Friday, April 20, 2007

Apple: How to improve audiobooks on iPods

I've got a few beefs with how the iPod handles audiobooks:

  1. I want to be able to bookmark certain passages as I go through the book. I may be listening in the car and hear a great quote I'd like to go back to when I get home. I'd like to be able to reach over, press a button, and have that marked so I can jump back to it later.
  2. I want to be able to navigate through the book more easily. For instance, I'm re-reading Jack: Straight from the Gut with a particular interest in picking up any tidbits re: GE's Six Sigma initiative. I finally reach it at like seven hours into the book. I'd love to have a Table of Contents screen I could get to by pressing the center button that would allow me to scroll through chapters and jump right to a particular section--it would be much more useful than being able to push the center button to see a slightly larger picture of the book cover!
  3. I want sections to be meaningful. By pressing the forward or back buttons I can jump between sections of a book. Instead of these sections being equally divided chunks (e.g., a five hour book may have five one hour sections) the section markers should be at the beginning of each chapter. For instance, even if I couldn't get to a table of contents screen as suggested above, I still should be able to press the forward button enough times to jump right to the beginning of the Six Sigma chapter.
  4. I want to know where I'm at in the book. Some podcasts are enhanced--meaning they incorporate some additional tags and/or images in the input file that translates into additional text or images appearing on screen as the program progresses. It allows the podcast to be almost like a slide show instead of just an audio program. I'd love to see some kind of chapter name either float over the screen like the letters do when you're scrolling quickly through a list of artists in your music library or to have it appear on screen in a way similar to how enhanced podcasts display section headings.
I realize some of what I outline are enhancements that may not have surfaced until we had working audio book in our hands. However, some of this is a prime example of how the provider did what was easiest for them and not want was truly value-adding for the end consumer.

For example, I'm sure someone probably suggested sections markers in a planning or design meeting. A developer probably thought about it and said he or she could create an algorithm that would take the audio length, determine how many sections to create based upon certain length parameters, and then equally divide it. It's automated and done. He/she then got to mark off the feature as delivered on the project plan and marketing got to put "comes with section markers" on the marketing material. But it's not useful. It's not want I want.

It would take time to work with digital audio suppliers to get them to incorporate chapter markers in their audio stream that could then be incorporated into the internal design specs, or to create the abstraction of chapter markers in the digital audio provider industry, or to simply have an intern sit and listen to each book and write down the time stamp of each chapter.

Lean and Agile teaches to start from the perspective of the customer and find out what they want and consider valuable. Then you work from there to provide that and only that--really well. Everything else (like being able to see a picture of the book cover) is considered wasted time, effort, expense, and functionality (muda in Lean terms) from the consumer's perspective.

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