Note: I did not receive anything from the SweetPea Toy company, nor was I asked to write this review.
The SweetPea3 is an MP3 player designed for young children, 1 - 5 years. Essentially, it replaces the Fisher-Price record player of my youth and the Fisher-Price tape recorder of my 18-year old daughter’s youth with the modern equivalent. (Note: At the time I was ordering our two SweetPea3 players, Amazon.com was showing a product listing for a new Fisher-Price MP3 player due to launch in a couple of months. No product details were available at that time. The product image looks an awful lot like those kiddie tape recorders of yore, including the sing-along microphone… and the size.)
I bought two SweetPea3 players — one lavender, one blue — from the SweetPea3 website. (Also available from Amazon.com.) My main motivation was to give my two youngest children (ages 3 and 5) access to music without buying yet another tape recorder for our old collection of music cassettes.
At $49.95 each, the SweetPea3s were a substantial investment. I admit to spending some time wondering if I should just buy low-end “grown up” MP3 players, instead. Ultimately, I went with the SweetPeas, and was glad I did. Here’s why:
1. Speaker. The SweetPea3 is primarily designed to play over it’s (very decent sounding) speaker. While it can accommodate headphones (not included), they are not the intended playback method; something most parents will prefer for small children. Not only are headphones something I don’t want to give my little ones (a strangulation hazard, especially in bed), they interfere with communication and make it hard for me to monitor volume levels.
2. Size. Sometimes, bigger is better. The SweetPea3 is sized and shaped for small hands. About 8″ long, it’s large enough for them to carry comfortably, and large enough not to slide between the sofa cushions (you wouldn’t believe what slips between our sofa cushions…). In addition to being more comfortable for kids to use, the larger size is safe for children under 3 years, who could easily choke on, say, a Sansa Clip+ or an iPod Shuffle.
3. Design. The player has a nice circular handle just right for little hands. (The product is shaped sort of like a hotel’s “Do Not Disturb” sign, only smaller.) The handle/hole is also perfectly sized for attaching plastic links, so that you can attach the player to a stroller or crib.
4. Rubberized exterior. The players are reasonably cushioned against shocks… and tantrums. Being thrown on our stone floors hasn’t done the blue one in yet.
5. Age-appropriate controls. The SweetPea3’s controls are limited to three buttons: Play/Pause, Back, and Forward. Limited controls means limited opportunities for confusion and frustration. Wisely, there is no Delete function.
6. Parental controls. A parent-accessible menu (hold two buttons down for six seconds to activate the menu) allows for volume control, playlist selection, and a couple of other settings. (Some settings I didn’t understand the need for: “Show Song“? “Pause“? Why wouldn’t I want those features on?)
7. Long battery life. After a week of reasonable use, the battery indicators still show full.
Purchasing from the SweetPea site was easy – the website is nicely designed and simple to navigate. Delivery was prompt and timely. Each box contained the MP3 player, some product guides and ads, and a USB cable. Showing a fine understanding of the target audience, the players came charged and pre-loaded with several songs and stories (some stories are just snippets), making them ready-to-go right out of the box.
Transferring files to the players was odd but not hard — because I’d seen the helpful information one Amazon customer posted. The players have 2 GB of memory, which is plenty for audio content (the website claims over 32 hours).
(On a Mac, the trick is NOT to drag files directly from iTunes to the player, but rather to find the music files in the Finder, and from there, drag and drop to the player’s icon on the Desktop (just like you might copy files from the Finder to an external hard drive). Double-clicking the player’s icon will reveal three playlist folders, into which you sort the audio files. It seemed to me that Playlist 3 does not accept new files; even if it appears to, they won’t be accessible from the player.)
The SweetPea3 was a fabulously successful gift — my daughter and son are delighted with the music players, and a week later, are having a ball with them. They love the control and fun of having their own “iPods” (a marketing coup for Apple), and take them everywhere. And I feel like a great Mommy for buying them.
SweetPea boasts that their player won the 2009 Best Toy Award. That may be so, but the player’s interface — while adequate for a first product — does not live up to the rest of the design, and really requires an upgrade if this product is going to take off.
