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Improving the iPod's Click Wheel

Like many of you, I let an iPod provide my commuting soundtrack, and most of the time, Apple's portable player does an outstanding job. With one exception: Occasionally, my attempts to adjust the volume or a song's one-to-five-star rating by spinning the "click wheel" causes this model (a two-year-old iPod nano) to skip forward in the song instead.

This happens often enough that I've been compelled to compliment alternative arrangements of controls on other music players that avoid this problem.

Apple could fix this by adding a separate set of volume controls, but I'm pretty sure telling Steve Jobs "let's just put another couple of buttons on this thing" is a career-limiting move at Apple.

Instead, let's conduct a little experiment: How could you revise the software behind the click wheel without altering its elegant hardware?

Here are three ideas:

Change the sequence of modes. Pressing the large button at the center of the wheel cycles you through, in order, raising or lowering the volume, changing your place in the song, viewing any album cover art, viewing any lyrics, and adjusting the song's rating. What if changing your place in the song -- which I would argue is the least-used mode in that list -- came last?

Change how things look. Right now, whether you're adjusting the volume or skipping forward or backward in the song, the iPod displays a horizontal meter on its screen. What if it put a more distinct graphic on the screen for one of these modes?

Take the command out of the click wheel. You can also jump forward or rewind in a song by holding down the right or left sides of the dial. What if that was the only way you could perform that function?

My own vote -- writing as somebody who listens mostly to songs, not audiobooks, podcasts or other content that are more likely to involve fast-forwarding or rewinding -- is for the third idea. What's yours? How else would you improve this interface?

By Rob Pegoraro  |  May 23, 2008; 1:30 PM ET
Categories:  Gadgets  
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