Epic Design Fail

Apple tries very hard to do unique designs, but I think my iPod Shuffle 3rd Generation has a serious flaw. It has no control buttons on the unit itself. The controls are embedded inline with the earbuds. The control has a single button operations where a single-click starts and stops playback, a double-click moves you forward on your playlist, and a triple-click moves you backward on your playlist. While playing a song, a single click-and-hold initiates a Voice-Over feature where the name of your current song is spoken above your song. On a superficial level, it seems so simple and modern. So, why is this necessarily an epic design fail?

Let’s set aside the fact that this Shuffle model requires earbuds with remote functionality. If I lose my earbuds, I would have to buy either a new set of these “special” earbuds, or by an adapter that has the controls. I thought that I can accept this fact, so I was OK with the situation.

Alas, the situation has changed. This morning, I was doing a half-hour cardio program on a treadmill while listening some tunes. After a half-hour, I was working up a good sweat. All of the sudden, the Shuffle starts to tell me the name of my current song and keeps repeating it. Then, it goes into a mode where it starts announcing every song in my current playlist. I thought that the remote control was stuck or something, but it was not it. It got so annoying that I just shut the unit off.

Eventually, I was able to figure out what was going on. Because the control is near the earbuds, the control switch rests at the top of my chest. Since I was doing a lot of cardio, the top of my chest was covered in sweat. The control was swimming in a pool of my sweat and most likely started to short out. I tried different configurations but there is really no good fix. If there was buttons on the unit itself, this would not be an issue.

In most circumstances, we accept a certain level design failures. Our tolerances are very high, especially with electronic devices. The design fail becomes epic when you cannot use said device in normal, practical scenarios. It does not matter if the design looks good, if it is not functional, then its useless.

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