There is no excuse for losing your place anymore

When Compact Disks were introduced as a replacement for audio cassettes, there really was no comparison. As opposed to the analog warmth and hearth-like crackle of vinyl, nobody really misses the hissy, tinny, low-fidelity of cassettes. Similarly, few people are nostalgic for having their movie eaten by a VCR, or listening to garbled audio from a VHS tape played too many times.

There is one thing they do miss, however. When you stopped an audio or VHS tape, you knew with complete certainty that when you hit play again, it would continue where you left off. Even if you ejected the tape, and put it in a different player a year later, your position is maintained as a physical property of the media.

Optical disks have no such property – they are stateless by nature. The burden of position must be maintained by the player itself.

Back to the release of CDs and DVDs. When they came out, memory was expensive, and non-volatile memory (aka flash) prohibitively so. To replicate the saved-place of tapes, devices would need to be able to identify the disc, and have an associated position. Not easy in the 90s, so it was excusable. And honestly, losing your place in an album of music is not the end of the world. But for audiobooks it was a different story. Audiobook cassettes persisted – and arguably remain more popular that CDs to this day. The reason – losing your place in an audiobook is a HUGE pain – the sort that you never want to experience twice.

We have been experiencing a similar technology shift in recent years – from the dominance of physical media to digital media – mp3s, video files, e-books, etc. These new formats are typically stored on flash memory, so any device that can play them can store information about them… But in so many cases they do not.

Audible (arguably the world’s biggest distributor of digital audiobooks) took years to realize they should permit for synchronization of position across devices – and the last time I used it it was still unreliable. If your app crashed, you would be back to where you had been hours ago.
Amazon’s Kindle apps similarly have no excuse for losing your place in a book, and yet from time to time they do. The superior GoodReader app very easily loses position information, and it isn’t clear how to prevent it.
The Windows 8 Video player app – (which on Windows RT is your only option) – loses your current place in a movie if you close the app. (Luckily, Apple had already figured this out and has been saving your place in movies on the ipad for years).

The fact that maintaining and persisting position information is so often neglected and poorly implemented is a little disturbing – it’s simple enough to implement, it is a small quantity of information, and its necessity is obvious. I’m sure Microsoft will get around to saving position info, but why didn’t they do it in the first place? There is no excuse anymore.

I consider the following items to be self evident, necessary, and painfully obvious. Further, their omission is a negligent as omitting the “next” button.

  • Any device or software that can play audiobooks must not ever under any circumstances lose the current position of playback, and any operation that might delete said position must explicitly inform the user to that effect.
  • Any device or software that can display eBooks must remember the last page displayed for each book; must protect this information and persist it through updates, crashes and reinstalls. Any operation that might delete this information must explicitly request permission to do so.
    Additionally, bookmarks must be very easy to create.
  • Devices or software intended for watching movies must remember where you left off for recently watched movies – through closes, ejections, reboots, crashes, etc.