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Bug report Friday: iPod

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The iPod is a nice toy. It does its job reasonably well. But it also has some glitches. Mostly software glitches. And it’s the localisation related ones I want to focus on.

Behaves Correctly T-Shirt The first one isn’t really a bug but a way to score another ‘Behaves Correctly’ classification on the bug reporter. Following Mike’s idea, there’s even a shirt for it. It is simply the fact that the iPod doesn’t carry a full set of Unicode characters. There are probably good reasons for that decision as fully fledged Unicode support on a tiny machine as an iPod may be more than we can expect. Yet, the iPod’s Unicode support is a mixed bag. If Japanese, Chinese, Korean or European languages are good enough for you, you won’t have problems anyway. But other alphabets, such as Thai, Tamil or Hebrew are missing.

In fact the lack of characters has a tiny advantage for the user who doesn’t use those alphabets. As iTunes and the iPod sort all playlists strictly alphabetically, you can –and have to – use ‘exotic’ Unicode characters to prefix the names of playlists which are supposed to be at the end of the list. ℵ-prefixed playlist names Personally I like prefixing the names of the very last playlists with ℵ because from a geeky maths perspective it seems appropriate for their position. With the ℵ not appearing on the iPod this has the advantage of no space being wasted by this on the iPod’s little display while the order is maintained. But that advantage will obviously be lost for people who actually use Hebrew on their computer.

I doubt that much can be done about the situation of the missing characters. But in other places, things can be done. For example, in the iPod’s Contacts feature. That feature has always been quite buggy as it is. I assume that anybody who actually tried to use it with non-trivial contact data will have experienced that the iPod refuses to display addresses which are marked with a custom label in Address Book (problem 4279111). They seem to be synced into the relevant file by iSync but the iPod just ignores them. And there are few things which suck more than having written a postcard in your holidays and not being able to send it because you iPod chose to display all the data you copied onto it.

Another flaw of the iPod’s Contacts feature is what I like to call dumb sorting (problem 4279104). Which is probably sorting by Unicode code point or something. It will sort accented characters after the ‘z’ and as anybody who ever dealt with accented characters or phone books knows, that’s just silly and makes names hard to find. And it’s even worse on a device that can only display five or six names at the same time as that greatly reduces the chance of ‘accidentally’ seeing the name you’re looking for once you have dozens or even hundreds of contacts in the Contacts list.

To see how this can be done properly, you need to look no further than Mac OS X’s Address Book. (Mostly properly at least. as I couldn’t find a way to make surnamed like ‘van Rensburg’ or ‘de la Fontaine’ be sorted as if they started with R and F respectively – Address Book only seems to know about name prefixes and suffixes but not about the ‘von Part’ that programs around BibTeX seem to be aware of.) Sorting of Address Book Names and Pronunciation Form While it remains a painfully slow piece of software, the sorting is done correctly. Even better, a possibly underused but brilliant feature of the Address Book is that you can add ‘pronunciation forms’ for the names of your friends. That means you can keep their proper, say Asian, names in the address book but add a note on how it transcribes to your own alphabet. And the Address Book will use the pronunciation form for sorting purposes. And with that infrastructure at hand, it should be easy to devise a partial workaround for the lack of a full Unicode range of characters on the iPod: Whenever a name consists of characters from a range that isn’t available on the iPod, the pronunciation form could be used if it exists and doesn’t consist of characters that the iPod can’t display as well. That wouldn’t be perfect but it could remove a number of those Contacts on the iPod which are just blank lines (~ problem 4276122).

A final suggestion for the iPod’s contacts section would be for it to include people’s birth dates. Those are easily available from the Address Book and information that you occasionally wonder about (enhancement suggestion 4279220). And unlike phone numbers, those are informations which many other devices capable of storing contact information seem to omit as well.

September 30, 2005, 1:22

Tagged as bug.


Comment by Carl: User icon

I’d like to see the address book use nicknames as display names. My coworker’s name is Marie Theresa, but it’d be much more convenient for me if she was just listed as Tessa. I probably oughta file a bug/enhancement, but haven’t.

September 30, 2005, 12:08

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