Trading off features for scenarios

My last post has gotten some interesting comments, which is good. Sorry for the month-long hiatus!

Anyway, one thing I've been meaning to blog about is a "feature" of my new in-car CD player. For the longest time I only had a tape deck in my car, and I used several Rio Volt CD players with a car kit to listen to my WMAs. (The Rio 90 was stolen; the Rio 250 had a misunderstanding with the pavement one day; and the Rio 350 was just plain flaky (and used a different remote jack than the 250... <grumble>).

Anyway, the Rio Volt 350 was very jumpy and kept messing up (and the cigarette power adapter was pretty bad, too), so I decided it was time to fork out the cash for a "real" CD player in my car (and double its re-sale value in the process 🙂 ). I settled for a Kenwood MP425 from The Good Guys in Bellevue since it had a large scrolling LCD display and played WMAs (really my only two requirements!).

I am very happy with the unit, except for one problem -- the scrolling LCD display feature doesn't match my usage scenario!

When designing this feature, you can imagine that the product group thought "Y'know, people will have these discs full of hundreds of songs, and they might like to know what song is playing at any given time. We should display the name of the track on the LCD!" That's a pretty good feature to have, and it is even more useful if you are listening to a satellite radio station where you want to know what cool new track you are listening to.

But I already know all the songs on my CDs! I can recognise them in the first second or two of playback. I don't need the LCD to tell me what I'm listening to. What I want the LCD to tell me is what I will be listening to next.

Let me explain.

Let's say that the current CD in my car has 200 songs on it, and they're fairly evenly spread across the pop, techno, and chill-out genres. I have the player set to "Random" mode, and sometimes I am happy to listen to whatever tracks the unit picks. But sometimes I only want to listen to pop songs (maybe I'm in a good mood and want to sing along), or maybe I only want to listen to techno songs (I'm in a bad mood and just need some hardcore "driving music"). In those cases, I still want "Random" play, but I want to skip the songs that don't fit my mood.

When I had the old Rio 250 (with the LCD remote control), this was easy. As I hit 'Next track' on the remote, it would instantly display what the next tack would be. If that wasn't something I was interested in, I could hit 'Next track' again, and again, and again, until a song that took my fancy was displayed. Then the unit would seek to the track and start playing it.

But with the Kenwood, I hit 'Next tack' and it cycles through all the track numbers for a second or two, kind of like a slot machine in Vegas ("Look, I'm picking a random number for you!"). Then it flashes the new track number for a second or two ("Look, I picked track 173 for you!"). Then it starts playing the track, and after a second or two of more waiting it finally shows the track title. The thing is though, I've already identified the song and decided if I like it or not before the unit gets around to displaying the title.

So the feature is useless to me. The player wastes two or three seconds of my life every time I hit 'Next track' (as it displays the dancing numbers), and I may as well have bought a unit that didn't display anything at all.

Now the tradeoff here is that the Kenwood boots up lightning fast and keeps playing exactly where it stopped last time. The Rio, on the other hand, often took seven or more seconds to boot (as it read the entire CD directory into memory), and it only supported re-starting on the same track (not at the same time). So I get one feature (fast boot) at the expense of another (instant title access).

Similar tradeoffs are made all the time at Microsoft, too. Sometimes a feature doesn't work the way you want it to because it's trying to address needs that other people have.

Comments (7)

  1. Can’t you make a playlist or something similar and then play random inside that? (Not like it’d fix the issue completely as you’ll probably never have perfect playlists.)

  2. Peter Torr says:

    The purpose of this blog is not to find solutions, but to complain about the status quo.


    Still wouldn’t help though — sometimes I want *particular* pop songs, and would still want to skip over some tracks. And making playlists takes a LONG time.

  3. Reid Gustin says:

    Well that’s simple enough… clearly you need a playlist for every possible subset. Then you just need to figure out how to name the "Hard core driving techno music that doesn’t have lyrics, but does have vocals" playlist. 😉

  4. Speaking of complaining about the "status quo"…

    I’m still waiting for a OEM (GM vehicles) CD player that will playback WMA. I don’t want to (actually, I’m told it’s "can’t") remove the factory CD player in my new car "just" to get WMA playback.

    Why has it taken the OEMs so long to figure out MP3 (but I really want WMA) playback? It seems to be a vehcile with limited storage space is the PERFECT opportunity for WMA/MP3.

    And it’s still only after-market makers that are doing more inovative things like bluetooth syncing.

  5. Thales says:

    “Sometimes a feature doesn’t work the way you want it to because it’s trying to address needs that other people have.”

    Yeah, but I wonder who really needs a CD player that “animates” random selections in the LCD player. Who can possibly benefit from that?

  6. Tony Toews says:

    "Yeah, but I wonder who really needs a CD player that “animates” random selections in the LCD player. Who can possibly benefit from that? "

    "Feeping Creaturism aka Creeping Featurism." – Rick Cook. Some marketing droid figured it’d be cool. Or maybe the programmer’s PHB (Dilbert’s Pointy Haired Boss)

  7. foxyshadis says:

    “Sometimes a feature doesn’t work the way you want it to because it’s trying to address needs that other people have.”

    This, of course, is the reason there’s gazillions of brands and products, for your car or your computer, and google and amazon to sort most of ’em out. Or, in the dark ages, trade mags and gossip.

    All I want is one that can do next track with zero delay (I might accept a short fade while it seeks) so that I can just keep hitting FF until I find something I feel like hearing. I hate looking at the thing, probably because mine does the same as yours. It’d be cool if it could send track info to the dash or windshield, though….

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