Ten Surprises - Good + Bad - in Apple’s Third-Gen iPod shuffle | iLounge Article


Ten Surprises - Good + Bad - in Apple’s Third-Gen iPod shuffle

It’s a great day whenever Apple releases a new iPod—even if it’s just a new iPod shuffle, the model that has historically been better known for its size and low pricing than anything else. Today, the iPod shuffle evolved for the third time, losing all of its buttons in favor of a remote-laden pair of earphones like the ones we’ve previously reviewed for 2008 iPods; it also gained VoiceOver, the ability to speak song titles and let you change playlists, a first for the shuffle.

There are 10 important points—half positive, half negative—that you should know about what the new shuffle means for the iPod family. We’ll start with the positive ones, but encourage you to read through the whole list; some of the negatives are pretty serious.

10. Black! Finally! Sort Of. You and we have been waiting for a black iPod shuffle for years—now Apple is finally selling one. Well, it’s actually that nearly black, more like dark charcoal gray color that the iPod nano and iPod classic now use, but we like that one, too. Gone are the brighter blue, green, pink, and red versions we’ve seen over the years—at least, for now.

9. Podcasts. Though the prior-generation model was capable of playing individually synchronized podcasts, the new iPod shuffle supports sequential audio podcast synchronization—it can automatically synchronize a series of podcasts, rather than just specific episodes. To that end, it now has an iTunes tab for podcasts, unlike the prior-generation model. This feature will appear in iTunes 8.1, due out in very short order.

8. Goodbye, Chunky Dock. When the first iPod shuffle was released, Apple equipped it with an integrated USB plug—brilliant, some said—and then replaced it with a chunky plastic dock for the second-generation model. Third-party accessory vendors rushed out smaller, cheaper, and frankly more convenient replacements. Now Apple has followed their lead, replacing the Dock with a USB cable, called the Apple iPod shuffle USB Cable. The version packaged with the shuffle is 1.8 inches long; for $19, Apple will sell you a package with two cables, one similarly short, the other slightly under 40 inches long.

7. It Works With Apple’s Recent Remote Headphones. Though this won’t be of any consolation to those with remote-less third-party earphones, the iPod shuffle is officially listed as compatible with Apple’s recent mic-equipped $29 Earphone and $79 In-Ear Headphone models, though Apple explicitly notes that the new shuffle doesn’t support the microphone functionality. This is somewhat good news for those who already have one-button-remote equipped headphones released for the iPhone over the past couple of years; they won’t be able to adjust volume, but track controls should work.

6. The Size. While this arguably isn’t a “surprise,” the new shuffle—like the two prior-generation iPod nanos and the preceding shuffle—is going to be a lot smaller and lighter in person than the photos suggest. At 0.38 ounces, it’s 30% lighter than the prior model, and 50% lighter than the original shuffle. Think disposable lighter, then think smaller; like a money clip with a more bulbous front side.

So those are some of the unexpected positives of the third-generation shuffle. The negatives are, in our view, more surprising and thought-provoking.

5. It’s The First iPod That Won’t (Yet) Work With Your Car or Home Stereo. Prior iPod shuffles could be connected to a car or home stereo through the headphone port, but try to do this with a line-out cable today and you’ll be faced with a small problem - there’s no way to control the shuffle or even hit play. A line-out cable with remote controls, or a remote-adding adapter, will be necessary if you want to use this model with anything other than headphones.

4. It’s The First iPod That You Can’t (Yet) Use Fully With Non-Apple Earphones. To date, no headphones except for Apple’s have been released with the three-button remote control design that’s required to actually change volume on the new iPod shuffle. Some headphones, including a number we’ve reviewed for the iPhone, do feature a single button that controls play/pause and track-swapping features, but not volume.

While we would guess that the shuffle remembers the last volume setting that was entered with its own remote, and that you could conceivably set the volume with Apple’s included earphones and then switch to your favorite pair of one-button headphones—you do have one, right?—differences in impedance between different types of headphones means that the volume settings won’t be identical. As with the car and home stereo issue above, the inconvenience factor here may inspire a remote add-on for the shuffle, solely to let old earphones work with the new model.

