If you go to the Emeryville Apple Store and pick up a Belkin iPod AV cable, and find the seal on the box has been broken, it might be the one I just returned.
I thought I might have a chance to share some videos with family and/or friends over the holidays, so I picked up the cable at the Santa Monica Third Street store. I picked the Belkin cable over the Apple one mainly because Apple’s box didn’t say how long their cable was and the salesperson I asked wasn’t able to find out.
When I got home and tried it out, I got sound but no picture. I tried various inputs on the TV, VCR, and receiver, always with the same result. I also decided it was the skinniest AV cable I had ever seen, to the point where just handling it made me nervous.
As I was in the Bay Area for the weekend, I went to the Emeryville store to exchange the Belkin cable for the Apple one. Although I told the cashier I was exchanging it because it didn’t seem to work, during the process he handed it to a passing store person, telling him to put it back “on the floor”, which I guess really means shelf. Or whatever you call the rod thing that small packages hang from. Anyway I was surprised that he was putting a supposedly faulty product back out for sale like that.
Fortunately, in this case, that shouldn’t cause any problems. It was a regular case of user error. I was assuming that the iPod would automatically detect that the AV cable was connected and start outputting a video signal. What I was forgetting was that you have to go to the iPod’s Video Settings screen (not the main settings screen!) and enable video output. Once I did that (and turned off widescreen, which was apparently on by default), it worked fine. The compression jaggies were less noticeable than on the computer screen, too. It wasn’t much worse than the aliasing you normally see on a TV screen.
Since the Customer is Always Right, I think Apple should do something like one of the following:
- Make the iPod able to tell the difference between a headphone plug and an AV cable plug, and automatically enable video out.
- Combine the Video Settings menu into the main Settings, or provide a shortcut from Settings to Video Settings.
- Include a small instruction sheet with the AV cable reminding the user to manually enable video output.
Now, of course, it’s my fault for not consulting the manual sooner, but what interests me in this story is the usability angle. As a general rule, I shouldn’t have to consult the manual to use a consumer product like an iPod, so the question that interests me is: What could Apple have done here to make the manual unnecessary?
If I had gotten the video cable together with the iPod and tried to use it back then, I would have been more likely to consult the manual on the issue, but now I’m more in the mindset of “I know how this thing works by now”. Apple doesn’t seem to have taken this scenario into account, and if I hadn’t thought to search the Apple discussion boards, where I found the posts that talked about the Video Settings screen, who knows how long I might have gone on under the assumtion that I had some faulty hardware.