I can’t believe I’m writing this blog post, but I am.
Last night, I tweeted out my joy at finding out that Apple did, in fact, provide a menu item to re-enable the side navigation in iTunes 11. Now, while I’m not a huge fan of the complexity and modality of the older iTunes interface, there is no doubt that after using iTunes 11 for a week, you wish for the halcyon days of the left navigation bar.
Surprisingly, enough people tweeted and commented in gratitude that I realized I should probably summarize in a blog post.
iTunes 11 – Default
This is the iTunes 11 default interface. (Try to ignore my taste in movies for a second)
iTunes 11 – Sidebar
This is iTunes 11 with the sidebar enabled.
All of a sudden, the shockingly horrid modality of the iTunes 11 default interface is resolved. You can easily select which sub-category of content in your iTunes library you want to browse, and viewing connected devices and playlists has once again become trivial. It turns out, you still end up with the horrid choices for navigation views within a “domain”, but at least we’re 80% of the way back to the (limited) usability of the previous iTunes interface.
Wait, How Did You Do It?
It’s hidden under the View menu, “Show Sidebar”
Simple does not mean Easy to Use
Just as cuffs, collars and neckties are subject to the whims of fashion, so also do memes in design tend to come and go in software. I think iTunes 11 represents a bit of a teachable moment on a couple concepts that have been overplayed recently, and what happens when you take them too far.
- Consistency does not always lead to ease of use. Having a more consistent interface between the iPhone, iPad, AppleTV and Mac OS renditions of iTunes may seem like an “obvious” goal, but the fact is all of these devices vary in terms of input mechanisms and use cases. The truth is, many users sit down at a desktop for different tasks than they sit down at a TV for, and the interface of the desktop is optimized for those tasks with large, high resolution screens and a keyboard.My best guess here is that Apple optimized the interface for laptops, not desktops, and for consumption, not curation. However, Apple would have been well served to provide a “first launch” experience with packaged pre-sets of these minor configurable options, to let users who are upgrading easily identify their primary mode of operation.I would love Apple to take a more proactive stance on how to build applications and services that provide elements of commonality across the multitude of devices that users increasing use to author, curate and consume content with, without blind adherence to making everything look & behave “the same”.
- Simple does not mean easy to use. On the heals of Steve Jobs mania, it has become ultra-fashionable to talk about simplicity as the end-all, be-all of product design. The fact is, there is often a trade off between reducing the number of controls that an application (or device) has, and introducing increased modality for commonly used functions. The one button mouse was, in fact, simpler than the two button mouse. However, it came at the expense of pushing a significant amount of functionality into a combination of selection and menu modality.Look at the poor “single button” on the iPhone. Simple, but now stacked with modality based on the number and timing of presses.Designers would do well to consider the balance of simplicity, accessibility and the difficult decision of which functions are so key to an application that they require “zero click” comprehension of availability. For iTunes 11, the hidden modality of managing the devices synched to your iTunes library is unforgivable. (The likely sin here is being too forward looking. As we move to iCloud for everything, the need for devices to be tethered to iTunes goes away. But we’re not there yet with video.)
I hope this helps at least one person out there have a better experience with iTunes 11.