Thursday, March 12, 2009

New iPod shuffle? No thanks.

The new iPod shuffle has come out, with possibly the weirdest interface ever designed for Apple. No scratch that. The shuffle itself doesn't even have an interface. The shuffle's front is now absolutely naked, with the interface now on the headphone cord. That might actually be a good thing, except now there is absolutely no way to control the shuffle when using third party headphones. The really strange part is the fact that no control dongle exists for those third party headphones, either from Apple itself or from third parties. That will come of course, but who knows after how long? Given that Apple's included earbuds have always been absolutely terrible (as would be expected for included earbuds), this is a dealbreaker for many people until the dongle comes out. Even when it does come out, it will still be a problem, in terms of price. I wouldn't be surprised if they want upwards of US$29 for the dongle. Twenty-nine bucks isn't a lot in the greater scheme of things, but it is compared to the cost of a shuffle, especially when previous shuffles could be had for less than $50. And finally, even with such a dongle (or the included headphones), controlling the shuffle now seems a little complicated. I'm sure one can learn, but one might have expected something more intuitive from Apple.

Let me backtrack a bit though. The design is actually interesting in some ways. One thing I've always missed on the shuffle is the ability to know exactly what song was playing. I thought the way around it would be to have a small one-line LED or LCD screen or perhaps text-to-audio, but also thought Apple would implement neither. They've now added VoiceOver, which is essentially the latter idea, with multi-language support to boot. The other thing I've missed on the shuffle is proper playlist support, but Apple has now implemented that too. Despite all these advancements however, the lack of a controller dongle for third party headphones leaves me scratching my head for this announcement.

Somehow, this almost seems like a grand Onion parody.

I guess the best news is that VoiceOver may appear in non-naked non-shuffle iPods (and iPhones) too in 2009.