2004-12-11

Mute/Eject

My parents were claiming that they'd been unable to hear a DVD when logged in as one user, but had logged out and logged in as another, and everything had been fine.

"Yeah, right," I thought.

Much later, I realized that the "mute" key is next to the "eject" key. I bet that they hit mute at the same time as eject, didn't see the alpha-blended icon for mute because they were busying inserting the DVD, and came back to a muted machine with no visible indication that it was muted.

They say they tried to increase the volume, but my bet is that they did so with the application's volume controls (they mentioned having tried to use iTunes also). I've never understood why applications like an mp3 player and a DVD player should have their own volume controls in addition to the system ones, and my parents seem to stop searching for volume controls when they come across the most local ones. (The applications don't change their volume indicators to reflect the fact that the system's audio hardware has been muted, nor does the "volume" they show correspond to the system's volume setting.)

Ed thinks that iTunes having a volume control makes sense if you're using AirTunes. Then the system volume controls the system speakers and iTunes controls the speakers the music comes out of. I can see his point there, but maybe the iTunes volume slider should only appear with the AirTunes speaker selection combo box.

The idea of two separate volume controls makes me realize that most of the time, I use the mute key as if it was an "iTunes play/pause" key. Often I'd prefer to still be able to hear the "new mail" clink, even though I don't want to hear music right now.

Maybe I shouldn't have laughed so hard at all those wintel keyboards with their "mail", "web", and "search" buttons? Perhaps the only thing wrong with those buttons was that the last programs I wanted to appear were MS Outlook, MS IE, and so on? If the function keys corresponded to the applications in the Dock, I might actually have a use for them. The applications I always have running would always have the same keys, so I'd know that F2 would get me Safari (which needs a Camino-like "New Window" on its Dock menu), F3 Mail, and F4 iTunes.

Suggestions:

  • Applications shouldn't have their own volume controls. (But if they're going to do so, they should reflect the actual situation.)

  • The mute icon should stay up until you un-mute, unlike the general volume indication.

  • The mute key should have a light, like "caps lock" does.

  • The mute icon/key glyph should probably have a line through it, as on most other devices.


A related idea that springs to mind is the possibility of having a light on the eject key for machines with trays, so you can see that the tray's open even if you can't see the tray. (It's good that the machine shuts the tray for you if you put it to sleep, but what if I leave my machine on all the time?)

While I was messing with the keyboard, I'd make it more similar to the PowerBook keyboard. I'd replace F13 (why does that get a capital letter?) with "eject", I'd replace F14/F15/F16 with volume down/volume up/mute (does that order strike you as strange?), and then i'd lose the whole numeric keypad area. I could use that space for my mouse. (Why not just use a Happy Hacker keyboard? Because Apple keyboards look really nice, and because I'd miss the volume/eject keys. I actually use them a lot. Mainly just mute and eject.)

To be honest, I'd actually lose the caps lock key. And not just so I could re-use the LED for the mute key, either. I realize I mostly know computer users sophisticated enough to have used a Unix shell at some point in their lives, but I've only ever known one person who used the caps lock key. She used it ubiquitously to type capital letters, so "Hi" would be the sequence caps lock/h/caps lock/i.

She has a PhD, so I'm pretty sure she could learn to use the shift key if she had to.