It turns out the rumors were true regarding Apple’s release of a display-less, flash memory-based iPod (as were
our observations on how Apple would present it
). This morning, Apple announced and released the iPod shuffle.
In very short order we secured the $99 512MB model. These are my initial impressions:
The Look and Feel
As Steve Jobs suggested, it’s about the size of a pack of gum. Those who don’t normally make confectionary comparisons might suggest that it looks like a bloated USB key drive. As with a key drive, to put it to use you just whip off the plastic cap on the bottom and plug it into an available USB 2.0 port.
Keeping with the spirit of the iPod, the iPod shuffle includes a navigation wheel. To play or pause a song, press the Play/Pause button in the middle of the wheel. You use this same button to switch the iPod shuffle into Hold mode—just hold this button for three seconds. You adjust volume by pressing the Plus and Minus buttons at the top and bottom of the wheel. To move from one song to another press once on the Previous or Next buttons found on the left and right side of the wheel respectively. To fast-forward or rewind through a song, press and hold on these buttons. The iPod shuffle includes an LED that flashes green to indicate that it’s received your command. This LED can also flash orange and will do so (sometimes with alternating green flashes) to signal conditions such as Do Not Disconnect or Error.
Despite its name, the iPod shuffle doesn’t have to shuffle. There’s a slider on the back of the player that determines how tunes will be played. The first switch position tells the iPod shuffle to play songs from the beginning of the playlist to the end in order. Slide the switch one more notch and it will shuffle the songs on the device. Slide the switch all the way up to turn off the device.
Below this switch is a button that, when pressed, provides the status of the battery (green is a good charge, orange is a low charge, red is a very low charge, and no response indicates the device is completely drained).
Shuffling into iTunes
At first glance, the iPod shuffle behaves very much like a standard iPod within iTunes (iTunes 4.7.1 is required and included with the device). Like other iPods it appears in the Source list as a destination for songs in your iTunes library. Once you select the iPod in this Source list, you begin to see how it differs from other iPods.
When an iPod shuffle is selected, a new Autofill pane appears at the bottom of the iTunes window. Within this pane you can choose the source for your music—the entire iTunes music library or a particular playlist. You can also tell iTunes to choose songs randomly, replace all songs on the iPod shuffle when Autofilling, and choose higher rated songs more often. Although you could do the same kind of thing with a smart playlist on older iPods, this is a more convenient way to go about it.
While this is a good start, it’s only a start. To get the most out of the iPod shuffle, you turn to iPod preferences. Here, along with the usual Enable Disk Use option, you’ll find a new option—Covert Higher Bit Rate Songs to 128 kbps AAC For This iPod.
This is a necessary and much appreciated feature. With a device that holds only 512MB or 1GB of songs, every megabyte counts. To protect you from filling your iPod shuffle with songs that weigh in at tens of megabytes, the iPod shuffle won’t accept songs encoded as AIFF or Apple Lossless files. But this option ensures that you’re not precluded from using the songs encoded with these formats. Once you enable the option, iTunes will convert the fat files to 128 kbps AAC as it syncs with the device (while maintaining the original file in the iTunes library). This conversion process slows down the sync a bit. For example, it took about a minute for iTunes to convert a 7 minute AIFF and move it to my iPod shuffle on a 1.25 GHz PowerBook G4.
Regrettably, this option is available only for the iPod shuffle. Knowing a lot of iPod mini owners who would love this feature, I hope Apple implements it across the iPod line in a future iTunes update.
The other notable option in the iPod shuffle’s preferences is within the Enable Disk Use sections of the window. Here you can use a slider to designate a certain amount of space for data storage (the slider runs from 120 Songs/0 MB Data to 0 Songs/512 MB Data).
One other geekish note: Unlike other iPods, the iPod shuffle is formatted as an MS-DOS volume—a volume that’s compatible with both the Mac and Windows PC. This is a smart move as it means that the iPod shuffle can be used on both a Mac and a PC without the necessity of reformatting the device for a particular computer platform.
More to Come
As I said, these are simply my first impressions (and, okay, at first look, I am impressed). Look for Playlist’s full review of the iPod shuffle after we’ve had a chance to really put it through its paces.