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On improving the iPod's aging UI and experience

The iPod is the 800-pound gorilla of the DAP industry - there's no doubt about it (well, almost). In its 4+ years of existence, the player has quickly won owner's hearts because of its ease of use and seamless iTunes management experience, amongst other reasons. I personally have owned one of every generation of iPod since the original 5 GB model with the *gasp* mechanical scroll wheel, before all this fancy touch wheel stuff you young whipper-snappers are spoiled with today.

In all this time, however, the iPod's famously simple UI has more or less remained that way - staggeringly basic. While I personally am no fan of devices that add features and options simply for the sake of claiming 'it has more', I'm starting to think that there are a few areas that the iPod's UI and experience are in serious need of an update. Music (and video) collections are getting larger, people are interacting with their devices and the libraries on their computers through increasingly new (and truly useful) ways, and I think the iPod needs to catch up with the times.

Take Sony Ericsson's 4 GB flash memory music phone, the W950. While I by no means am about to toss my iPod for this expensive gadget (though, I think it is worth noting that Sony Ericsson's music phones, as well as the latest version of Windows Mobile 5, both support AAC files now), I do think the iPod could benefit from incorporating this 'browse albums by album art' feature - especially in an age of gorgeous color screens and 'make everything pretty' design techniques. Sure, this option's success and usefulness would hinge on how many songs and albums actually have art embedded in them, but maybe Apple could finally add a tool or plugin to iTunes that goes out and gets the art automatically. Countless little utilities and addons already do it, and heck, even the commercially successful Delicious Library does it - why can't iTunes?

Speaking of color, why not let users add a splash of usefulness to the (decidedly still black and white) iPod's UI by allowing them to specify a set of colors to artists, albums and/or songs that have ratings assigned to them. Red for five stars, orange for four, green for three - you get the idea. The human eye can pick out one of these colors in a list of 500+ artists a lot easier than the basic, Atari-esque menu color scheme we've had since day one.

Last but not least is Apple's beloved 'shuffle' feature, after which they went so far as to name an entire iPod line after the concept. Front Row - which offers an iPod-on-your-Mac experience for your media - has even received a 'shuffle songs' option at the top of playlists and artist song listings - why not the iPod? It's a pain-in-the-thumb to keep having to click back out to the top-level Settings area on the iPod to adjust the shuffle setting between, for example, playing playlists or an entire album from start to finish.

These are the major areas where I believe the iPod's experience could use a serious update, but I'm sure they aren't the only ones. What say you, TUAW readers - does the iPod feel lacking? Sound off, if only for the empty hope that Apple's engineers might actually be reading TUAW - and listening.

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