Late last year, we heard that Apple was working on a version of the iPod shuffle with the headphone port that was added to 2008 iPods—you know, the one with remote control and microphone support. Why would the shuffle need a microphone, we wondered, given that it had no way to record anything? The signs pointed to either an imminent complete redesign or something else.
Today, we got our answer: the iPod shuffle lost its buttons. Now, you control playback through a pair of remote- but not mic-equipped Apple Earphones, and a new system called VoiceOver, which appears to be derived from the 2008 iPod nano. VoiceOver tells you the name of the currently playing song, and lets you switch playlists—a first for the iPod shuffle—by reading a list to you of the playlists stored on the device, and then letting you click the remote’s center button to select it. All that’s left control-wise on the shuffle is a three-position power, shuffle, and ordered play switch; Apple has even removed the power indicator, apparently, and replaced it with a VoiceOver prompt to recharge the device.
VoiceOver works for titles in English, Chinese (Mandarin), Czech, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish, and Turkish, and lets users choose within iTunes which language a given song title should be pronounced in. Interesting. And the voice becomes more lifelike if you use a Mac with OS X Leopard rather than a PC or OS X Tiger, switching from a robotic semi-feminine voice to a smoother male voice.
And, of course, it’s smaller than before, at least in most dimensions. Previously, the shuffle was 41.2 millimeters long; the new one is 45.2mm if you turn it on its side. A 27.3mm width has given way to 17.5mm, and depth of 10.5mm is now only 7.8mm, including the clip. It now packs 4GB of storage, a 10 hour battery—dropping from 12 promised hours in the prior one and 18 actual hours in testing—and comes only in two colors: silver and graphite black. Since it now has a polished steel rear clip, it looks like the back will be scratchable, even if the rest of the body isn’t.
It’s interesting that Apple didn’t hold an event to announce the new shuffle, given that it does constitute a full body and feature redesign, but then, it’s possible that this buttonless little device really wouldn’t show so well at an event. Even moreso than the prior shuffle, the power it packs isn’t obvious from its face; we’ll need to see how it performs in real-world tests.
One last thought: does the lack of surface-mounted controls mean that this is the end of the iPod shuffle as an in-car iPod? Or will accessory makers come up with a control/line-in cable that can be used in vehicles? The mind races.