If there’s any one thing that has made the iPod popular, it’s that infamous click wheel. Allowing you to use only a thumb or index finger to navigate your way through thousands of songs, movies, or whatever you’ve got on your little portable device, the click wheel is an innovation that separates the iPod from the rest of the herd and makes it the best audio player to own. So what’s behind this great innovation, and how does the little thing actually work?
iPod newbies will find a lot of value here, especially if you haven’t quite been able to get it to work the way you want to. But you’d be an exception to the rule. After all, one of the great things about the click wheel is the simplicity of use and the way it makes loads of information available at - quite literally - your finger tips.
How the heck does the thing work, anyway?
Okay, let’s assume that you’ve been living on a desert island for the past decade and want to know how an iPod click wheel works so you can get to your late-1990s Spice Girl songs in a jiffy. It really isn’t that difficult at all.
The essentials of the iPod click wheel are as follows:
A touch-sensitive outer ring. This outer ring allows you to slide your finger (presumably, your thumb, though you’re free to use your pinky finger if you’re really feeling odd) clockwise or counterclockwise, almost as you’d move a cursor on a laptop without a mouse. But there’s no cursor in the world of iPods. Instead, your click wheel navigational efforts are being rewarded with movement on the iPod screen that is up or down. Want to scroll over to “Albums”? Slide the click wheel but don’t click anything.
Click-able buttons on all four sides. On the top, bottom, left, and right of your click wheel, you’ll see other ways of navigating. Left and right will flash you through songs, for example, while a click of “Menu” op top will bring you back to - you guessed it - the menu. These buttons are some of the things you’ll use more often on the iPod, so it’s a good thing Apple placed them right on the click wheel as opposed to, say, the sides of the iPod.
The center selection button. Once you’ve click wheeled your way over to the song or podcast you want to play, a quick click of the center selection button starts playing it. It’s really simple and is a great example that sometimes, all you need is one simple button to make users happy. They don’t want to read manuals
Okay, so you know how the click wheel works. But how did we get to this point?
Click Wheels and the Success of the iPod
Although we hail the click wheel as one of the great innovations of the iPod, a quick glance at Apple’s various iPod models available now show that it’s only available on some of them - not all of them. The iPod Touch, for example, opts for the touch screen, and we have no problem with that.
But the original iPods - and many iPods today - hinged on the success of the click wheel. As it turns out, the technology - known to many as Capacitive Sensing - has been around for a long time, and it’s simply been a matter of applying that technology to modern day convenience in Apple’s eyes. Of course, that doesn’t include the lawsuits over the click wheel, but that’s another topic for another day.