One impact of Apple’s announcement of version 3.0 of the iPhone OS on the 17th was that it keeps the device from becoming obsolete. Based upon the announcement it’s clear that every new functionality in version 3.0 will work with the iPhone 3G, and the majority of the new functionality will even work with the original iPhone. That’s pretty amazing considering how quickly technology moves and the fact that, in a consumer electronics world, an almost 2 year old device is rapidly moving into the territory of being “an antique”.
On the other hand, however, there is a device on the market from Apple that will, I suspect, be obsolete quite quickly and, like the “fat” iPod Nano, will be a one generation device at best. I’m talking about the new iPod Shuffle.
There’s no doubt that the new shuffle breaks new ground as a beautiful example of industrial design. Moreover, the new VoiceOver technology that allows you to hear the song and search playlist by voice is wickedly interesting. Having used the device for almost a week now however, I have to tell you that I’m underwhelmed, and I think it will be a short lived device.
Let me start with the good.
The device is beautiful and much better looking than the prior, utilitarian, version. It’s so small and unusual, and it just feels great. The clip is sturdy, and the fact that the 4GB device could easily be used as a tie clip is kind of cool. The VoiceOver feature is more than a gimmick; with it you simply tap the middle button and it tells you the song currently playing or the playlist, and it even lets you select a new playlist. It requires no training, and although the voice is rather robotic, it works very very well. It’s really a nice feature that I hope will come to the iPhone and iPod.
That, however, is where the good news ends. The lack of buttons is the very bad news.
Buttons were limited on second generation iPod Shuffle but they were there. Without looking you could stop the music, start the music, increase or decrease the volume, and skip or repeat a song. You could do it with your eyes closed, and you could do it without having to think too much about it. It “just worked”.
By removing the buttons and putting it on the headphones you lose all that and replace it with technological innovation and… frustration!
There are three “buttons” on the cord, and with them you need to do EVERYTHING. It is remarkably unintuitive. Sure you don’t have to see anything since the VoiceOver speaks to you, but it’s incredibly frustrating to try to use it to navigate when, in the past, you could intuitively use the buttons. The choice to use it would be great (and I would love to see it in iPhone 3.0), but the requirement to use it? Nope.
Add to that the fact that the buttons are high up on the headphone cord in a position that is actually difficult for me to reach, and you have a formula for a really frustrating experience.
Then there is the proprietary headphone issue. In order to use the Shuffle I have to let go of the Etymotic headphones I use on a daily basis and go back to… gasp… stock Apple buds. Is there really a difference? YOU BET THERE IS! Yes, there will be 3rd party headphones (Etymotic among them), but they won’t be out for at least a month or two. AND once you spend the additional money on top of the $80.00 device you are into or past 8-16GB Nano-land. And did I mention that I already have expensive ear buds but can’t use them??? This is nothing short of annoying.
Put these two issues together, and I think you have an excellent case in which Apple, who is known for form AND function chose form OVER function this time.
I think we have a one generation device here.
…unless Apple or a third party provider develops an accessory that has buttons and a non-proprietary connector into which the current shuffle can slip. That would provide the flexibility of a 4GB device that HAS tactile controls or a tiny one without.
Short of that… anyone interested in an upcoming collector’s item?!