Posters reading "Life is random" lined the walls of last Wednesday's Macworld expo as Steve Jobs and Apple unveiled their newest product in the ubiquitous iPod genealogy. The iPod shuffle is Apple's first step into the world of flash-based mp3 players, a move that many people believed Apple would never make. Clearly, dominating the realm of hard drive-based players was not enough.
The new product is roughly the size of a pack of Doublemint gum (3.3 x 0.33 x 0.98 in). I've always preferred Juicy Fruit, but I'm going along with Apple's whole mint-green marketing scheme. Fittingly, it weighs about as much as a single stick of that pack of gum (0.78 ounces). There are two models to choose from: 512 MB for $99 and 1 GB for $149. For the technological hipster knuckleheads with your iBooks and no knowhow, that means about 120 and 240 songs, respectively. Both models boast a 12 hour USB-rechargeable battery, equal to the regular iPod and four more hours than the mini.
So now comes the question to ask, often the case with many Apple products: is it all glitz, glamour and snob appeal? Or is white really the new everything? When the first iPod debuted with 5 GB of storage and a rotating scroll wheel, it truly was a breakthrough in the digital music world. No product had come close to offering what Apple did. Fast forward a few years and the industry is filled with iPod clones; some pitiful attempts and others skating the line of patent-infringement--every company trying to cash in on the popularity of that little white box.
The difference now is that the iPod shuffle is far from innovative. Small, flash-based players like the Creative Nomad Muvo have existed for years. Plop down an extra $100 dollars for the iPod mini and you get 3 more GBs of storage. Drop an extra $150 dollars for the regular iPod and you get 20 GBs of storage and a screen. Wait, the iPod shuffle doesn't have a screen? That's right. The front of the Shuffle hosts a circular control with a play button, volume adjustment, and skip buttons. The back has a battery indicator and a switch to choose between playing songs randomly or in order. How can they get away with this? It all comes down to marketing.
The first words to greet customers at the shuffle's website (www.apple.com/ipodshuffle) read, "Time to mix things up. Meet iPod shuffle, the unpredictable new iPod. What will it play next? Can it read your mind? Can it read your moods? Load it up. Put it on. See where it takes you." Call me a skeptic, but isn't that simply spin put on the fact that you can't choose what songs you want to hear? Am I to believe that unlike the Scarecrow from The Wizard of Oz, the Shuffle has a brain of its own? In fact, it kind of does. iTunes has a new feature called Autofill, which chooses from select playlists or from your higher-ranked songs. Or ditch that method and choose your songs manually.
So should you buy it? For music snobs who want their entire collection at their fingertips, the Shuffle's small capacity won't suit your needs. For people that want music during a workout, the new iPod is the perfect fit. It even comes with its own lanyard! Now I can hang it around my neck like the noose that Wharton gave me.