On consumer electronics

I realised while failing to get to sleep last night (I miss A/C) that I was wrong to suggest it was the engineers’ fault that ultra-clever consumer electronics products have crap UIs. As with most things in life, it’s actually the fault of the marketers.

The first example is my Nokia 6600. I didn’t expect this to work in the US with my UK SIM card beyond basic SMS and call functionality, but actually it can manage GPRS roaming (I’m slightly scared of how the billing’s going to work, but selah) – but it did.

The insanely stupid thing that almost mitigatated the technological excellence here wasn’t that the phone worked on AT&T Wireless but not T-Mobile; I’m guessing the Krauts haven’t yet got GPRS enabled in New York. It was that some marketing idiot, I assume at Orange, decided that my phone would have network selection disabled by default. So if it randomly selected T-Mobile, and I wanted to use GPRS, I’d need to switch it off and back on again and hope that it picked AT&T this time.

The second example is the iPod mini, the purchase of which some of my more regular readers may remember. Setting it up on a knackered old laptop in the US, I was amazed at how easily it was to rip all the CDs I had with me, transfer them to the iPod, and have a noticeably better journey home.

Getting home, I thought ‘aha, I’ll install iTunes on my home PC and copy all the tracks I ripped in New York from my iPod’. But the iTunes software isn’t set up to do this. It can show me all the details of all the songs on my iPod, but it can’t do anything with them. Instead, you need to search through the hidden folders on the iPod (which also appears as another hard drive) for files with a .m4a extension, copy them to a folder, and import them into iTunes separately. And it takes you about half an hour to work this out, because the iPod obviously *isn’t* just another hard drive…

The only reason Apple could possibly have set it up this way, I realised last night, is to appease the bloodsucking leeches of the music industry.

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One thought on “On consumer electronics

  1. You are entirely correct – just as the Hollywood majors insisted on the introduction of pointless and easily-defeated region coding before they allowed their films to appear on DVD, so Apple has had to make numerous similar concessions in order to gain the music majors’ co-operation with iTunes (and, by logical extension, the iPod).

    To be fair to them, they’ve done it pretty well – compared with some of the more extreme manifestations of digital rights management, you get a surprising amount of leeway even with DRM-protected tracks purchased from iTunes, annoying (if understandable) niggles notwithstanding.

    Needless to say, though, Apple gets the blame for every restriction – and I have a huge amount of sympathy with them, as I regularly get hate mail at work from people who think that we’ve deliberately restricted access to online video clips out of sheer spite and perversity. The idea that there might be copyright and other legal reasons that a respected organisation might have to respect in order to get access to this material in the first place doesn’t seem to have crossed their tiny little minds before they put finger to keyboard to sound off – in fact, I bet half of them don’t even recognise that such issues exist at all!

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