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  • 03.11.09

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.

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.

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iPod Shuffle with Headphones

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

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.

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About the author

I've written about innovation, design, and technology for Fast Company since 2007. I was the co-founding editor of FastCoLabs.

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