Review: Apple iPod shuffle (Third-Generation)
Pros: Apple’s smallest, lightest iPod yet, and first iPod shuffle with remote control functionality. Offers modestly better transfer speeds and audio quality than prior shuffle, replaces prior dock with simpler USB sync and charge cable. Adds VoiceOver feature to let you switch playlists, identify certain tracks, determine battery levels. Fall 2009: Now available in six total colors, and either 2GB or 4GB capacities.
Cons: Needlessly and seriously complicates controls by switching to a buttonless body, which cannot be controlled without Apple headphones or not-yet-manufactured third-party proprietary remote control solutions; presently next to useless with car or home stereos. Confusing interface will be hard for many users to totally grasp and use. Poor value as either a 4GB media player or 4GB flash drive. Very slow at file transfers by current iPod standards. Battery power diminished considerably from prior model. Boring design.
As simple and limited as the first iPod shuffle was back in early 2005, Apple unquestionably got the core execution of a screenless iPod right; some users were thrilled see a music player’s controls distilled down to a simple six-button, one-switch scheme. Press the big play/pause button, or its smaller surrounding track and volume control buttons, and you’d know exactly what they do, same with flipping the power switch on, or toggling it to either ordered or randomized play, and pressing the battery life button to see how much juice remains. These smart concepts became the basis of the shuffle’s sequel, and the circular audio controller even appeared in other Apple products: the iPod Radio Remote, and the Apple Remote, which shipped with everything from MacBooks and iMacs to Apple TVs and iPod Hi-Fis.
So when we say that the third-generation iPod shuffle completely screws up a control scheme that worked well across two predecessors and multiple other Apple products, you can understand what a break it is with the past. Instead of using the prior, intuitive control scheme, it tries to squeeze all the same features into the aforementioned three-button in-line remote controller. There’s an unmarked, recessed central button, which generally replaces “play/pause,” plus comparatively elevated “+” and “-” buttons that serve as volume controls.
If you want to change tracks, skip forward or backwards through them, or check the battery’s status, you’ll need to learn a bunch of new controls, which don’t all fit into the “Start here” guide that comes with the shuffle. Instead, Apple lays them out in two separate web-based instruction pages: “Using Apple Earphones with Remote with iPod shuffle (3rd generation)” and “iPod shuffle: Checking the battery charge”. In brief, you need to double-click (forward), triple-click (backward), or click-and-hold (seek) the remote’s unmarked central button to change tracks or your position within them. To determine battery life, you have to quickly flick the shuffle’s power switch back and forth.
Rather than going into excruciating detail about these “mapped” button commands—equivalent to the secret key combinations that only power users learn for software—we will say only that they should have never been the primary or exclusive interface for a device aimed at users seeking simplicity. In the absence of on-device controls, Apple should have just created and included a five-button remote; repurposing the three-button version that was designed for screened iPods was a truly bad idea here.