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I just upgraded to Leopard (Mac OS 10.5), and its option to let me browse my files in the Finder using Cover Flow stopped me in my tracks. Even at its best, Cover Flow seems wrong — even clunky — as a user interface for large numbers of items, say, more than 40. At its worst, Cover Flow has trouble coordinating with finger scrolling on the track pad, skipping items, zooming past others, and making it difficult to hone in on precisely the thing you want.I threw a question out to the Twitterverse: ”Does anybody actually use Cover Flow to browse their media? #UX”@theproductguy responded:
@Power2B i would b surprised if coverflow is used when people have tons of music; it is nice eye candy but not strong that area of usefulnes
The real use (for me) of “live” page visualizations is for small icons (eg. OS X dock/stack cons) that provide pattern cues to content. #UX
@Power2B Can you please explain in more detail? This sounds like a cool technique.
@Power2B [tweets combined for your reading comfort]:
@Stuporman Not a technique, just a great, usable design. OS X dock icons are an excellent way of quickly navigating apps/docs: the icons show the content (eg, an open mail window minimized to dock actually shows its content miniaturized).
Stacks in Leopard adds another dimension (up in vertical) to the dock, extending the capabilities. Here, icon-as-content browsing is great, b/c it helps compensate for small viewing area, and reduces clicks (vs opening Finder window).If there were a command line (a la DOS or internet address), that would be even faster. Closest equivalent is keyboard shortcut (command-tab) to switch apps; that is even better than dock for app switching. Perhaps gestures will be even better?
But for cover art and for web site browsing, I don’t buy into the visual-icon-browsing model. Too slow. As @theproductguysaid, it’s eye candy. The pity is, if you direct command line/gesture to a file, you don’t browse, and you tend to forget about the 80% of media you access less often, and thus lose use of it completely. Whereas browsing reminds you of things you may have not considered.
The problem of losing your own “long tail” of media files really interests me. It seems to me to be connected to the greater culture of social media / viral marketing / user ratings, where things “float to the top” based on popularity. “Floating” promotes quick discovery and direct access. Popularity, though, depends strongly on a lot more than the quality of the product; it relies heavily on getting a couple of votes early on which trigger more interest and more votes to build momentum (this is why advertising is so important).There are many pros and cons to this system, but the item under consideration now is: what happens to the 80% or 90% or even 99% of products/files that don’t appear in the Most Popular lists? Do they get discovered? Even within your own little digital galaxy of computer, iPod, cell phone, etc., you can create your own Most Popular lists (”Recently Viewed”, “Most Frequently Listened To”, “Recent Calls”) that both speed your access to favorite data and impair your reach to the other stuff. Your favorite old songs, books, or art may slide down through the ranking system over time, effectively erasing the value of ownership. (Is this why we’re seeing the shift to online movie rentals over purchases?)Contrast that to the experience of books on a shelf (the metaphor that Cover Flow seeks to emulate): You have a spatial reference that leads you to where the book is that you want — at least, if your books are reasonably well-organized — but you never see just one book at a time. This leads to fortuitous discoveries, reacquaintance with old friends and stories. It adds value to the history, the collection-as-a-whole.Cover Flow seeks to recreate that experience. However, while you appear to have the added advantage of serendipitous discovery based upon spatial proximity, in fact, there is no spatial point of reference. The item you’re looking at is always at the center. Data organization is still at its essence a list: alphabetical by author, by album, by recent use.Consider the response of a friend via Facebook to my original question:
On my ipod classic, yes, sometimes.
Wow. May I ask about how many songs / media files you have on your iPod? (10? 100? 1000?) Also, any thoughts you might have on when/why you choose to use Cover Flow to navigate vs. the linear list of songs/artists/albums/genres would be really illuminating. Thanks!
I have 2392 songs and 3 video files. I usually use cover flow when I’ve forgotten what I have on my ipod. Ie, after loading a bunch of stuff on or when I’m too out of it to remember what I have and/or what I want to listen to. Don’t know if it makes a difference to you but the most irritating thing with cover flow is its poor treatment of various artists. If you have a couple of compilations with ~20 artists each, your cover flow becomes rapidly inundated with the same album cover. Grouping them all under “Various Artists” would be much more reasonable.
I welcome your input and feedback.