Next to my ongoing desire for a podcast delete function, the next-most glaring problem I have had with the iPhone and iPod Touch’s iPod playback functionality is its janky fast-forwarding and rewinding (also known as ‘scrubbing’).
The two most common scrubbing issues I have with my iPhone are when I want: (i) to skip back , say 10 seconds, to re-listen to something i missed – like I can with TiVo’s instant replay button; and (ii) to jump forward past podcast commercials – I can only listen to so many Audible ads on the Twit Network.
Scrubbing with the scroll wheel on iPods is a breeze. (See this ‘How to Scrub on Your iPod’ video, depicted in the picture on the right, for example.) You can easily jump back and forth to the exact desired spot within the song, podcast or video you are consuming by moving your thumb clockwise or counterclockwise on the scroll wheel as shown in the picture.
There is no scroll wheel on the iPhone or the iPod Touch. Instead, there is tiny round selector (see image above) on a small 1.25” horizontal scroll bar that you slide left and right to move around your media. This provides decent accuracy for short items such as a 3 minute song. For longer-form content, such as multi-hour podcasts and movies, the 1.25” scroll bar is too small to accurately select any given point of play. I personally consume long-form content the most. Such clumsy scrubbing has often left me 5 to 10 minutes away from the place I want to be.
The solution, variable speed scrubbing.
I’ll point out, for the record, that the iPhone also provides << and >> buttons that can be pressed and held down to move forward and back. However, I find the << (rewind) button almost useless. It takes too long to start rewinding and it is near impossible to land back where I want. The >> (fast forward) button is similarly janky, takes too long to start moving, jumps at max 30 seconds at a time once it gets going and is just too difficult to use. Since these buttons do double time as track/chapter jump buttons, I’ve too often found myself jumped to the prior/next podcast when all I wanted to do was rewind or fast forward within the podcast I was listening to.
Variable Scrubber Speeds Coming to the Rescue in iPhone 3.0
As reported in this Apple Insider report, and shown in the image above, the pending iPhone 3.0 OS release will have a variable scrubbing speed feature.
To use variable scrubbing speeds, after touching the selector, the user moves his/her finger down, vertically, from the scroll bar, before sliding left and right. The further the finger is away from the slider, the more precise/finer the user’s back/forward movement within the media is.
Note: Since the iPhone 2.0 release, you could grab the selector and similarly move your finger down before moving left and right (as shown in the picture to the left and in this video). While this yielded a visual improvement (it was easier to see the selector as your finger was no longer on top of it), it didn’t solve the underlying movement/placement accuracy problem.
Bloggers have made variable speed scrubber, and related, scrubbing suggestions since the iPhone first came out (see, for example, here and the terrific suggestions made in the comments to that post.). I’m happy to see Apple about to implement it.