I’d never owned an iPod, but recently picked up one of the new shuffles (the lower-case version of the name seems to be official). It’s an awfully appealing little product.

Why? · When I want to listen to music, either I’m at home, where I have lots of good technology, or I’m on the road, where I have my laptop. So I never felt the need for an iPod.

The shuffle pushed me over the edge; it’s cheap enough that the cost seems minor compared to the irritation factor of wrestling the PowerBook into play in airport lounges and economy-class seat configurations. And I almost always listen in shuffle mode anyhow.

Shopping · Apple’s got the online buying experience down cold; you can get in, order your shuffle, specify the no-extra-cost inscription you want on it, and get out in just a couple of minutes, and mine showed up inside of a week, during the Christmas rush at that.

Experience · I listen to it through my Shure 3C’s and while the sound won’t make the audiophile heart swell with love, it won’t turn the audiophile stomach either. Compared to other portable devices I’ve tried, the volume range seems just right; I don’t know how loud it goes but I’ve played it louder than is perhaps 100% safe on a couple of Iggy Pop tunes, and I think it had more to give.

The “clip” form factor works really well, no matter what you’re wearing there’s a convenient place to hang a shuffle.

The capacity is 1G which at 128K is like 16 hours of music, which means that for almost any conceivable business trip, you could just load it up once. The iTunes fill-it-with-a-shuffle interface works fine, although the USB interface is no speed demon.

One irritant: I’ve got an aftermarket USB charger, and I haven’t figured out whether it works with this yet. When I plug it in, the shuffle shows, not the solid orange “I’m charging” light, but the flashing version which means “Please plug me into a box with iTunes so I can check for updates and make sure you’re not doing anything illegal, you naughty man.” I really must leave it plugged in for a few hours sometime to see if it’s actually charging.

Improving the Controls · On one side of the shuffle there are tiny switches for on/off and shuffle/sequential. The front has the famous iPod circular control. The middle is stop/start, then the four quadrants are volume up/down and skip forward/back. Nothing simpler could be imagined.

iPod shuffle

But there’s one obvious problem. Depending on what you’re wearing, there’s a lot of different orientations it could end up at. Look at the little picture I just now snipped out of the Apple.com shuffle page; for this person, louder is left, quieter is right, skip forward is up and skip backward is down. Particularly if you’re wearing your shuffle under your coat (like everyone in Canada at the moment), it’s not obvious how you get your finger on the right button. This can be a problem when the dying strains of the Schubert quartet give way to the White Stripes, and you need to crank it down PDQ before you get brain damage.

The solution is also obvious; one of the quadrants of the circle needs a little bump on it like keyboards have on “F” and “J” to help touch-typists. If you had a bump, for example on the “+”, your fingers would quickly learn how to get oriented, whatever weird angle the shuffle is at.

I’m open to negotiating with Apple for the rights to deploy this bold innovation; they’re all about respect for intellectual property, aren’t they?

Not a Pod Person · I don’t want to walk around the city with wires hanging from my ears; I don’t need or want a cushion of music between me and urban reality. But when I was figuring out how the shuffle worked, I plugged it in one time before I left the office for my 12-minute walking commute home. The shuffle ramped up Solvejg’s Song by Grieg just as I stepped into the dim afternoon onto the wet grey sidewalk, a crew with machines breaking concrete unheard, and suddenly reality felt like a Tarkovsky set-piece.

I can see why people do this, sometimes. But I don’t think I will much.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Josh Peters (Dec 20 2006, at 22:19)

Tim, does this new revision of the shuffle also function as a USB drive? Just curious.

I find that I use my iPod mini all the time because I'm context-switching enough (either logging in/out, rebooting, etc) or otherwise annoyed at my inability to keep my work PC quiet save for the music player.


From: Adam Kalsey (Dec 20 2006, at 22:56)

The USB charger that came with my Blackberry works quite well for my son's shuffle. But he has the original white version, not the clippy matchbook.


From: Zach (Dec 20 2006, at 23:30)

The shuffle is great. I love mine. I even integrated a 3mm stereo plug into the dash of my car that I can pop the shuffle on, so when I'm driving the ipod hangs on the dash just above my stereo. Easy to pop on, easy to grab as I'm leaving the car. The audio runs through my cd changer input through a vwcdpic (http://k9spud.com/vwcdpic/) interface. All in all it's slick.

The only problem is that Apple treats Podcasts like a second class citizen on the shuffle. You can't use autofill to fill from your shuffle playlist.

I detail the entire problem and my solution in my blog on this post:



From: Patrick (Dec 21 2006, at 00:26)

I have to say I'm rather fond of mine as well.

As to the orientation - the "wheel" of buttons is not centred on the device, so I find it quite easy to feel for the edge, go "that's the next track button!" and away I go.


From: Giulio Piancastelli (Dec 21 2006, at 00:57)

The Volume Up part of the control is on the same side as the jack of the earphones. You could use it as a coordinate to find that and the other buttons when the controls are not in sight.


From: Lars Marius Garshol (Dec 21 2006, at 02:01)

SolveIg, please. Not "Solvejg". :)


From: Sylvain Hellegouarch (Dec 21 2006, at 02:15)

I found the 1 Gb size unusable for me. I actually own an iRiver T10 of that capacity (which at least reads Vorbis) and it drives me nuts. Why I hear you scream? (oh come on)


1. It's too small to simply dump all my music at once meaning I have to filter.

2. Big enough that I dump quite a lot on it.

The problem comes from the fact I'm a lazy donkey and I can't be bothered to actually go through the process of choosing what I'm gonna listen the next day. Filtering for 1 Gb is actually a long process and I end up dumping full albums without really paying attention which in the end frustrates me because this is not what I wanted to listen.

Of course nothing forces me to fill up the space but then if you're like me, what's the point of having it in the first place?


From: StanD. (Dec 21 2006, at 07:23)

A couple of points about the orientation thing. Firstly, the placement of the circular control is off center and secondly, the orientation of the phone jack is also off center. I've found that the combination of these two "feelable" things is all I need to help me orient myself to the buttons.


From: John Dougan (Dec 21 2006, at 09:28)

The first generation shuffles had better sound. Bill Machrone put a bunch of MP3 player on the scope awhile ago and posted the results at http://home.comcast.net/~machrone/playertest/playertest.htm .

It looks like the second generation shuffles use a different sound chip.

Machrone also has more of the same at Serious Personal Audio at http://machrone.net/mt/index.html (I'm not sure what the deal with the date on the posts is)


From: Matthew Laird (Dec 21 2006, at 14:07)

Santa brought me my present early this year, a shuffle. And while I like there's one issue I truly detest about it - iTunes. I just can't get in to the iTunes interface, and it will probably prevent me from purchasing another iPod in the future.

There's the slow factor Tim mentioned, when the shuffle is doing an operation the entire interface seems to freeze. It makes me thing this application isn't threaded in any way.

But the most irritating part is the fact there's no tree view for your collection. You spend all this time ripping your CDs, arranging it in a certain tree order by whatever category you please, and iTunes doesn't respect this. You get one choice for layout - flat. Is this another one of those "because Steve Jobs says to do it this way" situations?

Fix that and I'll become a full iPod convert. But for now it's only useful for listening to CBC podcasts on the bus to work.


From: Tony Wylie (Dec 21 2006, at 15:22)

I know what you mean about soundtracks, especially in urban situations, I've had some fantastically serendipitous moments with Nick drake tracks, amongst others.

As regards the controls, I taught myslf to orient around the headphone lead (ie volume goes *up* the lead), and now I can use the controls in my sleep, which is where I usually am on the bus to work, my favourite iPod shuffle space.


From: Aristotle Pagaltzis (Dec 21 2006, at 17:52)

I have one of the old 512MB shuffles, and it’s the only gadget I’ve ever had only love for. The reason is simply that it has almost no features, and the ones it does have, it gets right. What a refreshing product design.


From: Dave Walker (Dec 24 2006, at 10:43)

To me, the one truly brilliant thing about the shuffle experience is that it offers to downconvert things to 128k AAC for you as it transfers them to the device. It's high quality enough for a device that's going to be competing with road noise, aircraft noise, and the like, while allowing you to get the most out of that gigabyte of storage. You can keep your lossless or high-bitrate originals in your library while comprimising a bit on filesize for portability's sake without keeping multiple copies of everything. I only wish they offered the option of downconversion when transferring to the other iPods in the line.


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