By Harry McCracken | Wednesday, March 11, 2009 at 8:24 am
Apple usually announces new stuff on Tuesdays, but just to keep us on our toes, it’s making an, ahem, small announcement today. There’s a new iPod Shuffle that’s almost 50 percent smaller than its predecessor, and smaller than an AA battery, yet which is still the first Shuffle capable of putting the iPod’s traditional 1,000 songs in your pocket (or on your person–the new Shuffle retains the built-in clip):
The company achieved the further shrinkage by moving the controls off the player onto a tiny remote that’s embedded in the headphones (making this, I guess, the first iPod that can’t be used with third-party headphones, unless someone comes up with some sort of adapter):
[UPDATE: Apple says you'll be able to buy an adapter for third-party headphones. Better than nothing--especially if you're the type of person who associates Apple headphone with a stinging feeling in one's ears, or with them just falling out--but adding an adapter certainly eliminates some of the appeal of the Shuffle's tininess.]
The new Shuffle also introduces a new feature called VoiceOver that reads menus, song titles, and the like out loud in a robotic voice; it can also read playlist names, allowing this to be the first Shuffle that supports playlists. Apple’s demo video shows how it works. Apple’s promotion for this new player says it’s the first talking MP3 player. Not so. It may have the most sophisticated text-to-speech interface, but the current iPod Nano also has a speech option.
(Side note: The video demonstrator, who says she’s an Apple Store employee, talks about how the remote control lets you use the Shuffle while on a “ride.” If she lives in Apple’s headquarters state of California, that better not be a bicycle ride–covering both your ears with headphones while biking is illegal here.)
At this point, Apple is presumably shrinking the Shuffle because, well, it can, and because some folks will buy a new one simply because it’s smaller. But it’s hard to imagine that anyone found the previous one uncomfortably bulky.
(Second side note: I wonder whether Apple will release a software update for the old Shuffles that gives them VoiceOver?)
The new Shuffle is made of aluminum, comes in silver and black (you gotta think that Apple will restore the old Shuffle’s rainbow of colors eventually), and is available in one storage capacity: 4GB for $79. It’s shipping today.
Just to refresh everyone’s memory, here’s what the previous-generation Shuffle (which dates from September 2006) looked like. It was, arguably, a cooler piece of industrial design, or at least a less Spartan one:
And here’s the original Juicyfruit-sized iPod Shuffle, announced at Macworld Expo in January 2005, and strikingly small at the time:
And here’s a hasty artist’s conception of what next next-gen Shuffle could look like: