This one goes up to eleven…

A few months ago (June 16th, to be exact) I was observing that the Bose Acoustic Wave radio/CD player has a volume control that goes up to 100 in steps of two instead of going up to 50 by ones. You can’t dial in an odd number for the volume. Why?

Since then, the Rambles weblog has been tirelessly researching the issue. Actually, one of the usability specialists where I work went on a business trip to the Bose factory in South Carolina, and so I asked her to investigate. This she graciously did, and the answer, as suspected, is that from the designer’s point of view, a maximum volume of 100 arbitrary units is much better than the same maximum volume being assigned to 50 arbitrary units. But the software had been written to break it into 50 steps, so they just multiplied everything by two. The new maximum volume meant that the two-digit LCD volume display was no longer adequate, so they had to order a special display to manage the “1” in 100. I know this is how design works, but it seems particularly pointless in this case because nobody ever turns the volume ALL THE WAY UP TO 100. But if you make industrial design a top priority, as Bose has and as Apple has, this is the kind of price you pay. And in general it seems people are happy to pay it.