For those of you who poke fun at Apple's design philosophy, you have some new joke material. Not to be outdone by the single button concept on the iPhone, Apple has created a device with ZERO buttons. The new iPod Shuffle concept might just fool you for an Onion story: no buttons, proprietary headphones, and next you're going to tell me it talks to me too, right?
Sizing it up
Apple has relocated all buttons to controls on the proprietary ear buds. All that remains on the small device is the "On, Loop, Shuffle" switch and the headphone jack used for listening and syncing. It's different, and it takes some getting used to. This allows for a 50% reduction in size from the previous generation Shuffle. That thing was the size of a postage stamp. That would make this...half the size of a postage stamp? But seriously, it's small. Those prone to leaving change in their pockets and only realizing it when you do the laundry, you've been warned.
Here's where everyone's beef with the new Shuffle comes in. The controls have been relocated to the headphones, meaning three things: You can't use third-party headphones without the yet-to-be-released adapter from Apple, you can't really be doing anything active (snowboarding, running, or really moving at all) and you have to use an initially confusing series of Morse code-like clicks and holds to change tracks, change playlists, fast forward, skip back, etc. I say initially because like all technology products with a very specific control scheme, I got used to it. Let's face it, Apple isn't going to release a device that Grandmothers couldn't get used to. It just takes some time, and before you know it, you'll be clicking out S.O.S., I mean skipping playlists with the best of them.
I'm not an audiophile, but this iPod Shuffle seemed to sound a little bit better than the last generation. The highs were clearer, less tinny, and the lows came through well without sounding muddled. This might be an improvement in Apple's earbuds, but to really run a thorough test, we'll have to wait for that adapter.
The biggest and most impressive feature is the new UI voice over feedback the shuffle gives you. You can click the center button and have the shuffle read you the track name, or with a combination of keys equal to the number of button clicks required to do a special move in Street Fighter, the shuffle will read the titles of your playlists. It's a very nice feature that Apple started implementing with the latest Nano. Yes, this Shuffle supports multiple playlists, so you can have a running mix, roadtrip mix, and whatever other mixes your heart desires. Syncing is accomplished through an included USB to 3.5mm adapter.
The 3rd Gen iPod Shuffle is an odd device; part Johnny Ives art concept, part kick-butt mp3 player. The new iPod Shuffle offers some really cool features and 4GB of storage for $79. Not bad at all. However, considering the market for the iPod Shuffle, Apple may have missed the mark. The shuffle is a solid state mp3 player, meant for active individuals who run and bounce around a lot. The controls on the headphones makes it nearly impossible to effectively use the device. The argument there is that you just set your playlist and let it shuffle the music up but still, the reason for multiple playlists is choice. The iPod shuffle is meant to be an introduction into the world of Apple iPods for users unaccustomed to the world of Apple simplicity. Simple is the operative word there. The new Shuffle is simple for young kids who have the time to dedicate to learning a new language just to change tracks, but I would suggest that you avoid getting this one for Grandma unless you want to be on the phone for tech support any time she uses it. Apple is basically keeping a large portion of their potential market from truly enjoying this device, all in the name of size and design.
As an mp3 player, I really like the new iPod Shuffle. It's worth the $79 and the effort to learn the click sequences. I just question Apple's choice to make it more difficult for non-Apple users to use a device that was originally intended to be simple.