iPhone shuffle usability suck

My iPhone is the fifth iPod I’ve owned over the years, so I’m pretty familiar with how they work. One thing that has been bugging me about the iPhone though is that there was no shuffle mode without going into a playlist and hitting the shuffle button at the top of the list. This seems like it was a bit anti-intuitive and off from how previous iPods worked. When I found out that the new iPod Touch would shuffle by shaking it, I assumed that was how the iPhone must already work, which wasn’t true. It was starting to be a bummer because I often have the iPhone in my pocket and I just want to listen to some music without having to unlock it. I finally did a web search figuring that I must be missing something and I came across this page which describes the problem of always having your iPhone in shuffle mode. I’d always seen the shuffle and repeat icons in the second screen of info when playing a track, but I’d assumed that they were either: notifications, not buttons, since they weren’t in the primary interface; or applying only to the currently playlist since they were only accessible while playing a track. Since the iPhone has a settings menu for the iPod and every other iPod stores the repeat and shuffle mode switches there, that is where I assumed they would be on the iPhone.

It seems the the iPhone UI designers decided that the iPhone was a significantly new device that they could change the user expectations about how the user interface should work. That is a classic blunder in UI design that Apple above all other companies should not have made. Maybe they need their designers to go back and re-read the Apple human interface guidelines where this rule was made very clear.

This choice was bad on other HCI levels as well. What is my expectation when manipulating controls on a song while it is playing? Would it be that I’m making a global settings change when there is another location where the global settings are edited? I doubt it. Did Apple do any user trials? Because of their secrecy, I somewhat doubt it, but it would have been dumb of them to do none.

Since this paradigm was established in the iPhone 1.0 software and has obviously not changed since that time, let’s hope that Apple at least has the sense to add setting switches for shuffle and repeat in the settings menu if they don’t want to get rid of the ones they currently have. That would save a lot of frustration from their customer base as we get iPhones.

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