iPhone’s iPod scrubber is not always as good as a wheel

Update:

While demoing the iPhone at PMUG, some nice person pointed out that you can press and hold the fast forward/rewind buttons to scan audio and video! This trick apparently works on most iPods as well. Who knew? Not me! This is why I love PMUG and meeting other users face to face.


On an iPod, when you are listening to a 2 hour podcast, or anything for that matter, if you want to scrub[1] through the music, you click the Select button then turn the wheel. Turning the wheel moves the playhead forward or backwards and the longer you turn the wheel, the amount of time the playhead skips accelerates.

On the iPhone’s iPod user interface, the wheel is obviously gone and is replaced by a scrubber. When you tap the album art, a horizontal bar shows up which is about as wide as, say 80% of the width of the iPhone in portrait mode, with a little playhead that you tap to grab and then slide back and forth.

This sounds fine in practice, but the problem is that you have a fixed number of pixels for the scrubber. Thus the longer (in time) the piece of audio you are listening to, the more time each pixel on the scrubber represents.

If the audio you are listening to is a 3 minute song, for example, there is no issue. You can nicely scrub back and forth through the song to find the bit of the song you want to hear.

However, if the audio you are listening to is an hour or two hour long podcast or audio book, then sliding the scrubber’s play head jumps you in minutes, not seconds through the audio. This can make it very hard to find the start of a topic on a radio show, for example. You may even skip over an entire interview with someone you are interested in. For example, on this hour long Mac Break Tech show, tapping the scrubber at 38 minutes and barely, carefully moving my finger to the right jumps the playhead to 39 minutes, 10 seconds! Some shows or books are 2 hours or even 3 hours, so that same gesture would jump 2 minutes, 20 seconds or 3 mins, 30 seconds respectively.

Off the top of my head I am not sure what Apple should do about this, but they are smart folks, the should come up with something. Somehow the user interface should scale.

Maybe if you tapped and held, like you do with text, a loupe would show up with a finer resolution time scale that you could make finer audio adjustments with.

Perhaps you could tap a button and a virtual scroll wheel, in homage to the iPod could show up for scrolling through the audio?

What do you think?


[1] Scrub – to move forwards or backwards through time