Backstage Opinion: Is the Click Wheel right for you?

Twenty-four hours ago, it seemed like no one cared whether the iPod mini’s Click Wheel controls were superior to the touch-sensitive Scroll Wheel and button controls of the third-generation iPod. But now that Apple has discarded the Scroll Wheel in the fourth-generation iPod, readers have been asking whether the design change is a good or bad thing.

Dennis and I have talked this one through repeatedly since the release of the iPod mini, and mostly agree that the Click Wheel is great. Dennis has been a strong supporter of the Click Wheel since its inception, citing both its superior ease of use and smaller control footprint on the iPod’s face. It’s the economy of the Click Wheel (and loss of separate buttons), he notes, that could give a future iPod’s face enough space for a larger screen, or permit the casing to be shrunk even more. He seems to have been proved correct in Apple’s fourth-generation iPod design, though not in the way most people were expecting.

I agree with all of Dennis’s points, and both love and admire the Click Wheel’s simplicity, but one thing detracts from its utility in my personal life at night – the actual clicking part. While it’s great that the mini’s buttons are tactile, their clicking sounds have a way of waking up the person sleeping next to you. (Danger Sidekick addicts have reported the same problem with their significant others.) For this reason and this reason only, I don’t use my mini at night, and have my fingers crossed that the 4G’s new Click Wheel will be as whisper quiet as the 3G iPod’s touch-sensitive controls. If the extra sound isn’t an issue where you live, the Click Wheel is unquestionably a slam dunk of a design – one of Apple’s best ever – regardless of whether the company fine tunes it further.

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