3. Price Point Changes. Recession? What recession? The new iPod shuffle goes back to the $79 price point that accompanied the second-generation model’s release in September 2006. Thus, the iPod family’s entry point—at least, for current models—now starts at $79 rather than $49.

2. Battery Life Drop. Both the first- and second-generation versions of the iPod shuffle promised 12-hour battery life on a single charge, but the new model drops down to 10 hours. Given Apple’s varied recent history of battery life measurements—it’s sometimes conservative, sometimes right on the money, sometimes a little optimistic—it will be very interesting to see just how much actual run time the third-generation shuffle achieves. Our tests of the first-gen shuffle achieved between 16-18 hours of play time, and the second-gen model ran for nearly 18 as well. It’s hard to imagine that Apple would show a drop in this model’s battery life if there wasn’t actually a hit; the only question is, how much.

1. The Clip. Whenever Apple releases an all-aluminum iPod, like the prior-generation iPod shuffle, readers cheer. But every time the company goes back to polished, scratchable steel, they boo. Virtually all of the official pictures of the new shuffle focus on its aluminum body, while only one shows the reflective rear clip. Hopefully this clip will prove to be less scratchable than the backs of iPod classics and touches.

Would you add anything to the list above? We’d like to hear your thoughts. Share them with us in the comments section below.

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If an adapter or something that lets you use other headphones is released then I’ll definitely get one. If not, then being stuck to Apple’s earphones is a deal breaker.

Posted by NFreak007 in East Amherst, NY, USA on March 11, 2009 at 12:13 PM (CDT)


For my daughter who is 12, this new version doesn’t work. The previous dock which was clunky was GOOD because we could find it easier. The size is now too small and too easy to loose. She would destroy earphones so the new controller/earphones would be horrible to have to replace often.

Posted by Kevin - Milwaukee in East Amherst, NY, USA on March 11, 2009 at 12:34 PM (CDT)


Apple has already announced an adaptor for third party earphones.

Posted by KBeat in East Amherst, NY, USA on March 11, 2009 at 12:35 PM (CDT)


The clip is stainless steel not chromed so that should take care of scratches.. ;)

Posted by Dzign in East Amherst, NY, USA on March 11, 2009 at 12:37 PM (CDT)


Apple has not announced an adapter for third-party earphones for the iPod shuffle. However, we have just learned that third-party adapters are already in the works. Additionally, the scratchable backs of prior iPods are stainless steel, as well.

Posted by Jeremy Horwitz in East Amherst, NY, USA on March 11, 2009 at 12:46 PM (CDT)


This is an excellent analysis on such short notice. Good job!

Posted by Fred Ut in East Amherst, NY, USA on March 11, 2009 at 2:21 PM (CDT)


I was hoping a comment on sound quality was in here.  That’s the biggest concern I have.  Here’s hoping Apple has improved the sound quality over the 2nd generation shuffle.

Posted by kcatrice in East Amherst, NY, USA on March 11, 2009 at 3:18 PM (CDT)


My bad, I misread the info. Apple said they are working with third parties to develop adaptors and earphones. Either way, sounds like we’ll have options before too long.

Posted by KBeat in East Amherst, NY, USA on March 11, 2009 at 3:28 PM (CDT)


Is there any way to set the ipod 2nd gen to manual manage music so I can use more than 1 computer? Thanks

Posted by Debbie in East Amherst, NY, USA on March 11, 2009 at 4:27 PM (CDT)


For me there is no point in getting a Shuffle with these characteristics instead of a generic USB dongle that can play music for half the price, a bit more personality and no volume/fast forward/rewind issues. And I could use my own earphones too, since I’m not going back to using Apple’s.

Sorry, but this is a definitive no-sale here.

