Another take on Apple’s new iPod shuffle

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After Apple released a redesigned iPod shuffle on Wednesday, my colleague Dan Moren posted an entry in this blog criticizing some of the design aspects of this 4GB, $79 shuffle. I have a slightly different take. Here’s a reprint of what I said at the start of the latest Macworld podcast about the shuffle’s new look.

The noteworthy features of the new iPod shuffle are lack of physical controls and a new Voice Over feature that, like the latest iPod nano, narrates where you are in the interface using your computer’s speech voices. And they work this way: The shuffle has a single switch that turns the iPod on as well as lets you choose between shuffling the iPod’s contents or playing everything on it from beginning to end. Other navigation and volume control is handled with a small switch on the included earbuds.

This isn’t a great setup for me because I don’t like Apple’s earbuds. They don’t fit my ears well and, as a result, I’m not thrilled with their sound. It’s possible Apple will provide some kind of adapter so that you can use third-party headphones with the new shuffle—the company told Macworld’s Jim Dalrymple that such an adapter will be available—but then you’re likely looking at another $19 for the adapter because Apple seems to believe that the least amount it can charge for an accessory is $19. If so, your $79 shuffle is now a $99 shuffle. At that point, I’d cough up the extra $50 for an iPod nano, which not only lets me navigate the device with a click wheel, but bears a screen, plays movies, has twice the capacity, and isn’t so small that I’m likely to put it through the wash.

But I’m not the target buyer for this device. If you walk along any city street, ride a subway or bus, or wander through the local gym, you’ll see that nearly everyone uses the stock Apple earbuds. It’s not that their ears are any more ideal for these things than mine, it’s just that most people don’t care or know any better. This is what I got, this is what I’ll use.

And they’ll be just as happy to use the shuffle as it was intended. Load it with music, jam in the earbuds, press the remote button, and rock on. As for me and others like me, we’re thinking not only about third-party headphones, but how we’re going to plug this shuffle into our car or home stereos.

And then it dawns on me. I’m over-thinking this. I’m trying to apply old iPod rules—one where the iPod is as flexible as Apple can make it—to a device that is clearly directed at a specific user—one who accepts it for what it is and nothing more. Fortunately, for people like me, Apple continues to sell the old-style 1GB 2G iPod shuffle for $49.

Article updated to reflect that the 2G iPod shuffle still for sale is the 1GB model, rather than 2GB.

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