Here’s what needs to be updated:
1. Larger buttons. The existing buttons are all right for my 3- and 5-year olds, but would be frustrating for the under-two set, or children with below-average fine-motor skills.
2. Volume buttons. These can be on the side to distinguish them from navigation controls. I like the concept of full parental control over the volume via the hidden menu, but not every song is equalized at the same volume as every other song. I’d like my control to be over an absolute maximum decibel volume, and for my kids to be able to control the volume up to that point. Perhaps for the youngest children (up to age 2) this would be overkill, but for the 3-5 year old set, it would be preferable. After all, the volume buttons can always be inactivated via the Parental Control Menu.
4. Playlist selection. Currently, switching between playlists can only be done via the Parental Controls menu, which limits the kids’ ability to choose what to listen to. With 2 GB of memory, there are an awful lot of songs to scroll through to find a specific one. Perhaps the solution is to add an album-sorted list.
5. Color display showing album images in addition to song titles (for kids who can’t read).
6. Faster response time. I was startled by how slow the SweetPea3 is to respond to button presses. My kids have the patience for it, but many won’t and will find themselves pressing furiously to try and elicit a reaction, only to find they’ve overshot.
7. More color options. This isn’t an absolute requirement, of course, but it would be a bonus if there were more color choices. The blue and lavender colors are really nice (nicer than they look on the screen), but if I’d had two girls, which one would have to take the blue? (I know it’s sexist, but you’ll have to live with it.) With small kids, color is the main distinguishing factor; writing their names on the players would not only be useless for the pre-literate ones, it would deface a lovely product.
Overall: The SweetPea3 MP3 player lives up to its tagline, “The MP3 player Made for Kids”. It is a solid choice for young children (birth to 5 years, or older children with motor or developmental delays), but the product is ready for a design update. The SweetPea3 was a fabulously successful gift — my daughter and son are delighted with them. Kids love the control and fun of having their own “iPods” (a marketing coup for Apple), and take them everywhere. And I feel like a great Mommy for buying them.
In my previous post on Cover Flow, I wondered:
“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.
“[…] 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.”
Yesterday, I came across a related idea in Nudge (a book I highly recommend):
“Consider some evidence involving music downloads. Matthew Salganik and his coauthors (2006) created an artificial music market, with 14,341 participants who were visitors to a Web site popular with young people. The participants were given a list of previously unknown songs from unknown bands. They were asked to listen to a brief selection of any songs that interested them, to decide which songs (if any) to download, and to assign a rating to the songs they chose. About half of the participants were asked to make their decisions independently, based on the names of the bands and the songs and their own judgment about the quality of the music. The other half could see how many times each song had been downloaded by other participants. […]
“Were people nudged by what other people did? There is not the slightest doubt. […] individuals were far more likely to download songs that had been previously downloaded in significant numbers, and far less likely to download songs that had not been as popular. Most strikingly, the success of songs was quite unpredictable, and the songs that did well or poorly in the control group, where people did not see other people’s judgments, could perform very differently in the “social influence worlds.” In those worlds, most songs could become popular or unpopular, with much depending on the choices of the first downloaders. The identical song could be a hit or a failure simply because other people, at the start, were seen to choose to have downloaded it or not.”
This has to make you wonder if the music business is changing even more drastically than we’d assumed. Everyone knows that music is sold online now. There are fewer CDs and more Music Store downloads; fewer full albums, and more singles. Let’s not even touch the issue of music piracy.
But is there a skew in the number of singles being sold? In other words, are more copies of fewer songs making it big? This would seem to be the logical result of buying music online, in the context of “social influence worlds” of iTunes & Co. What’s startling is that this result implies a far more drastic curve than the oft-predicted Long Tail. The Long Tail assumes that there is a statistically meaningful market “under the tail”, and that the internet makes it both possible and economically practical to find and distribute accordingly.
If, however, the internet’s effect on media (of any type) is to drive the peak higher and flatten the Long Tail yet further, will there be adequate incentive to populate that Tail with marketable media — with niche books, niche music, niche applications? What will this mean for those who create content; recording artists, writers, programmers? Will it become just too hard to be discovered?
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.
