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Apple Unveils Flawed New iPod shuffle

Gordon Kelly by

Apple Unveils Flawed New iPod shuffle

With surprisingly little pomp or ceremony Apple has launched a brand new iPod shuffle - and I'm going to start the controversy right here: it is probably the most ill thought out one yet.

The basics first: at 45.2 x 17.5 x 7.8mm and 10.7g it's absolutely tiny - lose-it-down-the-back-of-the-sofa-tiny - and it looks like a minimalist aluminium memory key. Its capacity has been doubled to 4GB to fall in line with the majority of mini MP3 players out there and its battery life is still nothing to write home about lasting just 10 hours. Charging is done over USB or power adaptor with the latter sold separately and yes, there's still no screen despite cost being no longer a logical barrier to its exclusion. At £59.99 it also remains expensive.

The big new features: Two.

Number One: to continue Apple's ever deeper journey into minimalist styling the shuffle's controls have been removed from the player itself. Simple volume up/down buttons and a play/pause toggle are fitted to the earphone cord instead in a visual manner similar to those on the iPhone.

Number Two: 'VoiceOver'. Since the shuffle continues to veto the inclusion of a screen Apple has built in text-to-speech recognition so that the headphone controls can be used to call up artist, album, song and even playlist names. It rather needlessly uses different voices depending on whether you sync to a PC or Mac - and predictably, the Mac voice sounds far clearer.

The Flaw

If you haven't worked it out already, let me spell it out: Third. Party, Headphones. By moving all the shuffle controls to Apple earphones means you're stuck with them! Yes people, Apple - the company quite rightly flamed for having some of the worst quality bundled headphones on the planet - has locked you into using them. Sure, some headphones have volume controls and even play/pause functionality (depending on compatibility) but only a very small percentage. Do your favourite buds have them? If the answer is no, oops.

So much like the MacBook Air, Apple has fallen victim to style over substance, obsessing about minimalism to the detriment of real world pragmatism. In the case of the new shuffle refusal to include basic controls on the player itself has seen music aficionados struck off the list of potential owners and the addition of text-to-speech is no substitute for something as simple and useful as a display.

Oh dear Apple. Oh dear.

Update: If you really, truly, have to have it spelt out why you shouldn't use bundled earphones read this immediately.

Update: Apple is planning to release an adapter lead with controls for third party headphones. New problem: unless your favourite buds are modular the controls will be somewhere around your knees. Of course it represents extra expense too. Keep digging Apple, that hole isn't big enough yet.

Update 2: Klipsch and Scosche have announced they are releasing headphones that are compatible with the new shuffle. Fantastic, third party options are available - which means binning our existing third party earphones and spending more cash. Oh and no word if any of their functionality will be compatible with other iPod models.


iPod shuffle

Go to comments


March 11, 2009, 6:40 pm



March 11, 2009, 7:05 pm

The worrying thing is that they will literally sell millions of these new shuffles. Are people stupid or just blissfully ignorant?


March 11, 2009, 7:40 pm

I simply cannot fathom how pathetic Apple have been with this one.

Maybe they could actually build the mp3 player into the cables of the headphones for even greater minimalism, or perhaps they could patent humming and charge people to, just stand and hum to themselves.


March 11, 2009, 7:42 pm

It's an iPod shuffle. Do you really think that the vast majority of people in the market for one of these care what headphones they have to use with it? If there's enough of a market then I'm sure third parties will bring out 'special' headphones and/or Apple will make an adapter to include the remote but allow any old headphones to be plugged in on the end.

Oh, yeah, and the 2nd generation shuffle is still on sale, too.

The voice thing sounds really cool - can't wait to try that out at the Apple store. The size and weight is great, too - looks good being worn in the pictures. The design is very industrial and minimal, I'm a fan :)


March 11, 2009, 7:46 pm

What the heck? Surely the whole point of a mini-MP3 player is you attach it to your clothes somewhere reachable, rather than in a pocket or bag, so you don't NEED an inline remote.



March 11, 2009, 7:54 pm

All the main gadget blogs seem able to contend with this flaw. (maybe they've overlooked it in all the excitement)

This is exactly why I read TR. you have the most impartial views of any website. If Apple make a good product, you praise it. if not, you don't.

I'm a huge fan of the Ipod range, but I agree with what you say here. Not that it will change the views of the mass buying public. This will sell millions. Anyway, keep up the good work TR!


March 11, 2009, 7:55 pm

@John - very good point.

@Ben - I wish the majority would, but as a tech reader you certainly should! An adaptor could make non-modular headphones far too long.


March 11, 2009, 7:58 pm

@chancykid - much appreciated.

The only loyalty we have at TR is to good products, not companies. Problem can be only a few companies consistently make good products which sometimes leads to accusations of fanboyism but as you see, the moment they don't we're all over them ;)


March 11, 2009, 8:04 pm

Worst Apple design ever, locking you into those awful headphones is just crazy. I was thinking about getting a Shuffle over the next few weeks, but as I have some Westone UM1 headphones I can't get the new Shuffle now. Epic fail Apple!


