Though the line ran more than a hundred people deep by the early, 9:00am opening of Apple’s flagship Orange County store in Costa Mesa, California, the crowd wasn’t there for today’s release of Apple’s Mac mini personal computer - two-thirds of those we spoke with said that they were waiting only for Apple’s new iPod shuffle. The cheapest iPod has been in exceedingly short supply since its January 11th launch, with reports that hundreds of units have sold out within hours from virtually every store that has stocked them.
Several minutes before the store opened, an Apple Store employee (the “sacrificial lamb”) delivered disappointing news to the gathered crowd: the store had only a small but unspecified number of shuffle units, and each customer would be limited to only one. The store would take the phone numbers of all remaining customers and give them priority on an impending shipment expected within the next day. No such limitation was placed on the purchase of Mac mini computers, which at $499 and up are expected to infuse significant new life into the Macintosh computer user base.
Customers began to line up at 5:00am to enter the Apple Store, but surprisingly, the first five people in line were not all there to purchase the Mac mini on its release date - several wanted shuffles only. Most of the crowd appeared an hour before the store opened, and after Apple announced the limitation on shuffle sales, many believed that they would not be able to walk away with units today, but remained in line regardless. Demand was split evenly between those wanting 512MB ($99) models and those wanting 1GB ($149) shuffles. However, one student and dedicated Mac fan near the front of the line described the Mac mini as “cute,” and expressed interest in the new machine.
No Apple discounts or promotional offers were available at the launch event. But the South Coast Plaza shopping mall offered free gift bags to the first 50 people in line, containing luggage tags and fabric arm bags branded with the mall’s logo.
While Apple’s iPod shuffle is a relatively simple device with few opportunities for problems to occur, a few issues have popped up with the low-cost music player.
Some eMac and iMac G3 users have reported prolems in connecting the iPod shuffle to their computer. Because of the device’s width, the iPod shuffle cannot be connected to the USB port on the side of these systems. eMac and iMac G3 owners can connect the device to their Apple keyboard if they are running Mac OS X 10.3.6 or later, however, the iPod shuffle will not charge from the keyboard—only sync. Apple recommends that users purchase the iPod shuffle Dock or a USB extension cable if they want to be able to charge the device with the all-in-one Macs.
Apple said this issue could occur with “any computer, display, or USB hub with recessed or closely spaced USB ports,” including Apple’s 17-inch Studio Display 17 (ADC), certain Xserve configurations, and possibly a variety of PCs.
Apple has also detailed an issue in which the iPod shuffle may not play AAC music files that were not originally encoded with iTunes. “If you try to play a song on iPod shuffle that was encoded in AAC format (.M4A) by an application other than iTunes, iPod shuffle may not play it and skip to the next song,” Apple says. “To prevent this from happening, always use iTunes to encode songs to AAC for iPod shuffle play.” Songs purchased from the iTunes Music Store are not affected.
Meanwhile, MacFixIt reports that some readers have reported problems with loose buttons, overly sensitive buttons, and issues with synchronizing the iPod shuffle with multiple computers.
And according to iLoungers in our forum, the iPod shuffle’s lack of an internal clock—the first iPod to not have one—means that “last played” counts are not being updated when users sync the device back with iTunes.
Following fairly widespread availability of 512MB models, several iLoungers report that Apple is now shipping 1GB iPod shuffle orders from its online store. However, we have yet to hear about 1GB models making their way into stores. With these shipping notices, there is a good chance you will soon be able to find the larger capacity iPod shuffle model at Apple Stores across the United States.
Like the iPod mini a year ago, Merrill Lynch analyst Steven Milunovich believes demand for Apple’s iPod shuffle will outstrip supply. In a research note to clients today, Milunovich said the iPod shuffle could even outsell Apple’s other iPod models this quarter—he said the company is expected to sell 500,000 to 1 million hard drive-based iPods (4G, photo, mini), while the iPod shuffle’s manufacturer is reportedly making 1.2 to 1.5 million units. The analyst said he can see all of those being bought up and more.
Milunovich said new iPod customers and digital music newbies will make up the majority of iPod shuffle buyers. “Our experiences with the shuffle suggests likely strong demand from novices and new-to-iPod users,” wrote Milunovich. “Existing iPod owners may prefer the larger capacity and display of existing iPods, which makes for good market segmentation on Apple’s part. New-to-iPod users tell us the price points ($99 and $149) and ease of use are attractive.”
Global sales of flash memory-based digital audio players are expected to increase significantly this year, according to research cited by Creative Technology. Tommy Tsai, a product marketing manager at Creative, said research firm IDC is projecting that Creative and its rivals, including Samsung and Apple, will collectively sell 35 million portable flash players in 2005, compared with 25 million in 2004. Apple is the undisputed leader in sales of hard drive-based players, but is now looking to take a bite out of the flash market with its iPod shuffle. Samsung and Creative together hold 13 percent of the global flash player market.
Portelligent said Tuesday it has confirmed that Apple’s iPod shuffle is built around SigmaTel’s D-Major STMP3550 [.pdf] MP3 audio processing chip. The D-Major series chips, including the STMP3550, are designed for low power consumption and extended battery life in portable digital audio players based on flash memory. The STMP3550 supports: digital signal processing (DSP) on audio at 75MHz; Hi-Speed USB; an LED/LCD; AA, AAA, and lithium-ion batteries; Playlists; and both NAND flash memory and other storage media such as SmartMedia, Secure Digital, and CompactFlash.
The iPod shuffle is Apple’s first portable player to employ flash memory for music storage. Other iPod models have used hard-disk drives and audio chips from Wolfson Micro in conjunction with Portal Player processors.
Due to strong consumer demand for its new iPod shuffle, Apple’s online store now has a wait of two to four weeks for the device that was just introduced last week. “The backlog of orders comes not quite a year after the introduction of the iPod mini sparked a six-week wait when ordered online. There is a two- to three-week wait for the $99 iPod shuffle, which holds about 120 songs, while customers face a wait of three to four weeks for the $149 model, which has double the capacity, according to the Apple Web site.”