I’m from Los Angeles. In L.A., we say “You are what you drive.” Sad, but true.
When I was a child, the car was a vehicle. My grandparents had cars (one per family, not one per grandparent) with bench seats front and rear. I climbed in and sat between Grandma and Grandpa, and we talked while we drove. If it got hot, there were these neat triangular vent windows that popped open in back, and roll-down windows that took about five minutes to roll back up (and an equal amount of time to recover from). Maps went in the glove compartment. Eating and drinking in the car were not conceivable.
When I was a teenager, the car had evolved to become a second home. My parents’ cars (one per parent) each had air conditioning, radio with five station memory buttons, power windows, console storage and a cupholder. The map was a fat Thomas Guide stuffed in the seat pocket behind the front passenger seat. That was new, too: the front passengers each had their own adjustable bucket seat (slide forward/backward and recline). We didn’t talk as much together in the car; we listened together to the radio. Usually the driver chose the station, so it was either news radio (both parents), sports, pop psychology, country music, golden oldies (dad), or classical music (mom).
By the time I finished school, the car had become an extension of self, part of a person’s identity. When you got your first drivers’ license, you started thinking about getting your own car. When my dad handed down his (totally cool) car to me, the first thing I did was earn the money to install a cassette player. I didn’t talk to anybody (car phones were so new that I only knew three people who had them, all in their forties), except sometimes my little brother, when I took him to school. When my first children were born, we drove and sang along to tapes and CDs.
Today, car interior design has gone farther than ever in cocooning the individual rather than the group: DVD players front and back, separate headphone jacks, individual climate control (front and back; driver and passenger). Second- and third-row captain’s seats. Cup holders in every door, seatback, and floor panel. iPod and mobile phone jacks. Memory storage of your seat’s height, location, and degree of lumbar support.
“You are what you drive.”
Step back for a moment, and you’ll see that these design trends paint a larger cultural picture. The car has moved from a shared space (bench seats, no entertainment, little customization) to a highly personal space that is unlikely to be shared. When it is shared (for example, in a family mini-van), every effort is made to create as much private space as possible (individual seats, individual climate control, individual cupholders, individual entertainment and entertainment controls).
It’s a very different attitude about the car and how you spend time in it.
To me, it’s speaks of a very Western interpretation of mobility: Freedom, Entertainment, Movement, Privacy, Independence. Mobility = Individuality.
This attitude and the design ethic it inspired isn’t limited to cars. It has been the driving force (sorry) in mobile phone design for years.
Listen to the usability experts up until about a year ago. Everything was about how “personal” the mobile phone is. Studies showing that a high percentage of people don’t feel comfortable sharing their phone, or letting someone even use their phone briefly. The personal messages, notes, contacts, call history, browser history, photos.
Even more, there’s a sort of personal identification and relationship with the phone itself. Going further, your mobile phone number is more meaningful that your social security number — it’s one of your names. Your mobile number represents you, unlike a landline number which represents a location, and doesn’t follow you around.
I have a book here on mobile phones in Japanese life called Personal, Portable, Pedestrian. That pretty much sums up what UI thinkers saw as being important to users.
It’s all true, but there’s a big problem with all this: it’s all based on “Western” cultures. Cultures in which individuality, freedom and personal space are high on the list of life’s priorities.
Paul Adams (User Experience Researcher, Google) at the MEX conference pointed out in his presentation that if you look at countries like India and China, there are people everywhere.
Americans look at these teeming masses and say, “chaos”. But it’s not chaotic to non-Western eyes. What we perceive as “chaos” may be perceived locally as “shared space”. Paul gave the example of Southwest Airlines’ seating system, which for years was a “first come-first served” arrangement, proven to be faster than assigned seating. For Americans, this was perceived as chaotic. We prefer assigned seats because we place so high a value on our unique, personal, private space. It defines us. (Southwest has since changed over to a numbered boarding order — with it’s own adorable website to explain it. Which already tells you something.)
But that isn’t necessarily true of people in other countries, other cultures. What is valuable to one person may be undesirable to another.
Even in our “own” Western culture, feelings about personal space are changing. Definitions of privacy (personal secrets that you share with 800 blog readers…), of space (virtual, real, contained within a particular device or account) are changing.
