11 March 2009

The Anti-Touch

Apple has revised its Shuffle, perhaps to ensure that it really is the polar antithesis of the Touch. While the Touch does so much that its ability to play music is almost forgotten, the Shuffle only plays music, and that just barely. The Touch is highly configurable, with numerous bells, whistles and gewgaws, and multiple controls. The new Shuffle has one switch on it and no buttons. It still shuffles, naturally, and you can change the volume and skip tracks with headphone cord-mounted controls. But that's about it.

It's "hot new feature" is an artificial (vocoder-like) voice that tells you the name of the song and artist you're listening to. Yawn. It also supports multiple playlists. That is more useful. But you can't buy a player today that does not support playlists. So yawn again.

And the new Shuffle comes with multiple downsides. First, $80 is a premium price, even for a 4gb player. And the smaller size is not useful. They've gone from a player that is slightly larger than my thumb to one slightly smaller. I don't need something that small. As a NYT article said, "Of course, at this size, Apple may want to consider adding another feature: a locator beacon. The new Shuffle’s so small, it’s only a matter of time before you lose it."

But the real deal-killer is the fact that you have to use the Apple-supplied earbuds with it, since it requires the integrated controls to operate. Some of us just cannot use the Apple buds (ouch!) and their sound quality is terrible. Doubtless Apple (and perhaps some 3rd parties, too) will introduce upgrade earphones. But Apple's earphones are never a good value, and in any case, you simply cannot use your 'phones of choice.

Of course, Apple is trying to hold onto a profitable niche. I expect these cost $20 or less to produce. I personally was hoping Apple would take a cue from Chinese Shuffle knockoffs (see left) and put a little screen on it.

But if you want something like that, with much better sound besides, just get a Sansa Clip.


Brian Davidson said...

Apple just has this obsession with small -- and so does some of the company's fanbase. I'm like you-- I'd rather have a few more bells and whistles on my music player, rather than sacrifice it all for smallness. And given that a 16 mb iPod Nano can be gotten for only $147, there's not much of a premium in buying the $80 Shuffle, unless, of course, you like the small. And the earbud thing turns me off completely. I listen to my music with a pair of Schennheiser earphones I liberated from a vacant cubicle here at work, and they're far superior. It is odd, however, that Apple has made the iPod Touch a bit clunky in listening to music. I actually have to turn the thing on to shut off the music (I know, everything's amazing and nobody's happy).

carl g said...

Sennheiser makes some very good headphones. Massively popular. The CX300s are probably the most counterfeited 'phones in the world (yes, I've been suckered myself). Anyway, I'm annoyed by the same "feature" on the Touch. It takes me both hands and 10+ seconds to dig the thing out of my pocket, turn in on, unlock it, find the right menu and hit pause. The Nano is by far the best iPod for just listening to music.