I just got my first MP3 player. The original promise was a free iPod mini from my sister as a birthday gift, but the package that was supposed to contain said iPod turned out to contain a note about why there was no iPod and a guilt cheque to make up for it.

This turned out to be fine because with that cheque I was able to go buy my own MP3 player which was decidedly not an iPod, although it might be described as iPod nano-ish—a sexy little Samsung K3, in red of course. Almost by virtue of being not an iPod it is better than an iPod—its cheaper, has an FM radio, and is not a symbol of conformity.

I’m disappointed, however, in its navigation. In the same manner as the iPod, you can browse through songs based on their ID3 tag, selecting artists, albums, or genres. What I don’t like is that this browsing to find a single song is the same as setting the playlist, whereas I think the two things should be separate.

If I want to listen to Jay Brannan’s Soda Shop, as I sometimes do, I can do it by finding Jay’s name in the artists list. However, Soda Shop is the only song by him that I have, so my playlist is that one song over and over. If I want to listen to the whole album (being the soundtrack from Shortbus) I have to have to foresight to navigate to it from Albums > Shortbus > Soda Shop instead of Artists > Jay Brannan > Soda Shop.

Similarly, if I’m playing all tracks on shuffle, hit upon Soda Shop, and decide I’d like to listen to the rest of the soundtrack, I have to backtrack to the main list, choose Albums, find Shortbus, and start the song again. There should be an option, while listening to a song, to change the playlist to other songs only by the same artist or from the same album, or even just to other playlists with that song on it, without having to stop the song.

The difficult part is putting in all the navigational tools you have at hand with a desktop music player like iTunes or Amarok while only using six or seven buttons. Amarok has a very nice way of queueing tracks (better than iTunes’s method) that I would love to see in a portable player. It would be nice as well to be able to add songs to playlists on the fly without necessarily playing them.

Most of these, if not all, are things that could be implemented on MP3 players today (and for all I know they might already be) rather simply. Just put an option to apply filters to the playlist according to album, artist, etc, another to queue the track, and another to add the track to some existing playlist. None of this qualifies as “future” features for navigation because there’s nothing that new and innovative about them.

The feature I would really like to see is one that requires a little more innovation and will be nice to see sometime down the road.

Have you ever been listening to a song and have it remind you of another one? That Jay Brannan song often brings to mind other songs from Shortbus just because they’re all from that same soundtrack. Sometimes, though, there’s a specific song that I want to listen to next, and it might not have anything to do with what I’m listening to. James Blunt‘s Goodbye My Lover might conclude only to have me wanting to hear Boston and St. John’s by Great Big Sea, or Rip Slyme‘s Joint might bring to mind something by HY. In these cases—even if my feature wishlist above is implemented—it’s a pain to go navigate through various menus or walk through the tracks to find it. What’s the solution?

The MP3 player should just know what I want to listen to.

Oh baby yeah.

If I start mentally humming the intro to A Moth is not a Butterfly after that Julie Delpy waltz from Before Sunset, the player should pick up on that and queue it up for me. Or maybe I’ll just keeping singing Butterfly to myself, in which case the player should realise I’d probably like to listen to it again. And, of course, if there wasn’t anything specific I wanted it would just default back to the standard playlist.

It wouldn’t even have to be that specific at first. There might be some way of just picking up on my mood, and the player could gauge what sorts of songs I might enjoy based on that. The software that came with my K3 already makes an attempt at classifying my music based on its style. Maybe if I’m feeling upbeat it would play an upbeat song for me, or if it saw I was drifting to sleep something more mellow. Hell, that’s 90% of the point right there anyway.

Does anybody have an old EEG machine we could modify and jury-rig onto some headphones? (For maximum brain proximity, of course.) If only I were an engineer/neuropsychologist I could whip something together, apply for a patent, and be making millions in no time.

Random FAQ Comments (1)

One Response to “Future of MP3 Player Navigation”

  1. Art says:

    Apparently the people at Hitachi are working on a remote control that will use brain waves to switch channels. As long as you don’t mind watching TV with a hat of electrodes. If you’re not careful, they’ll steal your MP3 player idea as well.

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