Spaces that were once shared (eg., living room, public bus) are now personal (iPod as a “sphere of isolation”, killing time with mobile broadband). Spaces that were once personal (eg., Walkman music player, internet browser) are now shared (sharing headphones, Zune WiFi, Facebook Wall, IM, location based services).
I just got a Nokia 1208 as a gift; an upgrade to my Kosher Phone account. (We’ll talk about kosher phones another time. Suffice it to say for now that a kosher phone is a phone with no data capabilities.)
If you’re reading this blog, a dual-band Series 30 phone [bet you thought S30 was extinct in the wild] probably isn’t on your mobile tech wish list. It’s three main selling points are:
* Get instant access to phone features [one programmable softkey]
* Add a little color to your life [lo-res color display and exchangeable color faceplates]
* Monitor and manage your costs [calling card tracking and call timers]
Notable features on the 1208 are an integrated LED flashlight on top (where some phones have the power button or IR window), speakerphone, support for multiple user contact lists, pre-loaded polyphonic ringtones, dust-resistant keypad, durable materials construction with non-slip backing, and a very long battery life (7 hours talk time / 15 days standby).
You may have noticed that the feature set doesn’t exactly match your checklist of phone features. That’s because the 1208 was designed for… well… less-developed countries. Despite the fact that its being sold everywhere (which is pretty interesting), priorities in the design were cost reduction, durability (many users, dusty climates) and sharability (if you can only afford to have one phone per household — or even per neighborhood — then making sharing easier becomes very important).
Which is exactly why the 1208 was on my Wish List; it’s a great example of the new attention being paid to read people, real cultures, real usage needs in the design of products and services. It has taken a long time to recognize that overall, we have enough feature. It’s about delivering them in a meaningful way, and hearing what people truly need.
It’s also about respecting other people enough to accept their own mobile identity definitions and priorities (family, community, participation, responsibility, communication), without trying to impose our “better” systems on them. In doing so, we honor others, while creating new design and product possibilities that benefit everyone.
What is the “killer app” of the Apple iPhone?
I say: Scrolling.
Before you get all worked up about how much you adore Google maps and email and video, think a minute. Think about your own pleasure in using an iPhone or iPod Touch, and tell me if it isn’t really about feeling hip, feeling cool, feeling in control, and the fun of scrolling up and down lists; back and forth through album art.
Oh, all right, I’ll allow “scrolling” pictures larger and smaller by multi-touch spreading of fingers closer and farther. But that’s as far as I’ll go.
What do you say? Do you buy my argument?
Finnish vendor Nokia announced an extension of its mobile music platform on Tuesday, with the unveiling of a subscription service that allows users to keep their music.
At its annual investor day in the Netherlands, Nokia announced its ‘Comes With Music’ platform, that enables people to buy a Nokia device with a year of unlimited access to millions of tracks.
Once the year is complete, customers can keep all their music without having to worry about it disappearing when their subscription is over. [see telecoms.com for the full story]
This is very similar to Nokia’s purchase and inclusion of mapping software on high-end devices (something we discussed in the Mobile Marketing panel at the MoMo Summit). The buzz is that “it’s all about content” — that future revenues are going to be driven primarily by content.
Take a look at how Apple’s iTunes fits into its strategy: revenues are huge at 36%, but the importance is in the content’s role in driving sales of the iPod and computer hardware lines. That lesson hasn’t been lost on others. Think Amazon and Kindle, Nokia and Ovi, Sony and their upcoming revamped music store.
But is the buzz true as a trend?
What do these activities say about company strategy? Where are these players expecting their future revenues growth to come from?
- Hardware sales? The device is the money maker, with higher prices/differentiation justified by including free content — sales of devices driven by consumer desire for the “free” (or premium) content included; or
- Content sales? The hardware is a one-off sale, but the ongoing revenues from online content and subscription sales are the real money-maker; or
- Something else entirely?
It’s clear that the future of computing in general — the big future — is in mobile. Desktop computers, home media centers, and laptops will be nice CE moneymaking appliances, like microwaves and large-screen TVs. Sure, they’re more necessary than luxuries like designer espresso machines, but you can live without them, for example, if you are struggling to pay off student loans.
