Saturday, October 22, 2005

6 Keys Good, 41 Keys Better?

Nathan Weinberg at InsideMicrosoft on Blog News Channel wades into the discussion over Apple's Remote Controller and Front Row on the new iMac G5: In Steve Jobs Universe, Less Features Is The Biggest Feature:
Front Row is an interface for iTunes that uses a six-button remote. It just doesn’t compare. Maybe after Apple has worked on once/twice yearly revs for four years it will have a competitive product, but I don’t think so. MCE 2002 had more features than Front Row has; and MCE Vista makes Front Row look like a little leaguer to Microsoft’s major league MVP. I love how Jobs compares the remotes to say that six buttons are better than 40+, while the only reason Front Row has six buttons is because it has so few features. My MCE remote has 41 buttons.
Specifically Nathan's points about his MCE remote in comparison to Apple's Front Row remote are as follows:
  1. 10 keys on the MCE are digits, while Apple's doesn't need these since it doesn't do TV.
  2. 2 are phone keys * and #, again keys that Apple doesn't need because FR doesn't do phone calls.
  3. 2 keys on the MCE are for channel up/down
  4. 2 are for skipping commercials (and again, something that doesn't even figure in FR)
  5. 1 record button (same argument)
  6. 1 mute button. Nathan thinks this is an oversight and presumably something that ought to be on Apple's remote.
  7. 4 directional buttons which Nathan says Apple have "integrated into the six, meaning you can’t control video and navigate at the same time".
  8. 1 info button
  9. 4 feature-specific buttons (essentially mode buttons)
As I posted to Nathan's blog, I think these are very questionable assertions which most product designers would disagree with. Would Apple be forced to have 10 number buttons if it had TV channels? Why doesn't my iPod have 10 of them then, or 1000 for that matter? Phone features? Video conferencing is there in iSight, and for that you use the mouse (and probably sit pretty close to the screen). A mute button? For what precisely? If you're watching/listening to media under your control then pause is what people do generally. Mute is only necessary for something you can't stop (like live TV when you have no PVR function - the best option there would be for the play button to 'pause' the live stream by spooling it to disk/memory). I think Nathan hits the nail on the head when he compares MCE 2002 with Front Row: This isn't about product revision and version-to-version feature creep, it's about focus, deciding what makes sense in the context of what you're offering, and ruthlessly iterating before you release in order to make something work better. I don't think Front Row has all the features it might ever need either, but I know it won't need a 40-button remote when it does.

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