Apple is taking minimalism to a whole new level with the iPod shuffle. In fact they are now officially straddling the fine line between brilliance and bullsh*t.
The iPod shuffle is basically just 512mb or 1gb of flash memory in a very nice iPodesque enclosure. Here’s what it is not. It is not an iPod. At least not in the ways we traditionally identify an iPod (i.e. it’s great interface, a scroll wheel, the ability to sort your music by a plethora of criteria, multiple playlist, basic PDA functionality such as the ability to carry contacts and appointments with you). These things it lacks completely. You won’t find them anywhere no matter how hard you look over the iPod shuffle’s diminutive frame.
And yet it clearly called an iPod, it is in fact an iPod. When you consider that iPod is more a brand than a product these days the contradictions of my last few sentences begins to vanish. Apple created the iPod shuffle to cater to a very different type of music listener. This is similar to Volkswagen, who makes both the Beetle and the Phaeton, two wildly different cars that are aimed at very different consumers. This is the iPod for those that think “why on earth would I want to carry 10,000 songs with me?”
Apple is a company that pays attention to its consumer’s feedback, evident by the inclusion of the Shuffle option as a first level menu option in the fourth-generation iPod. It seems many users are fond of letting the iPod do the choosing, and love the element of surprise when Frank Sinatra is followed by Prodigy, for example. This is what gave birth to the iPod shuffle in both marketing terms and usability. Effectively, Apple took the biggest drawback of flash players, namely their lousy or completely missing user interface, and turned it intothe key feature. What makes the iPod shuffle a success, in my opinion, is something that has nothing to do with its hardware and which no other flash based mp3 player out there has: iTunes.
Here is where the iPod shuffle truly shines. In addition to giving you access to the iTunes music store to purchase songs iTunes also allows you to take the idea of randomness as a feature and run with it. It features a number of different ways to load up your iPod shuffle, all of which are equally ingenious. Upon connecting the iPod shuffle to your computer you are asked whether or not you wish to link the unit with this particular computer. The iPod shuffle can only be linked to one computer at a time. In fact, if it already has music from another computer, the act linking it with a new computer erases all of the existing music. Once you do connect it, the iPod shuffle shows up much like an iPod does, on the left-hand side of the iTunes interface. When you click on the device, you are greeted by large “autofill” button that works much in the same way the party shuffle works (It allows you to autofill from your entire music library for a fresh mix or autofill from a specified playlist or recently played songs to fine tune the mix a bit more). You can also drag and drop songs or entire playlists. One of the coolest things is that this autofill feature can be set to do so automatically whenever you connected your iPod to the computer. For someone who appreciates variety this really is a great way to keep your daily soundtrack fresh and surprising.
The iPod shuffle can also act as a flash memory drive to ferry data between multiple computers. In the iTunes preferences you set how much space of the iPod’s memory to allocate to data storage. Enabling this option causes the iPod shuffle to appear as an external drive on any computer it connects to and acts independently of the music portion of the drive.
As a music player the iPod is great for what it is. The controls are small but effective with the exception of the switch on the back. It serves as both a power button and a toggle between shuffle mode and playlist mode (which allows you to play your music in order, if that is your preference). The switch sits flush with the casing and is very smooth making it difficult to switch on without using the edge of my fingernail. There is also a a learning curve since the iPod shuffle uses one LED light to give you visual feedback for when the player is on, paused, or on hold. Memorizing what it means doesn’t take long but it does take longer than the interface of the rest of the iPod family. Sound quality is excellent and indistinguishable from my 20gb iPod using a pair of Sony inner ear headphones.
This is not something that should be purchased if you dislike losing control or are prone to losing small objects as the iPod shuffle is very tiny and could easily find itself lost in a backpack or on a cluttered desk.
I would recommend the iPod shuffle for those who want a simple music player that also gives you access to the best online music store. The iPod shuffle makes for a very good solid musical companion, as long as you don’t mind identifying songs the old school way, by ear.
Buy a Apple 1 GB iPod Shuffle MP3 Player from Amazon
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