White is the new gold. Whether you’re out shopping for a new Aibo on Rodeo Drive with your entourage, or kicking it with Paris and The Game at P. Diddy’s gala White Party in the Hamptons, nothing else says “bling-bling” quite like a pair of white earbuds.
But like all fashion trends, this year’s hot item is next year’s has-been. And while those white earbuds may still be the it accessory, to really turn heads, you’ll want them coming not from an iPod, but an Altoids tin. Or a pack of gum. Or maybe even a hand-sewn, beaded Hello Kitty case. In short, you’re going to need to mod that shuffle up.
While hacking or modifying (modding) electronics is nothing new, something about the iPod shuffle has really taken off with the do-it-yourself (DIY) set. Modders have taken to it like clay, and hardly a day goes by when a new iPod shuffle customization doesn’t show up online. iPod shuffle mods have spawned their own websites, forums, and discussion groups. There’s even a Flickr photo group dedicated to shuffle hacks. What explains the shuffle’s popularity with modders?
“I think one factor is since the shuffle is cheaper and less complicated people aren’t as worried about damaging it and even if you do you’re not out $300,” Jim Younkin, who runs a website dedicated to shuffle mods tells Playlist . “iPods although they are fairly rugged are easy to scratch. I think because of its size and it being so easy to carry people grow attached to it more so than a regular iPod.”
Shuffle modding seems to fit into a larger cultural trend as well. From magazines such as Make or Ready-Made to television shows like Pimp My Ride, modding is in. The hottest bikes these days aren’t mountain or road bikes; they’re hacked fixies All the hip kids are sporting T-shirts from CafePress and Threadless, designed not by fashionistas, but consumers themselves. There’s even an entire cable network devoted exclusively to DIY modding culture.
“I think people have rediscovered the joy of making things with your own hands,” Make editor Mark Frauenfelder tells Playlist . “There’s a great deal of pleasure to be had in modifying your technology, because it then becomes part of you on some level. People knew this well in earlier times, but it was forgotten when manufacturing methods improved to the point that it became a lot cheaper to buy new stuff than it was to fix or customize broken or older stuff. shuffle hackers are definitely part of this re-found joy of hacking the world around them to suit them.”
Spaceships and Candy
So what are some of the better mods? Despite the iPod shuffle’s tongue-in-cheek warning (“do not eat iPod shuffle”) most, oddly enough, seem to focus on food. Perhaps the best known of all the shuffle mods is the Altoids case mod that will wrap your shuffle in an aluminum enclosure. Not content with letting Altoids be the official breath mint of the iPod shuffle, one ingenious modder came up with a Tic-Tac case mod, allowing your shuffle to stay minty fresh at all times. And if you’re not a fan of breath mints, you could always try a Juicy Fruit mod instead.
Not hungry at all? There are plenty of other innovative case mods as well, from Mac OS X wrapper, to the shufflecraft Enterprise mod, and even that old stand by, duct tape. But while case mods are pretty common, they are far from the only type of hack showing up.
“Also I think the standard USB connector is something that inspires lots of hacks,” says Younkin. “On shufflehacks we’ve seen USB extensions, stands, and even how to charge a shuffle with an Xbox controller. Those all stem from the shuffle’s USB connector.”
Since the iPod shuffle charges through the USB port, several modders have come up with ways to power-up on-the-go. Not to be mistaken with the Altoids case mod, you can also charge your shuffle through an Altoids tin. For the truly old-school modder—or anyone who wants to keep on listening to music in a post-apocalyptic society— the hand-crank shuffle charger is a must.
Be warned, disassembling an iPod shuffle can be quite tricky. And don’t expect Apple to replace your shuffle once you’ve torn it up with an Xacto knife.
But there are plenty of options for those of us too faint-hearted to risk ruining a shuffle, but who still want a tricked out shuffle. Several vendors, such as Decalgirl and iTatu specialize in custom shuffle stickers and cases that will give you all the extra bling you need for that next big party at Hef’s.
Mathew Honan is a San Francisco-based writer and photographer. His work has also appeared in Macworld, Wired, Time, and Salon.