iLounge reviews Apple’s 3G iPod shuffle: ‘the worst iPod ever released’ (with SteveJack rebuttal)

“Apple is smarter than you are. You never said so, but it knows you always want your devices to be thinner than they were before. Even if you complain about some high price or a proprietary new connector that makes you replace perfectly fine items you’ve already purchased—fancy headphones, a car stereo, whatever—it doesn’t care: you or someone you know will buy its latest product anyway. All it has to do is show a silhouetted guy dancing around with its latest music player and people will stand in line to pay full retail for it, even in a bad economy,” Jeremy Horwitz opines for iLounge. “Right?”

Horwitz states, “For the first time in iLounge’s history of reviewing iPod and iPhone hardware—one that has previously seen these devices rate everywhere from a flat A ‘high recommendation’ to a B- ‘limited recommendation’ —the answer should be ‘no.’ Yes, the third-generation iPod shuffle ($79/4GB) is Apple’s smallest and highest-capacity shuffle yet, defying those who thought that there wouldn’t be a need to carry 1,000 songs in a device without a screen. It comes with those famous shiny white earbuds and a remote control, there’s an Apple logo on the back, and it plays music. Plus, it talks! Well, sort of: a feature called VoiceOver plays simple, computerized song and playlist titles that are created by iTunes and transferred to the device.”

“But despite significant technical accomplishments, it’s also the worst iPod the company has ever released — designed not for the value-conscious consumers who originally wanted shuffles, but apparently, for the ever-narrowing niche of athletic users who want to listen to music but for whatever reason find the similarly shrinking, Nike-friendly iPod nano unappealing. In brief, the third-generation iPod shuffle is more challenging to use for simple things than the versions that came before, the least distinctive visually, and the most overpriced relative to what it actually delivers. It may be a clean design visually and impressive electronically, but conceptually, it’s a mess,” according to Horwitz.

“There’s no screen, no Click Wheel, not even the recognizable circular five-button controller found on the last two iPod shuffles… Those headphones—specifically, the fact that they require the user to learn and use an integrated three-button remote control—are the new iPod shuffle’s single biggest Achilles’ heel,” Horwitz writes. “They needlessly and foolishly complicate a device that was originally designed to be Apple’s easiest to use, forcing the user to learn a series of tricks to coax the shuffle to skip, fast forward, or rewind tracks, or even to reveal its current battery life: it is, in sum, the Microsoft-like opposite of the Apple we once knew, making users adapt to a product’s quirky interface rather than designing the interface for a great user experience.”

Full article here.

MacDailyNews Take by SteveJack:

iLounge is smarter than you are. You never said so, but iLounge knows you always want your devices to be thicker than they were before. I could go on and on with this, but you get the point.

iLounge is also apparently smarter than Apple and is somehow privy to better market research than the multi-billion dollar company that invented the iPod; market research that proves that “athletic users who want to listen to music but for whatever reason find the similarly shrinking, Nike-friendly iPod nano unappealing” is “an ever-narrowing niche.” Such a niche would have to be “ever-narrowing,” of course, since athletic users are quite likely buying more iPod nanos precisely because they are Nike-friendly and have now become plenty tiny enough for most any athletic activity. Therefore, it seems to me that Apple is attempting to reposition the shuffle or perhaps even – *gasp* – milk it for its last go ’round.

Horwitz’s mistake was reviewing the iPod shuffle as if it’s the only iPod available. It’s not and it shouldn’t be reviewed that way.

The question at the heart of the matter actually is: Who’s the target market for the iPod shuffle? The iPod nano is now small enough for just about anyone and it provides so much more to users that the only logical answers are:

• Poor people who are so poor that they can’t afford US$149, but, for some reason, can afford $79 for a discretionary item.
• Impatient 12 year-olds saving their paper route and/or allowance money who can’t wait to get a nano.
• Cheap people. Really cheap people.
• Stupid people. Of which, admittedly, there are many. Just ask Microsoft, pay a visit to your average corporate IT department, or watch the U.S. Congress in session on C-SPAN.
• Impulse buyers.
• People who want the world’s smallest iPod, who understand what playlists are and how to use them, who aren’t flummoxed by three buttons on a cord and a handful of simple commands, and who don’t base their purchasing decisions on a single iLounge review, but rather on a wide-ranging selection of trusted reviews along with a tiny bit of confidence in their own abilities to effectively operate a cleanly-designed and extraordinarily simple device with the aforementioned three buttons on a cord and a handful of simple commands and, yes, this is the longest sentence, not to mention bullet point, that I’ve ever written.
• People who can wait a few weeks for an inexpensive control adapter to allow them to use their own headphones.*
• One of the 200 million people worldwide who are visually impaired.

I believe that the vast majority of potential iPod shuffle buyers fall into one or more of the last four categories. It’s a really narrow niche that I roughly estimate to total somewhere around at least 750 million potential customers worldwide. Everyone else: buy an iPod nano, iPod classic, or iPod touch. Apple won’t mind. Really.

*Apple should have had the control adapter ready to go at launch and probably even included it the box. Apple’s real mistake with the iPod shuffle is that the device should ship with a two-piece earphone setup so that Apple’s earbuds can be removed from the control unit and replaced with the user’s preferred earphones if they so desire. Most of the criticism about the iPod shuffle would not exist had Apple done so. Somebody at Apple wasn’t thinking – or wasn’t there to think that important detail through.

SteveJack is a long-time Macintosh user, web designer, multimedia producer and a regular contributor to the MacDailyNews Opinion section.

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