Apple iPod Shuffle (2010)
Apple’s design shift in this fourth generation of iPod Shuffle design looks back at the second – and most successful – generation of Shuffle design.
Back in 2007, Apple redesigned the iPod Shuffle stick into a rectangular clip with a simple directional pad and shuffle switch. It was a huge success for the design and lasted two years before a full refresh.
When the 2009 model was released, everything changed and the Shuffle became buttonless. Heavily criticised, customers were forced to use the supplied earbuds, with their built-in controls, to command their playlist, or if they wanted better quality aftermarket buds, pay through the nose for a set that integrated controls for the media player.
The newest model returns to the 2007 design somewhat, but makes it smaller. Now a lightweight aluminium square-ish device measuring 2.9 x 3.1 cm and weighing just 12.5 grams, this Shuffle is ridiculously tiny, with a clip on the back provided for attaching it to your clothes.
Because the Shuffle is so small, Apple can’t include in the packaging the traditional iPod docking connector every other current Apple i-device uses, so charging and moving music across is done with a simple 3.5mm to USB connector. The absence of the trademark connector also makes it clear that the Shuffle is not intended to function as a dockable jukebox for any of your iPod-compatible audio gear. Instead, the Shuffle is all about convenience and portability, with the 2GB storage further evidence of that focus – with such modest capacity, only a compressed catalogue will provide a sufficiently varied, no-repeat playlist when you’re out and about.
The Shuffle is available in one of five colours, with the minuscule plastic box it’s packaged in also containing Apple’s signature white earbuds (which we suggest replacing immediately) and a small charging and transfer cable. You will need a minimum of iTunes 10 to move music across.
Apple’s circular control pad is about as easy as it gets, with volume up and down on the top and bottom of the circle, last and next track on the left and right, and play in the middle. The top of the Shuffle features the headphone jack, a small pinhole light indicating power, a button to activate VoiceOver, and the on/off switch.
When pressed during a song, the VoiceOver function tells you the name of the song and artist you’re listening to. For instance, press the button while listening to Coldplay’s “The Scientist,” and the music will quieten and a computer voice will speak “The Scientist” followed by “Coldplay”, with the music returning to regular volume immediately after. You can press this as many times as you like.
If you decide you want to find a track before listening, you can hit the pause button and then skip through tracks. When doing this, VoiceOver will automatically kick in and read out the track names and artists so you know what’s about to be played.
The feature is a funky substitute for an LCD screen – the de facto interface for presenting playlist information on most all devices – and a system that we found worked well.
Outside of this, your on/off switch lets you use the most basic of playback options, with only repeat and shuffle being provided as the other options.
If you have impaired vision, determining if you’ve changed tracks or played with the volume will most likely be a job for your ears, as the icons on the Shuffle are a little small. Given Apple’s dedication to accessibility on other devices, it’s a little surprising that the various sides of the circular control pad lack physical indicators suggesting what the buttons are, but it’s hardly an issue.
The Shuffle worked flawlessly in our tests with lossless AAC files and high-end headphones from Jays and Audio Technica. These cost more than three times the Shuffle’s $69 asking price, but you don’t need to spend that much to improve on the sound offered by the buds supplied in the box, and as always, we recommend you replace them quick-sticks.
With a design that returns to one of Apple’s most successful to date, a neat VoiceOver function and a compelling price, there is much to like about the Shuffle. As a budget music player, it might even be perfect.
Some, however, might consider it just a tad too small. Indeed, we lost track of it in our drawer a couple of times, an environment where the clip offered no utility whatsoever. But hey, this rebounds more from our credit than the Shuffle’s.