Apple ease and elegance don't come easy

You often hear auto executives cite Apple Inc. as a model these days.

No mystery there. Apple's sleek styling, intuitive controls, avid early-adopter fans and sky-high profits are the envy of most businesses.

But emulating Apple isn't as easy as it might seem.

For instance, I recently drove a new Hyundai Accent, and, like most new Hyundai cars, it was almost startlingly good. Its design, interior appointments and driving feel, in my mind, put it among the leaders in the "small cars aren't econoboxes anymore" movement.

There was, however, one little problem.

The Accent came with a built-in USB plug, into which I plugged my iPod. I found that I could play whatever song the iPod was already set to. And I could move up and down the music on the iPod one song at a time.

But I couldn't get the iPod menu on the Accent's screen, and the iPod screen was filled with Hyundai material. I kept unplugging the iPod to switch to another song, then plugging it back in.

This was pretty unsatisfying, so I took the ultimate step: I looked in the manual. ("When all else fails, read the instructions.")

After fumbling around for a while, I found these instructions for moving around the song list:

"Press CAT FOLDER (down) button to move to child folder of the current folder and display the first song in the folder.

Press TUNE/ENTER knob to move to the folder displayed. It will play the first song in the folder.

Press CAT FOLDER (up) button to move to parent folder display the first song in the folder.

Press TUNE/ENTER knob to move to the folder displayed."

Huh?

The manual also told me that I could twist the TUNE knob to browse songs before and after the current song.

None of this made it easy to move quickly from, say, ABBA to ZZ Top, on a list of hundreds of songs. Nowhere did I see a way to get the easy-to-use iPod menu on the screen. Nor did any controls approach the simplicity of the iPod wheel.

This isn't an entirely fair comparison, given the number of controls that automakers cram into their center stacks. The iPod, by contrast, is a fairly simple device. And lurking somewhere in the Accent's manual there may be an easier solution than setting up a series of "parent" and "child" folders.

But I was left with the distinct impression that achieving Apple-like elegance of use is easier said than done.

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