iPod needs 20/20 vision

Written By: Peter Abrahams
Content Copyright © 2006 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.

I am the proud new owner of an iPod nano. It is a wonderful device, very aesthetically designed with its very simple user interface and I am sure it will be my constant companion.

However, with my usability and accessibility hat on I have some suggestions for Apple. My comments should be relevant to any designer of an ICT device. The first three are quibbles in terms of the nano but the last three are serious.

  1. Do not use six point text anywhere especially if it is important:
    To register my nano I had to give the serial number of my new toy, this is written on the back in six point text, which I can not read with my glasses on, a magnifying glass made it just readable but even that was a struggle. The text could easily have been made three times bigger without in anyway spoiling the visual appearance.
  2. Avoid letters and numbers that can be confused:
    I had further trouble with my registration until I realised that the letter ‘S’ at the beginning of the serial number was in fact a number ‘5′. ‘O’ and ‘0′ and ‘Z’ and ‘2′ should also be avoided.
  3. Do not include information in a foreign language that is not translated:
    On the back of my iPod is ‘A pleine l’écoute prolongée du baladeur peut endommager l’oreille de l’utilisateur’ and what I assume is the same thing in German. Babelfish translated this into ‘full listening prolonged with the walkman has can damage the ear of the user’ which is good enough to understand. If this is important for our French and German friends why is it not translated into English?
  4. Provide text sizing:
    Because the device is so small the screen has to be small and could not be made any bigger. This means the text of the menus etc. is small. I will agree that the screen quality and the font used are excellent so it is as readable as it could be in the circumstances. But why not enable the user to request larger fonts?
  5. Provide audio menus:
    The iPod is an audio device so why does it not talk to you? It has an option to click or not to click as you traverse the menus, so why not an option to read out the menus through the earphones? This would be very easy for the menu items such as ‘music’, ‘pictures’ etc as there is a very limited vocabulary. For the text related to the individual songs there is not enough power or memory to provide text to speech on the iPod, but there is absolutely no reason why this could not be included in the iTunes functions on the PC then the audio clip of the title could be loaded on to the iPod. Apple have text to speech built into the Mac and Windows also provides a similar function, so there is not a lot of development required.
    Providing this function would benefit everybody. Obviously people with visual impairments would benefit as the user interface is unusable by them as it stands. People who need reading glasses could use the device without having to search for them. Finally the ability to use the iPod without having to look at the screen could benefit all users, keeping the device safe in your pocket or handbag in public places would reduce the fear of theft.
  6. Provide tactile clues:
    The nano wheel is matt whilst the rest of the device is shiny and that just gives a tactile clue as to where the wheel is. I think if the device was being designed to be used without looking at it that a few more clues could be added.

The important point about these ideas is that they make the device more accessible and usable without in any way detracting from the existing function or design, and should not add any significant cost. They obviously do not make the nano accessible to all users—especially not to people with motor impairments where a simple voice recognition plug-in might be needed.

I hope it shows that being aware of the issues means that simple solutions can be built to improve accessibility and usability for all.