Friday, March 20, 2009

Million vs. Billion

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Normally, I don't post comics here (I save that for my LJ, where I put the less-serious posts) but this one tells a world of truth.

1000 Times

Thursday, March 12, 2009

New iPod shuffle, now without any controls!

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Update 3/17/2009: New information about the controls (seven operations on the middle button, not five), fixed a typo, and added a little more commentary.

This week, Apple released the third generation iPod Shuffle.

This unit is even smaller than before, if you can believe it. 1.8" x 0.7" x 0.3".

So how'd they get it this small? Simple, they removed all the controls.

Well, not really, but it seems that way. On the iPod itself, there is only a slider switch (off, sequential play, shuffle play) and the headphone jack. It is charged and attached to computers via the headphone jack and a proprietary USB cable.

So how do you actually control the thing? It uses a special set of headphones, with three buttons on the cord. This is the same kinds of headphones introduced for the iPhone, for "hands free" operation. On the cord, the "+" and "-" buttons control the volume. Between the two is a big flat button, whose behavior will depend on how you push it:

  • Click once to play/pause
  • Double-click to skip forward a track
  • Double-click and hold to skip forward within a track
  • Triple-click to skip backward a track
  • Triple-click and hold to skip backward within a track
  • Press and hold and a voice synthesizer will say the title and artist of the track currently playing
  • Press and hold until you hear a beep tone to skip to have your list of playlists recited to you. Click to select the playlist last-announced.
If you think this seems unusually complicated for an Apple product, then we're in agreement. It may be sleek and "kewl" to eliminate all the buttons, but when that design forces you to cram seven distinct features onto a single button, it's a bad design. Sure, it's documented, but let's be honest - how many iPod owners have ever read the documentation?

And, of course, there's the problem of what to do if you don't want to use Apple's headphones. Maybe you've got better-sounding ones, or you want to plug your shuffle into your car stereo or something. Without the proprietary earphones, the shuffle starts playing when you turn it on and stops when you turn it off, and that's all you can do. Not at all acceptable unless someone starts selling a set of controls you can attach in-line with a generic headphone/line cord.

My prediction is that this iPod is going to be quickly replaced with something more like the second-gen model, that has actual controls. Or there will be a new accessory to provide a more proper set of controls for those people who don't like the Apple headphone buttons and/or want to use a different set of headphones.