The Gross Inconvenience of the New iPod Shuffle

If you're an iPhone user, you just looked at Apple's [AAPL] new 4GB iPod Shuffle and groaned.

iPod Shuffle with HeadphonesAnnounced this morning, the little stainless steel slab is beautifully minimalist, and about the size of a piece of Trident. But its control buttons are conspicuously absent—hidden in the earbud cord, in a little nodule like the one on the iPhone's headphones, where it houses the microphone and call/pause button.

The iPhone's nodule does several things: click the button once, and it pauses or plays your music, or acts as a send/end key during calls. Double-click it, and you skip forward to the next song. Triple-click it, and you go back to the previous track. Sounds great in theory. In real life, it's enough of a hindrance that I'm occasionally tempted to cut it out and re-wire the headphones without it.

In cold weather, the button seems to harden, so you can't tell whether or not it's clicked (it doesn't help if you live in the Northeast, where you can't feel your fingertips from November to March anyway). When you do click it to skip a song, you're sometimes left at the mercy of the button's capricious definition of what "double-clicking" means. You think you've double-clicked, and then you wait in silence; have you shuffled to Pink Floyd's "Money"? No, no, you're not waiting a long intro to ramp up; you've accidentally paused your music because you didn't click fast enough.

Now you click it again to resume playing, and you're back at the same damn song you wanted to skip in the first place.

If you jog with your iPhone, you've probably noticed that sweat can easily penetrate the button housing and mess with both the button and the microphone. After using my iPhone for about 9 months as a running companion (largely thanks to a great GPS-enabled running app called RunKeeper), my button got crusty enough that it couldn't keep its tactile clicking feel. The microphone also suffered, but less noticeably. New headphones, with button nodule: $30. Thanks, Apple.

There's another problem: the location of the button bud. It's up near your chin on the new Shuffle, just like the iPhone. That makes sense on the latter, where you have a microphone that needs to be near your face. But as iPhone owners know, shuffling along blindly using the earbud button can leave you with your elbow up in the air minute after minute. It's not just tiring—and I'm no geriatric, but it aches my shoulder—but you look like a moron, clinging onto your little button at mouth-level, trying desperately to randomly find that Kanye West remix of Lollipop. On the shuffle, why not put the button down by your chest, so it doesn't feel like you're doing a dumbell-press everytime you want a new song?

All the problems with the iPhone button will be amplified on the Shuffle, thanks to its frequent use as a workout buddy. Try holding your hand up near your face while you're running on the treadmill—turns out, you swing your hands for a reason when you run: to keep your balance. The fact that the volume controls are on the button too means even more hand-to-face action. Did I mention that to use the Voice-Over feature you have to press and hold the middle button for several seconds?

iPod Shuffle Voice-Over That Voice-Over software, which allows the Shuffle to "speak" the name of your songs and playlists, is another ill-conceived novelty feature. A lot of people use the Shuffle because it's expendible; if you drop your Nano or your iPhone while you're jogging, painting, mowing the lawn, or playing tennis, you run the risk of a $200 loss. The Shuffle is light and easy, sure, but most of all, it's durable and low-value. All those scenarios above? They're noisy. No amount of computerized yammering is going to drown out the ambient sounds of the gym, or the hammer-on-nails noise on a worksite, so what's the point? Why not introduce something like this on more civilized iPods first with a simple software update?

Then there's the obvious gripe: you can't use your new Shuffle without Apple's special headphones. But hey: at least there's room for engraving.

Related Post: Apple Shrinks its Smallest iPod, Adds Voice Feedback

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  • John Andy

    ipod is a digital device. Its is very entertaining for us but is very soft for use when we something careless for ipod it will be damage.

    ipod repairs

  • Margie Hoyt

    When I saw that the new Shuffle requires a specialized set of earbuds because it has the controls on it, that's an automatic "I'll pass." I happen to like being able use my own earbuds with the old Shuffle. And no, I am NOT getting stuck with buying their earbuds in case the controls go bad. Besides, I happen like the purple Shuffle and am very glad I got it when they were still available.

  • Anders Wedendahl

    I must admit i follow Chris Dannen on the latter point of 4GB and voice-over. Furthermore, I find it useless with the voice over! I have the "old" iPod Shuffle and I carry around 200 songs on it, and I can memorize all of them. I know whats on the iPod, I did the synchronizing, so why add this function of Voice-Over. The way I see it, is that now it's possible to do it, so why not do it? The way i see it is Apple trying to give the shuffle a new feature. In addition, voice over is still so ELECTRONIC that it's not even worth listening to. It is a useless gimic in my opinion. Furthermore, I still do not understand why we are trying to go even smaller. I can hardly find my shuffle in my pocket. I think, Apple should be careful not to make everything too small - in the end all we will have is headphones, where the ear-pluggs are the harddisc. I my opnion that would be taking it to the NEXT level, and the we should have voice over so we could speak the song we wanted to listen to instead of being told what we are listening to. Hearing 2 seconds of a song and i know what I'm listening to.

    As a huge fan of Apple I'm disapointed with this new shuffle. Apple is capable of taking it to the next level, which this clearly isn't!

  • Chris Dannen

    The fact that Apple can't design a good earbud button doesn't mean the design is wrong for me; it means it's bad design. And if the device isn't meant for the "music searcher," @Snapper Cridge, then why is it 4GB with Voice-Over software embedded in it?

  • Mimi Meredith

    Hmmm...I think you should run with a towel. The crusting over of an iPhone due to sweat just seems tragic.

  • Fytros George

    Exactly, Snapper. Like some other people who say they could have put a small LCD, more buttons... The idea behind Shuffle is to be simpler, smaller, cheaper and play songs. If you don't like it it doesn't mean that it is not good... it is just not designed for you. Think about its characteristics and the needs of the targeted market. Probably for you iPod Nano is the choice.

  • Fytros George

    Exactly, Snapper. Like some other people who say they could have put a small LCD, more buttons... The idea behind Shuffle is to be simpler, smaller, cheaper and play songs. If you don't like it it doesn't mean that it is not good... it is just not designed for you. Think about its characteristics and the needs of the targeted market. Probably for you iPod is the choice.

  • Snapper Cridge

    All of your gripes would be relevant if we weren't talking about the iPod Shuffle. Honestly this device was never really designed for the "music searcher". It was design to drop a 100 or so songs on it and let it do all the work. If there are people that agree with your complaints I would suggest stepping up to a nano at least.