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Just a Thought - Apple's Sucky Remote

by - October 25th, 2004

I ride a bike for exercise and commuting; I put in a very modest 50 miles or so a week, and I love to listen to audio books and music during my 25 minute commute, and on my long ride on the weekends.

My iPod is just right for this use; I can load it up with several playlists and an audio book, and depending on how I feel on any particular morning, I can either rock out with some Classic Rock, jam with some Jazz, chill with some New Age (that's right, I listen to New Age. What of it?), or catch the next chapter in whatever book I'm into at the moment. Like a dog at a fire hydrant factory - It is so very good to have choices.

I bought an Apple Wired Remote thinking it would solve the problem of trying to operate my iPod while pedaling in morning traffic. The remote did solve one problem, but created many more. Here's the routine I have to go through every morning before climbing on my bike:

  • I grab my iPod and untangle the headphone cable. It seems that no matter how neatly I roll up the cable, it always manages to get more twisted than a politician's view of the truth.
  • I plug the headset cable into the Apple Wired Remote and toss the iPod into my satchel, then put on my headset.
  • Now I have to find a place on my person to clip the Apple Wired Remote so that it is convenient for me to reach and use, and still stay firmly in place. This is a bigger challenge than it seems because the Apple Wired Remote has a funky sideways clip, which won't work where other long and narrow clips might. You wind up pinching a small length of your shirt or jacket, or clipping to a belt or pocket. No matter where I clip it, it is never the best place because I usually manage to brush it off, which means I have to stop my ride before the cable gets tangled in something and put the clip back on. Anyone who rides a bike to work in morning traffic knows that you are already taking a chance on becoming someone's hood ornament; fiddling with a clip only increases that chance.
  • Then I have to stow the excess cable somehow, which is an absolute pain in the posterior. The Apple Wired Remote is about 3 feet in length, and that's a good length, actually; it allows you to put your iPod anywhere on you body, unless you are Shaquille O'Neal, and still have enough cable for you to reach the controls. The problem is that headphone cables are also 3 feet or more in length. Now you have 6 feet of cable to contend with. I usually fold the excess cable and use a wire tie to keep it bound. This is hardly a good solution because I still have to figure out where to stow the cable fold.

Now I'm ready to get on my bike. I start the music and take off. But wouldn't you know it; the current song is not one I want to listen to, so without looking, I reach down and feel for the advance button.

But wait!

The song that plays after pressing the button is the same song I was trying to get past, it just started again. I realize, of course, that I hit the regress button. The problem here is that they both feel the same; the same is true for the start/stop and volume buttons: There's no way to know, without looking, which you are pressing. I found that I have to feel the whole remote and determine which side the spring lever for the clip or the hold button is on in order to orient the remote properly to know which button is where. And I almost always wind up unclipping the darn thing, which mean I have to stop, etc., etc.

Who designed this thing? It definitely could not have been Mr. Jonathan Ive, he would have tossed this design out the window with the accordion shaped iMac. And I know Steve Jobs didn't approve this design either because the Apple Wired Remote design sucks, and Steve Jobs does not approve sucky designs.

Then again, Apple still sells the eternally average AppleWorks, so it is possible Jobs gave the remote a nod. If he did then he should be ashamed of himself.

OK, so Apple screwed the pooch on the wired remote design; what can it do to fix it? That's easy; at least, it's easy from my perspective, because I'm not the one who has to actually do the design work. Any competent Ive-acolyte should be able to do the remote some justice, though.

First, put a little pimple on the face of the remote control panel. I know the panel is a thing of beauty now, but I need a way to control it without looking at it. A pimple would help me know where the buttons are with a simple touch, and you wouldn't have to change anything else on the control. If you are still bothered by the pimple, think of it as a beauty mark; after all, Cindy Crawford and Marilyn Monroe did just fine with theirs.

Next, do something about that clip; in fact, rethink the whole clip-thing altogether. There's lot of room for innovation here, and no technology should be ignored. The remote needs to be able to be mounted on any surface, not just on clothes, and when it is put on clothes it should be as easy to clip onto leather as it is onto silk.

Finally, come up with a way to manage the excess cable. A groove around the perimeter of the control would allow folks to wrap several lengths of cable around the control, then clip it securely to ones person. No more dangling wires would bring tears of joy to many an iPod user.

If you really want to get ambitious, figure out a way to use BlueTooth as part of the solution. An Apple Blue Tooth headset with built-in controls would make people go completely nuts trying to buy one.

I know you guys at Apple didn't mean to make a crummy remote, you just wanted something that looked great. In that, as usual, you did a good job. Now, how about giving us something that works, too? I know you can do it, just look at the iPod for inspiration.

is a writer who currently lives in Orlando, FL. He's been a Mac fan since Atari Computers folded, but has worked with computers of nearly every type for 20 years.

You can send your comments directly to me, or you can also post your comments below.

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