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Derek Featherstone's Box of Chocolates: You never know what you're going to get

Box of Chocolates

Tuesday, August 5th - 12:28am

Design > Compatibility

There is only one piece of gadgetry that I love more than my iPhone: the headphones that came with my iPhone. As they say, “you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone.”

I had misplaced them for what seems like months, and things just haven’t been the same. (Turns out that someone else in the house had been using them with their non-iPhone iPod).

What did I miss the most? Two things:

  1. Hands-free phone calls in the car or while working.
  2. Advancing to the next track on the iPod by double clicking the mic apparatus.

Seems inane, I know. But look a little deeper; the two things that make the iPhone what it is are just that much better with the headphones that cater specifically to those activities.

There are many headphones that claim to be iPhone compatible. I own a pair that sound incredible. The bottom line, though? I’m ecstatic to be reunited with the ones that were designed for the iPhone.

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12 Comments

You’re actually referring to the added gimmick, not the headphones them self. The stock headphones that Apple supplies are ok, at best. However, the biggest problem I have with them is the outside noise, which forces me to pump the volume way above normal listening level. This is most obvious in the morning, when I play the music and blows my ears off because I forgot to lower the volume from last night, after a bus ride home.

Which is why (among other reasons) I bought Etymotic Research ER6i for my previous iPod. When iPhone came, I didn’t want to buy another $100+ headphones, so I combined the drivers from ER6i and the cable with the mic from the Apple heaphones.

A perfect thing.

> You’re actually referring to the added gimmick

Are you calling the microphone/clicker a gimmick? I’ve found it indispensable, just like Derek. Hardly a gimmick.

I couldn’t agree more. I don’t see them as a gimmick by any means, not sure how they could even be considered that – the clicker is very useful. I have a set in my car and in my house. I like that they control the ipod and you can answer/decline phone calls. So much more useful than other headphones I have used.

@Aleksander
I don’t think I know of any headphones or speakers that adjust themselves to my ears that may be more sensitive in the morning. I always find them to be loud first thing in the morning, regardless. That isn’t a fault of the headphones.

Yes, it’s a gimmick. I use it everyday and I’m loving it, but it’s not the headphones part, it’s an accessory to them. I don’t argue about its usefulness (hey, I risked expensive headphones to get them combined).

Nate, ER6i are so good in sealing the noise out, that I’m listening the music at around 30-35% of max volume, which is fine level whether I’m in a bus or at home. With stock ones, I had to go up to 80% to be able to hear the music properly. Even then it’s just not good enough in all cases.
Once you try them out and get used to them, getting back to ordinary headphones is *pain*.

I commute a lot and have tried everything. Nothing beats good noise seal.

feather

August 5, 2008

Aleksander: I would suggest that it would be a gimmick if it appeared useful but really wasn’t.

Given that, if it is simply a gimmick, why did you bother putting them on your expensive headphones?

In any case, in my opinion, this little piece is what makes the headphones as a whole so compelling to use, even if the sound isn’t that great. I have a high-end pair of headphones that I use when I am on a flight – but other than that, I am using the stock ones because they have the mic/clicker thingie. That piece of added technology is worth it.

Sounds like we have a terminology dispute, rather than anything really substantial. Could be because English is not my primary language, thus I may not be using the word “gimmick” properly.

For me, gimmick = an accessory that adds to the basic function of the given thing, but not it’s essential part for functioning.

feather

August 6, 2008

Aleksandar: I promise you – I am not trying to manufacture controversy, by any means :) I’m not sure this is simply a terminology dispute (in fact, it isn’t really a dispute at all, just discussion)

bq. gimmick = an accessory that adds to the basic function of the given thing, but not it’s essential part for functioning.

I would say that for me, the microphone/clicker is an essential part of functioning for the iPhone headphones. It is an integral part of what those headphones are designed for. The stock iPhone headphones are designed specifically for the experience of using an iPhone, whereas other headphones are built to be “compatible” with the iPhone.

In any case, that’s the point of my original post – there is a difference between something being designed specifically for a context and something being technically compatible with a particular device. I think the mic/clicker is an integral part of that.

It’s often seemingly trivial things that make a big, big difference. Like the html label tag for checkboxes and radio buttons. People underestimate their value. How many frameworks or software packages claim to be i18n merely because they include a tool for reading resource bundles? Giving someone a bundle reader and saying “there ya go, you’re i18n” is like handing someone a hammer and saying “go build a house” – technically one of the things you need, and at the same time virtually useless. Yet… most people simply underestimate all the other structure i18n software needs. A bundle reader makes you “compatible” — doing the rest of the work is what makes you i18n.

I thought a TV remote control was a gimmick until I got one (showing my age, I know). Now I use it even when I’m standing right next to the box.

The iPod white earphones and cable are a gimmick in that they make no functional difference, but they are a significant part of the design aesthetic and became a positive marketing device, an indispensable indicator that it’s an iPod you’re listening to.

I’m not convinced about the idea that it’s the nature of the headphones being designed for the iPod that makes them more attractive to you, though.

I suspect, Derek, that if you found headphones that offered the same functionality with other positive assets (say, Aleksandr’s noise sealing qualities) you’d let yourself slide away from being true to the design.

You might even say that the product designers failed to meet user requirements or expectations.

feather

August 12, 2008

Hi Ricky – just one quick point here:

The iPod white earphones and cable are a gimmick in that they make no functional difference, but they are a significant part of the design aesthetic and became a positive marketing device, an indispensable indicator that it’s an iPod you’re listening to.

With the iPhone headphones, though, there is a functional difference. They have the microphone and the “clicker.” Those two pieces make a huge difference, and is that functionality that nobody else has (at least to my knowledge) that leaves me putting down my far superior sounding Shure headphones in favour of the functions provided in the factory iPhone headphones.

They are substantively different, though I won’t disagree with this:

I suspect, Derek, that if you found headphones that offered the same functionality with other positive assets (say, Aleksandr’s noise sealing qualities) you’d let yourself slide away from being true to the design.

If the Shure headphones I have came with a microphone and clicker, I’d drop the factory headphones before you could say “Web Directions.” But for now, I’m sticking with the factory unit and sacrificing superior sound for a superior overall experience.

Derek; Have you looked into the Etymotic HF2, or Ultimate Ears Super.fi 4vi?

I have a pair of the latter, and the mic/clicker is much better placed and of higher quality than the included Apple version, whilst being attached to headphones of infinitely better quality.

feather

August 27, 2008

Kyle – I’ll have to take a look at those. Thanks so much for pointing them out! A quick search shows very positive reviews for the Ultimate Ears set, so I may try to find me a pair!

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