Is the iPhone’s iPod feature perfect?

Christopher Breen
17 June, 2009
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There’s been a great amount of both hoop as well as la in the last couple of weeks in regard to the iPhone 3G S and the iPhone 3.0 software. Yet very little of the noise generated by either focuses on the iPhone’s iPod capabilities. Not that Apple hasn’t made improvements. Fact is, a couple of them could save your life.

With an iPhone 3G S, for example, you can order your phone to play particular songs, albums, or playlists and demand that it play songs similar to the one currently playing, using your commanding voice only. If you’re one of those people who fiddles with the phone while driving to find the perfect song, album, podcast, audiobook, or playlist, this will allow you to keep your eyes on the damned road from now on.

Similarly, if a song comes along that you loathe, put the 3.0 software’s Shake to Shuffle feature to good use. Just as with the 4G iPod nano, all you need do is give the device a firm rattle and you’ve skipped off to a different track in the currently playing playlist.

Not quite as life-saving but useful for parents is the ability to keep those using the iPhone or iPod touch from downloading media from the iTunes Store that is explicit (in the case of music and podcasts) or rated as more mature than the sensibilities of the viewer (in the case of movies and TV shows).

And finally, with that same 3.0 software, you can search for songs, artists, and albums from within the iPod portion of the device. The Spotlight feature locates this stuff as well. Find it within Spotlight and you can initiate playback just by tapping the item you want to play.

So, given all that, are we done yet? Is the iPhone/iPod touch with the 3.0 software perfect? Not quite. Were I granted the power to further tweak this area of the iPhone and iPod touch, I might suggest:

Make On-The-Go go. Can I see a show of hands from those who’ve attempted to create an On-The-Go playlist on their iPhone? Anyone? Right, you over there. Confusing, isn’t it? You essentially enter an iTunes Library within an iTunes Library, choose playlists, artists, songs, or selection from within the Other screen, tap a Plus button either within one of those headings or a Plus button for an item filed under a heading, and then tap Done to save the playlist. If you want to change the order of tracks in the On-The-Go playlist you tap Edit, then drag tracks around, and click a different Done button.

There has to be a better way. Perhaps tapping On-The-Go could place an On-The-Go item at the bottom of the iPhone’s screen. To add items to this playlist, simply drag them to it.

Lyrics and liner notes. The iPhone and iPod touch will display lyrics of the currently playing song if those lyrics have been added in iTunes. Given that the iPhone has multiple ways of getting in touch with the world around it (and the iPod touch can work this same kind of magic over Wi-Fi) isn’t it about time we had some way to directly download lyrics to these devices?

Yeah, yeah, I know, licensing issues. Okay, fine. I’m more than happy to tap a button next to a song that takes me to the iTunes Store where I can purchase lyrics and liner notes (with live links) for a quarter. I’d cough up an extra quarter for a lead sheet with chords, tablature, and a bouncing ball.

Better support for video playlists. I covered this one a couple of weeks ago. The gist is that the iPhone and iPod touch don’t handle video playlists in a way you’d expect—gathering together the contents of a playlist that contains nothing but video, and organising it under a playlist heading. Instead, videos are organised by type only—TV Show, Movie, Music Video—on the iPhone’s Videos screen. As I point out in the entry cited above, there’s a way around this but it would be nice if the iPhone and iPod touch honored video playlists you create. I’ve seen no indication that the iPhone 3.0 software addresses this issue.

Links to the iTunes Store. If you enable the Genius feature in iTunes and select a track within your iTunes Library you see a list of related albums and songs in the Genius Sidebar. While some may dismiss this as pure marketing, it’s a useful way to discover new music. Now that the iPhone and iPod touch support downloading the bulk of the iTunes Store’s content, how about making it easier to find media you might like via links to media related to the currently playing track?

If you ran the world… Scan through my list and you see that none is a deal-breaker. For the most part, I’m happy with what Apple’s done with the iPhone and iPod touch’s iPod components. How about you? If you wore the Big Cheese badge for one day, what would you change?

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