I was a bit puzzled when I first noticed the new icons that are displayed just below the time slider thingy for podcasts. It was actually when I was on my way to the supermarket, so I didn’t really date to find it out, because I already was trying not to run into things and listening to a podcast at the same time and didn’t want to add a third task to the list.

iPod Podcast Icons

When I wrote my article about the new upgrade I started to muse aloud (if you can apply this to writing as well) about these icons and when I reached the third paragraph I thought I’d just leave it out completely and write in detail about it later. I think it makes a good example for usability and design. So here goes:

The first thing I’d like to say is that yes, I know it’s hard to find an icon that conveys exactly what the button does without any risks of misinterpretation. Still, I couldn’t really say what any of these icons wanted to tell me. I had vague ideas, yes, but I needed to actually try each of them out to see what they actually did – and confirm my suspicions.

Let’s start with the first one. What does the envelope do? Something with mail? Mail updates? Send a mail? Anything to do with RSS? Who knows. The second one could actually have to do something with reverse… like what? Go back 30 seconds? The 1x is as puzzling as the envelope. One time WHAT? Can I change that to two? Anything else? Oh wait, let’s try that.

[Imagine me pressing the 1x button here.]

Oh look, it changes to 2x. What happens if I press it again? 1/2x. Interesting. The answer of course (and I guessed it, too) is that this button changes the speed of the podcast. It also adjusts the pitch, so you don’t get the Mickey Mouse effect when listening to a podcast running at twice the speed.

I don’t know if I’ll use that feature. When I tried it on one of my favorite podcasts, I had trouble following the content. Basically, twice the speed was too fast. I think that 1, 5x might be an interesting adjustment. A bit faster, but not actually to the point where you can’t follow what’s being said.

But enough of that, now comes the icon with the 30 and the arrow. That one seemed very obvious to me once I tested it and realized what it does. Want to guess? Exactly. It goes back 30 seconds. While this is nice, I would actually suggest being able to forward 30 seconds, too. When it comes to long podcasts, using the time slider can be tricky and I can currently think of more use cases for forwarding than for reversing. But maybe that’s just me.

Now for the last one and – as it turns out – the least useful one in my personal opinion. And yes, it does send out a mail with a fancy default text along the lines of „Hey, check out that podcast“ and the link to the podcast.

I’m not sure how other people think about that, but I have never ever in my life felt the need or desire to send out a mail with a link to a podcast. I just… well… I don’t do that. And if I did, I’d probably send the link to the website of the podcast. Maybe there is a big target group out there, but I just don’t see myself using this button at all. It makes me wonder whether the guys at Apple just tried to come up with a third button, because groups of three a) look nicer and b) would be consistent with the number of icons displayed for songs.

In the end all the buttons did more or less what you might have guessed from the icons. I still needed to try each of them, because it wasn’t completely clear. And then, I was slightly underwhelmed by the functionality they provided. The 30 seconds reverse might come in handy at times, and changing the speed could be interesting. Who knows, maybe I will actually use that from time to time. The mail option does nothing for me.

Now the next thing to try out is how to use that scrubbing thing I heard about. I think I have a pretty good idea about how that works, but once again, I’ll have to thoroughly test it to be sure.

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  1. how interesting! I had no idea what the center one did. I tried it and loved it. I’m always forgetting what they’re talking about, a quick jump back is great. I can’t imagine ever changing speed, but I haven’t tried it. maybe it will be something I’ll use now that it’s an option. but I am so so excited about the mail function. I have such a hard time remembering to tell people about interesting things I hear. now it’s so convienient! expect an email from me as soon as I hear something that reminds me of you!

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