4 gig iPod Shuffle – Listening Blindfolded

iPod ShuffleFor all that they’re small and svelte and functional, the iPod Shuffle is, in my opinion, a really crap mp3 player in it’s 1 gb incarnation, let alone any 2 gb and 4gb versions that may come along this Autumn.

I can just about live with the idea of auto-filling your MP3 player with a random collection of tunes from your collection. Quite frankly, I’m amazed that Apple can take the approach of trimming out anything that costs money and could increase the unit build cost …and label it as a the greatest feature since sliced bread. But then, I’m pretty much convinced that Apple could sell a low powered processor box with minimal memory as a brand new concept computer.

I digress, so those Apple fans best look away as this is going to be pretty critical of the iPod Shuffle. the 512mb iPod Shuffle is actually a pretty nice beast, although navigating around is a complete pain. I’m sorry but shuffle as a concept is great, and works for some people, but the majority of people I bet are using the iPod shuffle in consecutive mode, going from track to track.

My biggest problem? You need to wait till you hear the next song when skipping forward or back a track before you can skip to the next one. One thing I find with my portable music (given that I don’t spend more than about £100 on a portable music device, hence no 60 gb monsters) is that I’ve a rough idea where songs are in my track order. I know it takes 21 skips to get all the way through Duran Duran’s Greatest if I want to get to Kirsty MacColl’s Tropical Brainstorm. Try doing this on an iPod Shuffle – it takes forever as you wait for each track to be loaded so you can skip it.

I can live without a screen (after all, my cassette walkmen never did) but what I really need is a ‘group skip’ function, or at the very least ‘jump forward 10 tracks.’ It could be done in firmware, a double tap on the forward or back buttons would do it (single tap is skip one and hold down is fast forward at the moment), but while there are Linux firmware hacks for regular iPods, there doesn’t seem to be anything for the Shuffle. The simple controls need a kick up the backside to get the Shuffle anywhere close to acceptable – but who am I to argue with 2 million of the little buggers sold since it launched?

Okay I’m not 100% dissing the Shuffle – the 512mb Shuffle is actually pretty good for when you’re at the Gym and bouncing around a lot, but the idea that 1 gb version is actually better in terms of usability is laughable – let alone the mess that navigating around the proposed 2 gb and 4gb models that are likely to happen (if for no other reason than Moore’s Law). With a potential 960 songs on the 4gb Shuffle (which is the same size as the iPod Mini) you’re going to have to rely completely on the random nature of playback and filling of the machine – and believe the marketing from Apple. I wish you all well, it’s not for me.