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Minimal Navigation From Apple

Apple Remote and Front Row

Amongst the new iMac features highlighted last week by Steve Jobs were Front Row, an application for browsing multimedia content via a slick, simplified interface, and an accompanying remote control. Jobs showed the slide above comparing the numbers of buttons used by rival products and said it summed up the difference between Apple and their competitors.

Apple RemoteOf course, he wasn’t being entirely fair — those Media Center-based products do far more than Front Row — but it’s great to see something making such good use of the minimal navigation I’m always going on about. The buttons are enough to let you effectively browse a hierarchy, with the software covering the rest via menus. It’s a giant iPod interface, and the only thing that concerns me is whether it’s particularly useful (how many people want to sit away from the computer and control it?) until a video-capable Airport Express appears.

Although some users love more buttons, I reckon the strong emphasis on menus is spot-on… for now. You see, the video iPod, selling videos, and Front Row all strongly point to a media centre strategy ahead for Apple. What happens when the remote needs to cover as many features as rivals’ products? Keeping the right balance between buttons and menus will be tricky. Can a TV remote do without a number pad, for example? I never use numbers now that I’ve got more than the basic 5 terrestrial channels, all my channel browsing is via menus, but even Apple may not be able to successfully omit such an entrenched interface.


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