« Monster Turbine Earphones -- First Bass | Main | David Pogue's Digital Photography: The Missing Manual »

Apple 3rd Gen iPod Shuffle Loses Control

I'm running out of metaphors here, to describe the ever-shrinking size of tiny MP3 players.

The original Apple iPod shuffle from 2005 was the exemplar of the "pack of gun" form factor (3.3 x 0.98 x 0.33 in., 0.78 oz.).

It shipped with a whopping 512 MB of storage for $99, and 1 GB for $149 -- to hold 120 or 240 songs.

Then came the second generation iPod shuffle in 2006 with the "book of matches" design that was just large enough to fit the control pad on the side.

And Apple started describing the size not only in inches and ounces (1.62 x 1.07 x 0.41 in. including clip, and 0.55 oz.) -- but also in volume (half a cubic inch)! This design was updated in February 2008 to offer 1 GB for $49, and a new 2 GB for $69 (to hold 500 songs).

But the idea of a music player without any display hits the wall at multiple hundreds of songs -- Yes, it's fun to randomly shuffle though a large collection of music, but sometimes you're in the mood to enjoy or share a particular song, or artist, or album, or even genre, and skipping one by one though 500 songs just does not cut it.

So today Apple announced its solution with the third generation iPod shuffle -- re-double the capacity (4 GB for $79), chop the size in half, and get rid of the controls!

Now the metaphor is "smaller than AA battery" -- or, more like the size of 2 AAA batteries (1.8 x 0.7 x 0.3 in. including clip, and 0.38 oz.), with a volume of a quarter of a cubic inch. Yeesh!

Since the device is now too small for a control pad, the controls have been moved to a remote on the right earbud cord. But there's still the problem of dealing with the now 1000 songs you can store in the 4 GB of memory. The answer is a new "VoiceOver" feature that you can enable from the remote, which will talk to announce the songs (with the artist name and title). And just to be extra cool, the song information is spoken in 11 languages, chosen automatically based on the song information.

But how can you select from 1000 songs? VoiceOver also enables multiple playlists on the shuffle, so you can organize your music as you want, and then choose the playlist you want to hear by having the shuffle speak their names.

This still takes some planning and organization to create the playlists in iTunes, since you can't use default groupings like artist, album, or genre. But it's a clever approach to keeping the teeny tiny music player concept viable.

And voice announcements could be good idea for other contexts, such as listening to music from your mobile phone on a wireless headset.

For Apple's summary of the iPod line, see www.apple.com/ipod/whichipod

See my Portable Media Players Gallery for more on the iPod line --
and a iPod Pricing History (the original iPod Mini from 2004 has 4 GB for $249)

    Find the Apple iPod shuffle (gen 3) on Amazon.com

Manifest Tech Site