Talking iPod Shuffle has its downside

By Pat Pilcher

Apple has done it again. Apple has released an incredibly tiny iPod shuffle, complete with jazzy text-to-speech voiceover technology so you know which song (it can store 4Gb worth, which is a lot of Mp3 goodness) is playing. Even better still the new iPod shuffle retails for a mere $155 - which is pretty sharp pricing for an Apple product.

All the usual IT pundits are of course gushing enthusiastically, and this isn't terribly surprising as the new shuffle initially seems to be a really cool concept. In practice however, I have my doubts.

My first concern stems from the fact that achieving such an incredibly tiny form factor has required Apple moves the playback controls to the headphones. This is both good and bad. The good news is that having in-line controls on my headphone cable is incredibly handy as it saves having to fish about in my jacket pocket to find something only marginally larger than a house key.

The not so good news however, is that the inline control is hard-wired into the headphones supplied with the Shuffle. If Apple's previous headphone attempts are anything to go by (as a reviewer I've used every iPod, iPod mini, iPod nano, and Shuffle they ever made) I can be fairly confident in saying that these headphones will probably suck performance-wise.

Where I'd previously been able to replace Apples yucky white-on-white ear dogs with my own better-performing earbuds, the Shuffle's inline controls make this a no win situation, leaving Shuffle owners stuck.

In all fairness, the sound quality of Apple's earbuds has definitely improved but is still not amazing, and any mid-range earbuds from the likes of Bose or Ultimate Ears tend to sound better.

Worse still, headphones don't tend to last long, and given the Shuffle's popularity with the gym bunny set, wear and tear is inevitable.

Trouble is, Shuffle owners need their headphones to control playback. Sure, there will be third-party headset options for the new shuffle, so it likely won't be a problem to source better-sounding replacements - eventually, anyway.

However, until this happens shuffle users are stuck with Apple ear buds or a useless shuffle if their earphones die.

Any new replacement headphones are likely to be expensive as they'll contain extra electronics for playback control. Wouldn't it have been smarter to charge another $10 and have the Shuffle's in-line playback controller connecting to standard heaphones via a built-in 3.5mm ear plug socket? $165 is still an appealing price point.

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