ABCs for iPods

iPod ScreenOkay, I’m kind of fixated on iPods right now, so bear with me. Since getting my new iPod photo, I’ve been in turns pleased with the way the user interface has been rounded out with new features — rating songs right in the iPod, for example, is terrific and something I didn’t have in my old iPod — and also I’ve been a little frustrated that a few fundamental changes haven’t been put in place.

A friend of mine wishes that, when in shuffle mode, the U.I. would allow him to take the currently playing song and shift out of shuffle mode and into that song’s native album. That sounds handy and I’d be happy to see it, but not before I’d want to see the addition of something much more fundamental: the alphabet.

From A to Z

Below: Three-step program. Get through all those names quicker with the proposed addition of the alphabet.

Here’s what I’m talking about: my digital music library has grown so significantly that it’s become unwieldy to sort by artists, albums or songs — scrolling down these long lists is extremely inaccurate. Say I want to find “Seefeel” among the artists. In order to get past the As, Bs, Cs etc. with a minimum of tedium, I must scroll quickly, but the most of the time I do so too quickly, and overshoot past the entire S section, forcing me to slowly scroll back up. I bet this has happened to you if you own one of these things.


What I’d like to see is the addition of a new hierarchical level between the selection for “Artists” and the actual list of artists. By simply throwing the alphabet in there, it becomes vastly easier to find all the artists whose names begin with S, because I need only navigate among twenty-six levels. Actually twenty-eight; there’s value in seeing all of the artists in a single list, I admit, so it’s useful to have a selection for “All Artists” at the beginning of the alphabet. And you’d need a selection for names that begin with numerals, too. But still, twenty-eight is a huge improvement over a jillion, which is what I seem to have now.

The iPod is, in my opinion, justly lauded for having an exceedingly elegant and usable interface, but it’s not exempt from reconsideration. The fact that Apple is willing to tinker with it by adding new features is admirable, but I hope that in some revision in the near future they’re willing to take a closer look at fundamental behaviors like this one, too. Or, better yet, maybe someday soon there will be enough accumulated knowledge at large to hack this tightly held platform and really open it up to modifications. And then I hope Apple doesn’t release a lock-step upgrade that closes it all right back down.



  1. Great addition! I’d like to see a rule that triggers this additional tier. For example, if there are more than 50 artists, display the alphabetical tier. Or simply a method to view the alphabetical list as an alternative to the complete list, maybe even an option for determining your own default. I guess the reason I still see value in the complete list is that so often I don’t know what I want to hear and browsing the list helps, no matter how long it is.

  2. Matt: I’d definitely welcome that kind of control. There’s lots of tweaks and changes that make perfect sense for me but probably only for me, and it would be a boon to be able to set them as defaults. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), Apple is not known for allowing such fine-grained control. Oh well.

  3. I don’t see this working unfortunatly, whilst i admit it can get tricky to navigate hundreds of artists, I think this additional layer to the navigation would just double your chances of overshooting the correct item in the list. It also means one more click and yet another layer of navigation which i think is a bad idea, it just takes you a step further away from finding the artist you want. The fact that you wouldn’t be able to see all the artists in the list at once doesn’t help me select an artist from my collection, imagine how many forward/backward navigation steps you would have to make just to look at all the artists in your collection before making a choice, it just sounds wrong.. Learning to slow your scrolling would seem to be the simpler solution.

  4. I like this idea – I have the same problem as you only exacerbated even more by my impatience. I’ll overshoot in one direction, and then do the same going back until eventually I stop on the right artist. And Matt is on to something – maybe just a simple “Alphabet Navigation” option in the settings to turn this feature on and off would be nice, though I think your All Artists option gets rid of the gripe that pass mentions. Perhaps you should submit this via Apple’s customer feedback form on their website?

  5. Mmm, I accept that. It was little too early in the morning for that to sink in properly. I think Ste’s method would be better, but i for one would find it distracts from the simplicty of the ipod as it is. One way or the other is would be complictating matters, either as an extra layer to navigate through, or the hassle of changing the settings when i want to choose from all the artists. – This would also imply a similar method is also needed on the other menu’s as well such as albums.

    It be seen as confusing for artists that start with ‘the’ etc. Granted you would learn the first time, but the fact that someone could pick up the ipod and get it wrong is a factor.

    Simplicity is key here.

  6. I’ve had a similar idea in the past, although it didn’t involve another level of navigation.

    If you scroll quickly enough (as you have to when scanning thousands of tracks), the iPod should just put a big “A” then “B” then “C” on the screen, and when you slow below the threshold, it switches back to the normal list, at the beginning of that letter (or the end, if you’re scrolling backward). So, there’s no need to have another level in the menus, the iPod just has to determine at what scroll-speed it should switch to an alphabet view.

  7. Risking ridicule from you Apple hounds, I must admit that I own a Dell MP3 player (a poor iPod knock off, I realize, but hey, I’m on a budget). The alphabetical search function is built into the interface. Of course, the iPod is far more elegant and trendy and cool and better sounding I’m sure, but ALPHABETICAL SEARCH, dudes!

  8. Couldn’t you do that right now just by making 26 smart playlists. Adding every artist into the a smart folder giving it a rule of match the following conditions.
    ARTIST > starts with> A
    repeat for the other letters
    It should do what you ask for.

  9. i think it would be a good idea, but i probably wouldn’t use it all that much.

    Most importantly i would think would to not change any conventions of the interface. no splitting screens or floating letters or anything, just maybe a second step in the hierarchy. anything else would be needlessly complicated. Simply adding “all artists” at the top, and 0-Z under that, would be ideal, because with 1 extra click it would be the exact same as it used to be. AND it remembers what you last used, so you can more or less just hit the center button 4 times (instead of 3) and you would be in the good old artists list. (maybe have the extra step and alphabetical list an option in the settings off by default so that it’s THERE if you want it, but not a change that everyone needs to deal with)

    I would like to be able to just turn off shuffle when a song is playing that i like, so i can listen to the rest of the album (or artist) and then maybe turn shuffle back on. the iPod shuffles have that, i want it too! no fair!

    i also think playlist folders might be nice. i want to keep my smart playlists in 1 folder, my on-the-go playlists in another, etc. obviously there’d be an “all playlists” option at the top, and the only way to sort would be when connected, in iTunes.

  10. My ideal would be a combination of some of those discussed so far: Add a simple ‘Grouped by letter…’ option as the first option in the Artist list, which takes you to the breakdown by letter as described. It doesn’t add an extra layer for the majority of people who don’t have so many songs on their iPods that they experience the problem you describe, and it doesn’t require an extra setting to be toggled.

  11. My own thought was similar to Ste’s–rather than changing the visual interface, add a “jump to the next letter” gesture to the wheel (somehow).

  12. Searched google for this same idea, definately needs to happen. More Gigs of space = more tracks = more artists. Another click is fine with me or else i have to scroll like a mad man for S or T artists. I end up just no bothering.

    Curious if anyone knows if you can get to the iPod library on your iPod itself and add folders A-Z and re-sort them into a other level. Tried in my ITunes library but doesnt really show me want i want.

  13. With more than 8267 songs, I’ve wanted the Alphabet option as well, either of the two mentioned above (or both). Also would like to add the same sort of scrolling as in some (all?) Nokia phones: when you get to the bottom of your address book (Z) and keep scrolling, you come right back to A. This way you’d never be more than 13 or so letters from anywhere.

  14. skip the alphabet, what I need is voice recognition. I want to say, “iPod, goto Ted Leo, iPod play Since U Been Gone” and get my Kelly Clarkson cover on. Who’s going to invent that?

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