Does the iPod shuffle need protection?

The debate began only minutes after Apple introduced the iPod shuffle this past January: does a $99 or $149 iPod really need a case? Will people care about protecting an iPod that’s as close to “disposable” as Apple’s ever sold?

From day one, our assumption was this: just as was the case with earlier iPods, some people will care, and other people won’t. And we also guessed that early iPod adopters would scoff at the idea of protecting such relatively inexpensive iPods: after all, cases were made to protect major ($250-$600) investments, not small ($100-$150) investments, right?

Not really. Though the first wave of iPod owners – those who paid $249 and up for their iPods – mightn’t care, there’s a substantial portion of the population that couldn’t afford iPods until the shuffle came along. A very substantial portion. By offering iPods at $99 and $149 price points, Apple dramatically expanded the market for iPods into a pricing category where successful products can see up to ten times their previous sales at $249-$599 prices – new prices that appeal to Walmart customers, impulse buyers, and younger iPod fans whose parents wouldn’t buy them more expensive iPods. Even though it’s considered inexpensive and disposable to someone who dropped $599 on a freshly released iPod photo, the iPod shuffle may be every bit as important and worthy of protection to the person who struggled to save $99 or $149.

(We won’t even get into a discussion of international iPod prices, which in many cases are considerably higher than U.S. prices.)

    There’s more evidence of this reality than we need to highlight, but take a gander at just a few of these iLounge Discussion Forum threads, which give both sides of the debate a chance to air their views:

    iLounge Forums > General iPod Discussion > iPod shuffle > ***caution*** Read Before Using Shuffle

    AndyHDZ from Sunnyvale, California writes: “The shuffle is as close to ‘disposable’ as we are going to get for a mp3 player.”

    and Punkr0x from Buffalo, New York writes: “I wish 99 bucks was ‘disposable’ to me. I’m sure careful not to scuff my shuffle all up.”

    iLounge Forums > General iPod Discussion > iPod shuffle > Shuffle Durability

    Provboy from Manila, Phillippines writes: “My shuffle already has a chip on the edge. and it’s only 3 days old. ouch”

    while iZach from California writes: “mine has a chip too but only cause some dumb girl dropped it on[] asphalt.”

    And finally, there’s iLounge Forums > Problems & Solutions > iPod shuffle > “Oh my god, I got a scratch!”

    Thundergroove from Chicago, IL writes: “does it still play music? how is a scratch going to hurt it?”

    Original poster Brian responds, “It hurts the sexy stylish look of it. No decrease in performance, thank god. I’ll follow what my friend said. At least there is no screen that you have to look at thru scratches, so it doesn’t really matter. You can’t really see the scratches unless you are purposely looking for them anyway.”

    And Mobiuslogic from San Jose, CA adds this experience; “it’s more of a dent than a scratch… landed right on the edge of it and bashed it all in, like an ant took a bite out of it. *sob*” These sorts of comments from our readers are only part of the reason that we strive to provide comprehensive evaluations of iPod shuffle cases, even in light of occasional comments from naysayers that no one should care about protecting such relatively inexpensive iPods. This article, for example, states repeatedly that “[t]he [s]huffle simply does not need protecting,” and accuses Speck of “in effect taking advantage of the hype” by releasing the $19.95 SkinTight, which we rated a B+ overall.

    image

    Of course, we always appreciate honest differences of opinion, and even differences in eyesight, such as the author’s statements that “with the black model I received, I couldn’t see the green status light through the rubber,” and “sounds like a C score at best but in my opinion, it shouldn’t have been made let alone sold.” But obviously, and as the photograph above illustrates, we disagree on all of these points – as well as the underlying premise of the article, which is that it “doesn’t make sense” to “[p]rotect your iPod shuffle.”

    The difference of opinion is actually a small one. Over time, some of our editors have become a lot less scratch-sensitive about their own iPods – photos and shuffles alike – and other than attempting to preserve resale value or keep an iPod pristine for personal or photographic reasons, they aren’t as worried about the occasional scratch or blemish as they once were. But obviously, these personal feelings have little bearing on whether it makes sense for you to protect your iPod against scratches, and we certainly wouldn’t tell you that your investment isn’t worthy of protection if you think that it is.

    At iLounge, we recognize that opinions may vary, and regardless of our own opinions, we always want our readers to have enough factual information to decide whether a product is right or wrong for their personal needs. And we don’t pretend that all of our readers have the same needs: we know that our readers’ lifestyles and budgets hit all points on the spectrum, so it’s rare that we’d ever say a product “shouldn’t have been made let alone sold.” As our Discussion Forum posts clearly show, some people want cases for their iPod shuffles, so we won’t just rate all iPod shuffle cases Cs or Fs on the theory that they’re equally worthless; rather, we highlight the differences between products and always try to point to the best-of-class solutions we’ve seen.

    And since we’ve tested a whole bunch of different shuffle cases (and hundreds of different iPod cases – reviewed or unreviewed), we always add our own comparative opinions to the reviews and assign each product a rating based on all of the similar offerings we’ve seen. That said, we respect the fact that some readers may have good reasons to prefer a case we’ve rated a B+ over a case we’ve rated an A-. Our ratings are our opinions – informed opinions by virtue of access to so many different offerings, but still opinions nevertheless – and so long as we’ve provided you with enough information to make your own informed decision, we think that we’ve done right.

    What do you think? Do you protect your iPod shuffle or leave it to get scratched up? What’s the fair price for an iPod shuffle case? Was our description of Speck’s $19.95 SkinTight as “pricey” fair in your book, or not? Your comments are appreciated. And for more information on the iPod shuffle, check out our All Things iPod shuffle article.

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