More Random Shuffle Thoughts and “Playlists as Moods”

  • Die-hard ipod fans will attribute it with a hint of clairvoyance. I’m listening to Tech Nation with Apple journo Leander Keahney. It was recorded before the Shuffle was out, but he was commenting how the IPod on shuffle mode can sometimes seem to find just the right song for the moment. Since humans are naturally inclined to anthropomorphise technology, and since the concept of probability is also not a strong point (casinos exist), it’s only natural to assume that shuffle-mania will lead to some people deciding that The Ipod Knows.

  • Goodonya Apple for innovating. I was a bit harsh in my previous entry because, quite frankly, I wouldn’t contemplate using a flash player without a screen when there is so much better around – iriver, creative, etc. However, I like that Apple are willing to take such a novel idea mainstream.

  • Pity about podcast creation. I wouldn’t expect a new audio player at this stage to embrace podcasting. But there is a general trend towards people creating their own text/audio/video content. It would have been nice to see a built-in microphone like many of the other devices. But hopefully a smart company will come along and produce a high-quality one. And hopefully the OS doesn’t cripple like the way the ipod recording is capped at only 8khz, despite the hardware offering 96khz. Even speech suffers greatly at 8khz. At 96khz recording, it could make an okay portable recorder. Hardly brilliant without a screen, but usable.

  • Pity about podcast listening. Whether in shuffle mode or not, it wouldn’t be much listening to podcasts in the absence of a screen to choose podcasts. You can’t just skip through podcasts to hear which one to listen to, because many of them won’t identify themselves immediately if at all (such as those on openpodcast.com).

Okay, here’s what I really want on my ipod and it would actually fit well with the Shuffle: treat playlists as “Moods”. I want to switch from “I feel like listening to hyper music” when I start going for a run, to “I feel like listening to chilled music” when I’m in the middle of the run, to “I feel like listening to speech” when I’m getting bored of the run to “I feel like listening to hyper music” when I feel like I can no longer run. You can almost do this now by switching between playlists, but there are two key enhancements I’m looking for:

  • Pick up the Mood where I left it. Naturally, I don’t want to start at the first track in the playlist. Since I keep switching between Moods, I’ve recently heard it. Moreover, I want to keep going with the same track, at the point where I left it. This is critical for speech. It’s not enough to save position for AAC files. That’s an artificial barrier. Just because I wanted to listen to music for ten minutes doesn’t mean I should have to spend 30-60 seconds finding where I was. Even if IPods had a bookmark feature, I’d prefer not to bookmark it permanently because the need is too transient.

  • Rapidly switch between Moods. I’m looking for a hardware button to rotate mood. The above example is not the only driver. When commuting, I switch frequently between reading and listening to speech. When I’m walking, I prefer to listen to podcasts. When I’m on a bus, I prefer to listen to music while reading. When I’m crushed in a tube carriage, I prefer to listen to podcasts.

BTW, Mood is not the most accurate term. Clearly, I’m not suggesting people swing from depression to elation by embarking on a train! I just think “Mood” just happens to be a more evocative term than “current context and needs of the situation such as they have arisen”.

This all fits in with the “young people multitask” cliche anyway. Now if the shuffle was to hold several playlists, it would be a much more attractive device (to anyone who is not convinced that it can read their mind and pick the right song at any time anyway). Do people listen to different types of music? I’d have thought so … that’s one of the selling points of HD-based players. So how will they feel when they leave home and have to choose between optimising for gym versus optimising for work or commuting? The problem doesn’t need to be there: let people hold several playlists and switch between them as their moods shift throughout the day.