An argument for the low battery light

16Jun10

What’s the most important status indicator on a portable electronic device? Since the product can’t run without battery power, I would argue that the low battery light should get top billing. Yet when I look at some of the gadgets around the house — including such diverse items as a wireless mouse and one of Apple’s cheaper iPod models — it’s clear that many manufacturers are happy to bury the battery status in a confusing multipurpose indicator.

On paper, this design makes sense. Instead of including separate lights for the battery charge, wireless or network activity, and other info, they consolidate all of these readouts into a single multipurpose status light. Depending on the nature of the issue, the light might blink quickly or slowly, or create a blinking pattern like morse code. The only trouble is, consumers have an awfully hard time deciphering these cryptic blinking patterns. The end result is that the status indicator becomes useless in most scenarios.

Here’s a hybrid approach that would work a lot better. Take the one or two most important status conditions, such as low battery or no signal, and give them dedicated lights with an easy-to-read icon next to them. Then, consolidate the more obscure stuff into a multipurpose indicator light. That way, users can diagnose the most common issues right away, while keeping the simple design and lower production costs that drove product manufacturers to multifunction status lights in the first place.



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