Apple’s AirPlay UX for the iPhone needs some work

28 12 2010

Apple pushed out iOS 4.2 with 4.2.1 on November 22. With it came AirPlay, a service that allows users to stream audio, video, and photo content from their iOS-powered devices to a television, stereo, or some other device. The AirPlay UI works by allowing the user to tap a control in the iPod app, next to the “Forward/Next” button to bring up a list of available AirPlay devices on the local network. If there are no available TVs or stereos, the AirPlay button does not appear. This is when a really annoying issue pops up.

AirPlay screenshot This AirPlay UI works well on the iPad. On the iPhone, it could do with some tweaking. In my opinion, Apple is trying to cram too much into the lower portion of its iPod app interface. When there are AirPlay devices available to an iPhone or iPod touch, you have Back, Play/Pause, Forward, and AirPlay put right against each other, leaving little room for error when pressing one of these buttons, the Play/Pause button in particular.

One of my coworkers has AirPlay enabled on his computer at work. Thus, it shows up on my iPhone. On several occasions, I have accidentally hit the Forward button instead of Play/Pause. This is a minor annoyance when I am listening to a 3-minute song. However, this becomes more of an issue when I am halfway through a 90-minute podcast. There is no way to recover from this user error except to manually scrub the track and try to find where you left off.

I have no data on how many iPhone/iPod touch users actually take advantage of AirPlay. It does not seem like a killer app. Apple could probably move the AirPlay control to a place on the UI that is a little more obscure. They could move it to the iPod prefpane, above the track list, or below the track timeline.

Again, this not a fatal flaw, but it is annoying. It feels like a marketing call than a design decision. There are a few alternatives to what they did with this, but this is really not working.




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