January 11, 2005
../ Apple Introduces New Flash iPods
Updated January 24, 2005
Apple solidified its dominance in the portable digital music player market
by introducing a new flash memory iPod in 512 MB and 1 Gig memory configurations.
The new model, called the iPod Shuffle for the way it can play a set list, is
about the size of a pack of gum and weighs less than an ounce.
The 512 MB iPod Shuffle costs $99
dollars and holds about 120 songs, the 1 Gig comes in at $149
and holds approximately 240 songs. Both price points snuggly fit into the lower end of the iPod line, and undercut it's competitors
in the Flash memory music player market - something quite uncharacteristic for the normally premium-priced Apple brand.
Apple saved production costs by not including a LCD screen, which is common on most Flash players. The small screens are
included to inform the user what song is playing, or to tee up a particular song or playlist. Instead, in their infinite marketing wisdom, Apple
decided to use the concept of the "Shuffle" feature as the main selling point. Instead of just listening to the same songs in the same order, Apple
feels that the listener should shuffle and listen to a new mix every time. Apple promotes the concept with a new
feature on iTunes called "Autofill" that downloads exactly the
right amount of music to the Shuffle without the painstaking process of drag 'n' dropping one song at a time. However, the user can manually
pick what music they want and also play the songs in a particular order if they so desire.
The iPod Shuffle comes with a neck lanyard and a pair of headphones. Additional accessories like a dedicated charger and an
arm-band are $29 extra. Ouch. The units can be
charged via the USB port, so the charger is not mandatory, but it would be useful if you decided to take the Shuffle on a trip that doesn't include your computer.
Battery life is said to be 12 hours, but is rumored to be more in the 15 hour range. After being lambasted for exaggerated battery
life claims in the past, Apple probably understated the life span to pleasantly surprise instead of disappoint buyers.
Many critics site the lack of a screen as a major drawback of the unit. However, we don't feel that this will be much of an
issue to the buying public. First off, Flash
memory digital music players are often used by individuals who exercise. How many times does one refer to the screen when under strenuous activity? Not often. Second,
the unit is equipped with basic playback controls, so if you don't like the current song being played, you can easily fast forward
without having to look at the unit. Third, the screens on many Flash memory players are extremely small anyway. Having to strain your eyes to see the information and wait for the song to slowly scroll its
way across the screen isn't that rewarding. Finally, the screens are often cheaply made, and thus a
source of problems. Eliminating the info screen not only saves money,
but also saves customer service issues.
We got our hands on an early release 1 Gig iPod Shuffle and found the sound quality to be excellent. The unit came
beautifully packaged in a distinctive green color and included a set of headphones
and a lanyard. Setup was extraordinarily simple and 190 songs from our collection were
loaded in about 20 minutes via the AutoFill feature. We have to agree with Apple,
shuffling from one song to
another was fun and yielded some unexpected playlists. The one thing that everyone agreed upon was the on/off button in the back was hard to operate.
It has a very smooth surface making it difficult
to slide into the desired position. The next generation device will definitely be upgraded to include a grooved switch for easy
operation because Apple is going to be inundated with complaints. The
other item, which the Shuffle needs desperately, is a way to "bookmark" a song that is currently playing. There were countless
times I was enjoying a song from the Futuremusic collection that I was
unfamiliar with. If I had a way to bookmark the song so that next time I plugged the Shuffle into iTunes I could familiarize myself with the new discoveries, then the Shuffle concept would blossom
into a truly rewarding experience. Without a LCD screen to tell you what song is playing or a bookmark system, I was left wanting after every iPod Shuffle interaction. This doesn't seem like a hard
thing to achieve with a software update, and would be a huge boost to the Shuffle concept.
The Future: Another huge hit for Apple. Perfectly priced. Large storage options. Easy to use. You know it's going to work (unlike many of the other Flash memory
players on the market). Fun and fashionable. Established brand name. The iPod Shuffle will certainly be a category killer.
>>> Digihear? January 2005
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