March 11, 2009, 8:23 pm

Can I just add following this quote from the article:

"It rather needlessly uses different voices depending on whether you sync to a PC or Mac - and predictably, the Mac voice sounds far clearer"

I'm presuming this is because it uses the text to speech engine built into the operating system of the computer you sync it with. (Rather than have a whole engine of it's own on the device which would take up loads of space!) So the reason the voices differ between Windows and Mac is because they both have their own engine. So it's not Apple's fault but Microsoft's fault if the Windows voice is not as good as the Mac voice.


March 11, 2009, 9:10 pm

I've never been a huge fan of the Shuffle, and this new refresh isn't about to change my opinion either! :)

Kashif Bhatti

March 11, 2009, 10:15 pm

@Ben - completely agree. the vast majority buying this will not care two hoots how good or bad the headphones are, they just want something simple to play, well, simply music. It will sell.


March 11, 2009, 10:22 pm


I agree - sort of. I wouldn't be surprised if the text-to-speech (TTS) processing is done by iTunes and samples of the speech are loaded to the Shuffle along with the music. That might make more sense in a device with bags of storage and less processing oomph than a pocket calculator. The difference in the voices between PC and Mac may be because Apple have licensed different TTS engines for Mac or PC. They probably economised for the PC version though :)


March 11, 2009, 10:22 pm

@Kashif @Ben - you forget the shuffle is often a secondary player for people going to the gym, etc. With the loud music in these places better headphones are more vital than ever.

It certainly will sell, but that doesn't mean it deserves it when compared to something vastly superior like the (now &#16338) 8GB Sansa Clip: http://www.trustedreviews.com/...


March 11, 2009, 10:26 pm

what a load of nerdy snobs you are. most people are quite happy with the supplied headphones - out of the 20 or so friends who own ipods / iphones on me and one other have upgraded to CX300's or whatever. In fact most people wouldn't want to spend extra money after buying an iPod. the shuffle looks brilliant, I hope they sell mi&#163&#163ions.


March 11, 2009, 10:34 pm

the headphone flaw is annoyingly stupid but what about the price. &#16360 for a screenless, featureless mp3 player. am i the only one who thinks the old shuffle was actually a nicer design and more practical?

saying that you gotta love how apple can turn a flaw into a feature. no screen but hey its got voiceover (to interrupt your listening pleasure). kind of like the how the air had no ethernet (or any) port but was built for the wireless world.


March 11, 2009, 10:43 pm

@philbot - I'm guessing you DIDN'T read the link at the very end of the article then...!


March 11, 2009, 10:45 pm

I don't see what all the fuss is about. It looks sexy, and the thing will now finaly tell you what song you are listening too. Add in the fact that you can now switch between playlists, browsing your collection should be alot quicker. Bravo apple for being different.

I use my shuffle for exercise and maybe listening to some audiobooks and podcasts, music quality isn't my concern for these activities. Not having a screen is a bonus as i dont have to search for it in a pocket or bag, i can just change the track by pressing a button... easy. I'm sure most shuffle owners will feel the same way as this. The shuffle is obviously a secondary music player.


March 11, 2009, 10:51 pm

Mind you, it is way over priced, 2-3gb too big, and they should have bundled the apple in-ear earphones with it.


March 11, 2009, 10:56 pm


of course, all that speech nonsense could be avoided if apple'd just added a mirror finish OLED screen, one that can only be seen when it's on. minimalist and functional...


March 12, 2009, 3:23 am

Your title for this article is just silly. You're really forgetting who these products are targeted at. I reckon at least 80% of people who buy these products buy them because they look good,"the latest thing to be seen with" or they want a simple easy to use product. They don't care if the headphones sound rubbish. They're not gonna buy another pair of 30/40 quid headphones for something that's essentially a fashion item. No-one in there right mind should buy an apple mp3 player, because of the "lack of features", "limited file types supported"," locked to itunes", etc etc. but millions of people DO because they're simple and easy to use. They're not TECHY and complicated like most other companies products. This is what apple does. My 60yr mum (who has an ipod nano) doesn't care what the sound quality is like, it works easily and simply and that's all she cares about. As soon as the other companies wake up to these facts the better the audio music player market will be.


March 12, 2009, 3:27 am

Another 'Space 1999' product from Apple.


March 12, 2009, 3:32 am

@pwackert - The title is entirely accurate but is silly because you 'reckon' you know who is going to buy them? That's silly ;)

What you forget is a huge number of shuffles are bought as secondary players and the third party earphones are already owned. Unlike a phone or MP3 player, investing in a high quality pair of earphones sees you use them for far longer than one or two years.


March 12, 2009, 5:30 am

What a delightful world we live in - where sound quality is a secondary (or even tertiary) feature of an AUDIO device.

Peter 6

March 12, 2009, 7:29 am

Most people I know just use the Apple headphones - 90% of people would be happy - Maybe 3rd party headphones with these controls will be standard soon. Probably not a bad idea.. The text to speech function will one-day be a real winner.. This is Apple setting a standard.

And if you don't like it you can get a iPod nano.

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