Quarter Life Crisis

The world according to Sven-S. Porst

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In these wonderful times of globalisation we get to enjoy the same products everywhere. And to give the happy consumers a good experience, companies have to not only sell their product everywhere but possible adapt it to local specialties. While this may mean that some products like beef burgers have to be significantly changed in some regions of the world where people won’t eat beef, in other areas, particularly in software, this mostly means it has to be localised – or at least translated.

And things have improved a lot as far as localised software is concerned in the past decades. The days where you needed different versions of the very same application just for it to support different localisations are days of the past. (Although at least on the Mac, it seems that while OS X is multi-lingual from the beginning, certain localisations of the system, be it Arabic or British English – hmmm, I miss that Wastebasket… – seem to have been lost on the way.)

This is even more important for hardware, or more precisely hardware which contains software. You want to buy a device, an iPod say, take it around the world, or even give it as a present to some friend on the other side of the globe. And you want that very same device to please your friend as much as it’d please you, regardless of his location, language and so on. And it seems that the iPod really tries to do that. It contains localisations for a number of languages (although you’re completely out of luck if your mother tongue is something like Thai or Hebrew which the iPod can’t display to begin with) which probably cover quite a number of people (what about Russian, though?).

And, sure, having many localisations means a lot of extra testing. Particularly as localisations often seem to be done in some automated way these days where a translator gets to translate certain phrases without actually using the product or even knowing how exactly those localisations will be used while doing so. Invariably this will lead to crappy translations. And those of us who use Mac OS X in languages other than English will be all too familiar with them. The good thing about OS X, though, is that there are frequent opportunities to fix the most obvious glitches and sometimes that actually happens.

With the iPod, which is more a piece of hardware than it is a piece of software, those updates aren’t as regular and because of that it should be shipped only after more extensive testing. Which at least for the localisation apparently hasn’t been done. Otherwise – i.e. if anyone in the iPod team had actually tried to use the iPod in its German localisations – they’d surely have caught the following very confusing error in the iPod’s setting menu: Initially the iPod’s repeat feature is turned off, correctly translated into German as Wiederholen Aus.

The iPod's display in the settings menu with 'Wiederholen Aus' highlighted

So next, I want to turn the repeat feature on, highlight that option and press the button. And voilà! The Display says Wiederholen Ein:

The iPod's display in the settings menu with 'Wiederholen Ein' highlighted

Wonderful. So you’ll walk on and listen. And start wondering why the iPod is playing the same song over and over again in the near future. So you’ll go and check the playlist which looks good and check the settings once more, trying to turn off the repeat mode. And when doing that, pressing the button again will – surprisingly – not return the repeat setting back to off, but it’ll change to

The iPod's display in the settings menu with 'Wiederholen Alle' highlighted,

i.e. repeat all. And only then you’ll understand what went wrong. In English, the three possible settings will be Off, One and All, each of which has been correctly translated. In particular, One could be translated as Ein. However, Ein is also a translation for On. So which of those would you expect when switching an option that has been Off before you pressed the button?

Now this is something that is pretty apparent to anyone knowing German and actually using all the options of the iPod once. But the news didn’t make it through to Apple – not even many years and software revisions down the road.

While this is an example for a bad localisation, the fact that the iPod’s UI in this area isn’t particularly good doesn’t help. I mean how often do you want to repeat a single song over and over again? That’s quite a freaky option for very rare and obsessive days. Which may – or may not – be what the programmers of iTunes thought when implementing that very option, where clicking the repeat button will give you a cycle of Off → On → Single Track, which seems closer to the actual use of that option. So the iPod doesn’t just have a bad localisation there, it also has an option that differs from the way iTunes works by using a worse order of the states that can be selected.

March 14, 2006, 0:25

Tagged as software.

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Received data seems to be invalid. The wanted file does probably not exist or the guys at last.fm changed something.