must have services that support it. The Zune is failing, while the Zen, and the Walkman failed because they had no ecosystem - not because their UI was a failure, but because there was no ecosystem to support it.