My Thoughts on the New iPod Shuffle
I weighed in on the discussion of the new Shuffle over at Apple Thoughts, and I thought my response was worth sharing on this site.
I'm all for MP3 players breaking into new ground, and thought the original Shuffle was pretty damn brilliant - a screen isn't as mandatory as everyone thinks it is for some scenarios like working out in a gym - but this new Shuffle missed the mark in a few ways.
First, the fact that you have to use Apple's headphones in order to control the device in any way at all is a big problem. From a quality standpoint, the $3 headphones that Apple includes can't measure up - ever - to the quality of stand-alone headphones that cost $99+. And even if they're "not bad" as far as headphones go, not everyone's ears can fit them - my wife for instance couldn't use the headphones on her Shuffle because her ear canals are quite small. We always have to buy her extra-small headphones. By moving the controls onto the headphones, Apple is shutting out 100% of people who:
a) Want (or already own) better quality headphones
b) Can't fit/don't like the included headphones
The idea of investing money in a great set of headphones is that you can use them over and over again with all sorts of device - and Apple decides to break this concept? Yeah, I know third party companies are doubtless salivating over re-releasing new versions of their headphones with Shuffle controls on them, but there's zero benefit to the consumer.
I never heard anyone complain that the Shuffle was too big, so I'd have preferred to see them keep the size but add a screen (the SanDisk Sansa Clip manages this very nicely), or increase the battery life, etc. This seems to be a case of making something smaller because they can, not because it really benefits the consumer.
I think the voice-over idea is kind of neat, but the implementation sounds just as bad as text to speech systems from a decade ago. The PC version sounds especially awful. Apple tends to implement technologies when they've matured and deliver real value to consumers, so this is especially surprising that they'd deliver something so incredibly lame.