Tamar Weinberg, September 14, 2009
With probably 30 or so screens of iPod touch applications, you can only imagine that I was excited for iTunes 9 and iPod touch v3.1.1. After all, the highly anticipated feature of being able to manage your screen icons was introduced in both versions, which in actuality was a good feature. But hype was all this feature had going for it. (After all, when you have perhaps a thousand apps like I do, you can’t organize these “hidden” apps on the screens even with the newer software upgrades, and that’s what I was looking forward to most.)
Version 3.1.1 of the firmware broke a highly-important feature, as indicated in several different support threads. In short, when an application with sound effects is opened, you can no longer double-tap the home button to pull up the iPod controls. While this may seem like no big deal to most users of the iPhone, it’s a huge deal to iPod touch users, especially those of us with 1st generation devices. With applications that are extremely loud, some owners prefer to be able to lower the volume, and pulling up the iPod controls made them able to do this without exiting the application.
As for me, I’m one of those “game addicts” (which I guess is fair to say, given my reviews here, and is great for Apple, given its huge emphasis on how they hope Apple is supposed to change the gaming industry). But while I play my games, I want to dictate what I want to hear. Sometimes, I’m stuck playing a single game for hours on end, and listening to the same game’s 1-minute music clip is excruciating. Having no ability to intervene and let my music take priority has been the absolute worst “feature” Apple has introduced.
I’ve complained about the underlying problem in the past, emphasizing that I’d appreciate being able to prioritize my music over game sounds in the Settings of the iPod. (People have actually asked me to appeal to game developers, but doing that with hundreds would be unfair. It’s an easy change for Apple to integrate into its devices.) After all, the iPod touch is just one of the newer devices that comes in a large family of music players, and most people still see it as such a device (but now with games). Having the music emphasized should be a no-brainer.
Instead, Apple lost sight of that. They never introduced this feature throughout its several firmware updates, despite me complaining about it for over a year.
There was a workaround, though. If you opened the game app, you could double tap on the home button of your iPod device and get the iPod controls, thereby letting you manage your music from within the app. It wasn’t perfect, but it worked better than anything else I tried.
Then version 3.1.1 of the firmware came out. This workaround has effectively been terminated entirely. If you’re running an application with music, you can’t simply double tap the home button and get the controls. And while there are workarounds to this workaround, most of them don’t work at all with most games since music is being played.
I’m torn. I really appreciated 3.1.1′s app sorting feature since I need it in the worst way, but I lost one of the most important features contributing to the usability of the device. It’s as if I bricked my iPod touch despite the fact that it’s not jailbroken at all and there are thousands of dollars of apps on it. But Apple does not care.
For most of you, especially if you are dependent on this feature, don’t upgrade. You’ll lose an essential feature that Apple did not think was necessary. In fact, many of the people who contributed to the forum discussions downgraded back to v3.0.
Apple has always been a company that valued aesthetics over usability. I surely hope that Apple is not going to keep this feature locked out of subsequent versions of the firmware any longer. I look forward to actually updating this post to show that Apple has listened. But I’ve complained about the earlier issue for months and got no resolution, so I’m not holding my breath.
Here’s a video of the entire phenomenon. Please excuse the bad quality.