Category Archives: iPod

“Sometimes Knowledge Is More Important Than Truth”

Subway MapIt may seem a bit contradictory at first, but Signal vs. Noise (37signals) points out an excellent case study of an instance where the essence is more important than the truth itself: mapping the New York City subway system (nothing says complexity like the largest number of subway stations in the world — 468).

Current official maps are geographically accurate, but the maze of different lines makes understanding the map and figuring out how best to navigate through the system becomes a struggle.

Enter Kick Design. Eddie Jabbour, Creative Director at Kick, apparently grew frustrated at the deficiencies of the standard maps of the New York subway system. At least five years of research (finding maps on eBay, among other things) and design work led to Jabbour’s new map, a widely-praised work that eschews the geographic reality of NYC for a cleaner, easier to read representation:

Comparison of Maps

As you can see, the map uses simplified notations, straightens the lines nearly into a grid and simplifies the color usage into more restricted, abstract spaces. Text is now cleaned up, non-diagonal, and less overlapping, and the legend and symbols have been dramatically clarified and improved. (It’s not as dramatic as Massimo Vignelli’s 1972 abstraction, and that may be a good thing.)

As 37signals and the New York Times point out, the map bears a similarity to London’s classic logic-oriented map of the tube system. The Signal vs. Noise blog calls it “helpful distortion,” eloquently and elegantly asserting that “sometimes knowledge is more important than truth.”

Indeed, often, the best way to explain a concept, tell a story, or even interface with a complex device is through trustworthy simplification. Though there are numerous examples, an easy one can be seen in the qualities of a successful interface to a computer or other consumer electronics device.

Often, criticisms of the iPod revolve around the fact that it doesn’t offer this feature or that feature (it doesn’t have built-in radio, it doesn’t have wi-fi — it doesn’t even have an off switch). But, that type of argument misses a critical point and significant appeal of the iPod — it does what it does simply, cleanly and efficiently. That simplicity gives it elegance and attractiveness that has certainly helped it to become the best-selling music player in history (and one of the best selling electronic devices in history).

The subway maps are a great object lesson in this appealing accessibility, and rather than continue to rehash the excellent coverage from 37signals, I’ll simply direct you over there with my hearty agreement, and two last thoughts:

Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.”
—Albert Einstein 

…and, consider this: Eddie Jabbour finally met with the MTA about his map and the possibilities for improving the official map, and they rejected it. What do you think about that?

I’d love to read your thoughts and any other examples of “helpful distortion” in the comments!

(Thanks, Daring Fireball)

…quick clicks…

“We Invented The Competition.”

beta I was going to simply update the last …quick clicks… entry, but Roughly Drafted’s latest post (article, really), sparks a lot of further consideration and discussion.

In it, Daniel Eran, in his typically thorough, yet readable fashion, gives an excellent overview of the evolution of home video and the format war that occurred as that industry developed. In the corporate espionage, backstabbing, and hubris, analogies to today’s home entertainment market (especially music) are painfully clear.

Looking back on Sony and its decisions regarding the (clearly superior) Beta format is a fascinating bit of hindsight. Perhaps the kernel of the Eran’s argument is this:

…companies [were given] the opportunity to experience the alternative to standards-based development. Rather than a government-run organization establishing standards, individual manufacturers would all scramble to develop their own proprietary systems, optionally choosing to license their designs to other makers.

In hindsight, this worked out really poorly. While companies were already able to compete in delivering TVs that all worked according to the standard NTSC TV specifications, there were no standards guiding a record or tape delivery medium for video.

Because there were no standards, huge resources were wasted in competing efforts to invent new ones. This same principle was later relearned at considerable expense in the field of software development, in networking, and again in video standards. Open formats and open standards solve a lot of problems for the market.

The lack of an open standard did not actually kill home video, however, and I’m not sure that innovation was truly dealt a serious blow. Interestingly, the VHS juggernaut that eventually squashed Sony’s beloved Betamax was fueled by Sony’s own designs, as they eventually (haughtily) pointed out in ad campaigns – “We Invented The Competition.” JVC, the company that launched VHS shortly after Betamax, was using technology derived from both private demonstrations of the prototype Beta systems years earlier, as well as its experience as a partner in Sony’s earlier professional U-matic video tape systems.

Continue reading

More music

iTunes2 Steven Levy, author of The Perfect Thing, the biography of the iPod, has an interesting post this morning working through his music-buying habits and how they are or are not affected by iTunes, DRM, and the record companies’ dreams of financial domination.

Personally, I have switched to downloading (yes, legally) for the most part, because convenience is paramount for me. Yes, it is comforting to have a physical CD, and yes, the audio quality is better on a CD than even the new higher-bitrate AAC offered by iTunes, but do I really need to store all that plastic away, when I listen almost exclusively through iTunes and iPods?

I think that more and more, people are consuming music in a much more constant stream. It’s with us when we walk to the parking lot, in the car, at the gym, while we exercise. Truth is, it has always been in a lot of these places — on PA speakers, radios, elevators. But today, the iPod and other portable devices are offering us a personalized stream of music in our lives — in every environment. We make all of the choices. It’s a compelling experience that makes it well worth a small dip in audio quality (especially if you have a hard time discerning that dip).

So, why do I need the physical CD? The strongest argument is that today’s audio compression and reproduction technology is but a tinny speaker to what we will have as a standard in 10 or 20 years. But will it matter? In 10 or 20 years, will I really dust off all of those CDs and re-rip that music into the format of the day? Maybe… or maybe not.

Continue reading

He really did mean it

iTunes In case you haven’t heard, Apple and EMI have reached an agreement to start selling DRM-free tracks on iTunes in May. EMI apparently negotiated to make them more expensive ($1.29 vs. $.99 US), but Apple adds value by offering the DRM-less tracks at double the bitrate of current iTunes offerings.

This is, of course, great news all around, if for no other reason than to quash the chorus of “yeah right, he’s not really serious” that followed the release of Steve Jobs’ “Thoughts on Music.” (Though some of the loudest singers seem to have conveniently forgotten that they ever mocked Jobs’ good intentions.) (thanks, Daring Fireball)

The Q & A session is interesting to skim, despite the heavy PR spin on most answers(thanks, Apple Insider). It’s interesting to me that Steve Jobs is so candid about the ability of iTunes buyers to simply burn and re-rip DRM songs to remove the DRM. Of course, this has been possible since Day One, but Jobs has not to my knowledge been so open about it before. Indeed, his “Thoughts on Music” (and Apple’s dogged patrol of third party hacks) seemed to indicate that Apple’s deals with the record companies to keep FairPlay secure were so tight that he wouldn’t dare suggest a way to circumvent it.

Continue reading

…quick clicks…

  • A Different Kind of Beat

    via the Chronicle of Higher Ed:

    Physicians who listen at least 400 times to common heart murmurs via their iPods or other MP3 devices are much more likely to identify the murmurs in patients, according to a study presented Sunday at the American College of Cardiology’s annual meeting.

  • Every step you take…

    In the midst of an otherwise dry business report on Nike:

    Nike did say it plans to make all its running shoes compatible with its Nike+ technology by the end of the year. Nike+ allows runners to track their workouts with Apple Inc.’s iPod.