New iPod Shuffle is a Cruel Joke

March 16th, 2009

Apple / Mac, Personal Rants

Sad ShuffleWhen Apple’s new iPod Shuffle hit, it hit like a ton of bricks. A ton of bricks on everyone who enjoys using their iPod. Apple’s war on buttons has gone too far with this latest slight on usability: moving all the controls to the headphones. I don’t know about you, but I like controlling my iPod by holding it in my hand and using the clickwheel. In fact, one of the more annoying things about my iPod Touch is that there are no hard controls for changing or pausing songs. I can’t fathom how Apple could put all the controls for the Shuffle on its headphone, but only give volume controls for the Touch. You couldn’t have put one extra button on there, Apple? Oh wait, that’s against your button-less philosophy. While I do believe that simplicity is a good thing in technology, this is taking it too far. I think lefties would hate this even more; the controls are on the right cord of the headphones. Not in the center, which would make it much easier to get to, but way up on the right cord, where it’s awkward to reach unless you’re sitting, but most of the people who buy iPod Shuffles buy them for exercising, not sitting.

Shuffle Controls And then we have the controls themselves. It’s impossible to condense all the functionality of the clickwheel into three buttons without sacrificing usability. Apple even distributed a chart to explain all the clicks necessary to control the new Shuffle. Two clicks to go forward. Three clicks to go back. Three clicks and a hold to rewind. And on and on. These new controls are not only confusing, but serve to lock in the customer to only using Apple’s headphones, at least until third parties develop their own versions for the Shuffle, but they may be hindered by Apple requiring a special authentication chip to be built into them.

Now we move on to the size of the new Shuffle. Over half the size of the old one. It’s 1.8″ tall and 0.3″ thin, smaller than a AA battery. But the drawback to this small design is that it’ll get lost, even more than the previous Shuffle was. And the smaller size means that the clip has to be shrunk, and a smaller surface area means less traction, so it’s more likely that a jogger might accidentally jerk on the headphones and send their Shuffle flying into the cement. There has to be a limit on how small Apple can make the Shuffle.

A new feature that Apple introduced in the new Shuffle is something they call VoiceOver. Like it’s name suggests, VoiceOver says the name of the current track, artist, or playlist. It doesn’t do this on the fly however, iTunes embeds the information into the audio file for the Shuffle to read. There’s nothing bad to say about it, though it’d be nice if it could do it without iTunes.

Don’t get me wrong, I love Apple’s products. They’ve revolutionized the industry with their creativity, but the new iPod Shuffle is a bad move from Cupertino. It’s certainly creative, but not in a good way.

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Alex is a blogger. You can find his personal blog here. You can also find him on Twitter.

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