Mobiles will be like refrigerators or washing machines. You just can’t manage without them. That’s already true now, but at the moment it’s more of a psychological need to not miss anything. As mobile email improves, flat data plans roll out, web browsing becomes usable, phone memory grows to accommodate video and audio entertainment realistically, downloading becomes easier rather than sideloading… as those things happen, the mobile device will be completely embedded as the primary computing device in fact, not just in theory. As the N95 ads say, “it’s what the computer has become” and it’s true (but not of the N95, I’m afraid).
The “content driving sales of content” model: Amazon’s Kindle appears to seek its profits not on device sales, but on opening the market to ebook sales. Is this how they intend to compete with Google’s devaluing of books… by making books affordable through non-printing? Cutting out of the loop the paper, the printing, the ink, the distributor, the store? Making it palatable by including the cellular connection? (Worthy of note: O’Reilly Radar)
The “content driving sales of hardware” model: This appears to be Nokia’s: rolling the cost of the content into the hardware, and keeping the content free by owning it themselves and amortizing the cost over tens of millions of hardware units.
The “content driving sales of advertising” model: Google. The evolution of the tried-and-true broadcast television model. It certainly works for Google. Will we see the day when Google struggles to maintain its advertising value as broadcast networks have? Surely a company is incubating somewhere that will eventually grow to challenge Google’s dominance… then what?
The “hardware driving sales of hardware AND content” model: Although you might argue that people purchase iPods because they want to use iTunes Music Store for price and ease of use… I wouldn’t buy that argument. I would believe that after the hardware sale, the content is a huge follow-on market.
If Nokia is trying to emulate Apple’s model, why are they including all this free content? It erodes the follow-on possibilities. On the other hand, follow-on content sales for mobile devices have been anemic all along (ringtones, music, video, mapping, whatever). So… is Nokia taking for granted that follow-on sales are not that valuable for some reason on this platform? Or are they betting that by getting people to use the content, later on (say, in two years) they’ll be unwilling to give it up, and will pay for subscriptions, and that that will be worthwhile?
I’m not a believer in educating the market. You see, once people become accustomed to not paying for content (eg, television programming), it’s hard to get them to pay for that same delivery later on. What you CAN get people to pay for is previously free content in a more convenient delivery (think buying a song via iTunes for “only” $0.99 rather than hassling to load a CD that’s down in the basement).
What do these models all have in common? With the exception possibly of Apple’s hardware business*, everyone is trying to figure out how to harness desire for content as a driver for sales of whatever it is they sell. Or how to change what they sell in order to make it driveable by content desire.
Why does content desire matter so much? Content is what you experience when you use the device. It is what brings you back again and again to use the device — you want to talk to someone, you reach for the phone. You want to hear a song — you reach for the iPod. You want to watch a movie — you reach for the TV remote. Only now, you can just reach for the mobile phone to do any of those things. It’s the mobile-able content that matters most, because it’s wherever you are.
* You could make a decent case that Apple’s “hardware” sales are actually sales of experience: combined hardware and operating system. Consumers pay more for Apple’s products not because they are beautiful, although they are, but because they want the usable, beautiful, stable operating system and applications. Which are themselves content, in a way.
I’m going to drop a bucket of Blackberry posts in a heap here. I suspect that I won’t be making any friends at RIM anytime soon, if they read these.
First noticed when bedridden with the flu: Keeping your Blackberry 8700 too close to your 30GB 5G iPod may be harmful to your hearing. The electro-magnetic radiation bursts emitted by the BB will trigger and randomly mess with the iPod’s volume control, meaning that you may suddenly find that you are on full volume. Quite a shock, let me tell you.
Is this indicative of a lack of shielding of the Blackberry? I have noticed that while all cell phones trigger speaker activity, the Blackberry does so more than most. Or is it a lack of EMI shielding of the iPod?
Whatever the case may be, let me encourage you to allow your iPod and your Blackberry some personal space; don’t drop them both into your pocket or purse (or pillowcase) if you’re going to have earbuds in.