Screen still absent and there's one major new problem...
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.
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.