Posted by Arturo Lugo in East Amherst, NY, USA on March 11, 2009 at 5:59 PM (CDT)


I’d love to buy it (regardless of all the cons) because of its size and real portability. I’d make a perfect gym companion. But it shares the same flaw with other Shuffle generations - lack of equalizer! How hard can it be to include an option to define an equalizer setting for each track in iTunes and then transfer music with these settings to the device? Shuffle itself sounds like Nano set to “Flat” which is… well… flat. Sorry Apple, one more try.

Posted by Piotr in East Amherst, NY, USA on March 11, 2009 at 6:53 PM (CDT)


According to an instruction sheet now available, the new iPod shuffle does fast-forward and rewind.

Posted by Eric in East Amherst, NY, USA on March 11, 2009 at 7:01 PM (CDT)


It will be interesting to see how well this product sells and if it lasts (given that the 3rd gen nano turned out to be a one-off). Personally, I think there are just too many limitations and too few positives over the previous generation Shuffle (which was such a great product). Not being able to use it with normal headphones is simply daft.

Posted by catfood in East Amherst, NY, USA on March 11, 2009 at 7:33 PM (CDT)


I don’t actually WANT a voice introducing my tracks. I use an iPod to listen to music. Unnecessary, interrupting voices I don’t need.

Posted by mikhailovitch in East Amherst, NY, USA on March 11, 2009 at 9:22 PM (CDT)


Can the supplied USB cable also be used to charge a 2nd generation Shuffle? I dislike using the 2nd generation’s supplied dock.

Posted by George in East Amherst, NY, USA on March 11, 2009 at 10:56 PM (CDT)



I would add loss of tactile sensation for a device that is geared towards the workout crowd.  I think this could be potentially be a huge letdown, but I’ll need to test it out while running.

I would also add that while the cable is significantly better than a dock for the shuffle, it is still inferior to the built-in USB of the 1st gen shuffle for on-the-go charging and such.


Capacity.  4 gigs is hella big.  Would be nice if it doubled as a thumb drive.

Posted by Dan J in East Amherst, NY, USA on March 12, 2009 at 12:59 AM (CDT)


One thing that I noticed that I’m sure that’s going to annoy a lot of people out is, Apple showed us how to fast forward through songs, but how on Earth do they expect us to go back to previous songs?

Posted by Anaheim in East Amherst, NY, USA on March 12, 2009 at 2:50 AM (CDT)


4. & 5. - When you plug it in your car (or any non-remote headphone), it it automatically starts playing at a fixed volume. And the standard iPhone headphones (one button with mic) will control everything but the volume.

Posted by Tim in East Amherst, NY, USA on March 12, 2009 at 8:50 AM (CDT)


The manual is available on the Apple site. Lots of answers can be found there.

@Dan J: It does double as a thumb drive.

Posted by pdxjim in East Amherst, NY, USA on March 13, 2009 at 2:27 AM (CDT)


Here’s a thought…
For those that don’t like it, don’t buy it.  Better yet, make one of your own…and make it perfect…for everybody.  Then, you’ll become a (filthy, dirty, disgusting capitalist) millionaire, and everyone will tell you what an absolute genius you are.  One comment I read said that it looks like they’ve made an iPod expressly for that ‘ever-shrinking niche of workout users’, or something to that effect.  Okay.  So what’s your point?  Targeting a design to be optimal for a certain user segment doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily detrimental to anyone else that uses it.  Apple has created designs before that necessitated wholesale changes in the accessory market.  Is this really news?  Ten or eleven or twelve hours of play is more than enough.  How many hours of music do you listen to in a day…from your iPod?  Most of us connect our iPod to something that charges it when it’s not in use…on a daily basis.  Personally, I think it’s pretty cool.  And pretty clever, too.  And I may get one, too…to augment my array of other various and sundry types of iPods I’ve accumulated over the years.  And I’ll use this one when I work out…at the gym.  Sorry.

Posted by macspirit in East Amherst, NY, USA on March 16, 2009 at 9:13 AM (CDT)

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