Blog Post

New iPod Shuffle Interface is Killing People: Apple Sought For Questioning


Yes, the headline is an exaggeration, but as I read more and more about the reaction to this thing I’m really struck by some of it.

“If I lose my headphones then I can’t use the device!” Well, if you lose your headphones now what do you do? Hold the thing up to your ear and crank the volume? You need to get headphones in either case. And third parties will provide more options.

The interface gets lots of flack. Apparently the click, double-click and triple-click is just too much. No one can use it. Grandma will be helpless.

Much is made, for example, of the diagram Apple supplies about its usage:


How quickly we forget that the 2G unit had a diagram of its own:


Yeah, neither one is pretty. I learned long ago not to even try to remember the status of the lights.

Let’s think about what you do most of the time with this thing:

  • Play/Pause
  • Volume Up
  • Volume Down
  • Next Track
  • Last Track

I’d say as a device meant more to be used while exercising, at the gym, etc., the above covers what you do 95 percent of the time. So let’s look closer at those…

The Three Basics

One can see that the first three items are the same for both devices. You have an upper button to raise volume, a center button to play/pause, and a lower button to lower volume.

orientation1 However, notice those buttons will always be oriented correctly on the 3G shuffle. Gravity will see to that. On the 2G shuffle, however, that’s not the case (see photo). Depending on how you wear it, the orientation will be different. And remember that you’re not facing the darn thing when you use the controls. It’s controlled while being worn. I can’t possibly be the only one who used this thing in the real world and noticed that.

So right off the bat I can say the usability of the the three main controls is actually better and easier on the new shuffle than the old.

Next and Previous

Regarding next track, instead of a separate button you now use the center button and double-click. Those decrying this are overreacting. It’s not like it’s a foreign concept that a user will balk at. Some of us have been double-clicking for 25 years! In actual use, I’m sure I could go to the next track as quick, if not quicker, than any 2G shuffle user.

That leaves previous track. A triple-click is a bigger leap, I’ll grant. However, with the concept of next track easy to grasp at two clicks, I don’t think explaining a third click for previous will be that tough.

And remember, the orientation issue of the buttons when wearing the old shuffle applies just as much to the next/prev buttons. In actual use the buttons will not be oriented like you see in the marketing photos, and the device is not facing you. With the headphone controls, the orientation never changes and they’re always right there.

Will You Hold, Please?

All the ruckus about how other, less used controls require holding the button down also seem much ado about nothing.

First, click and hold, like a double-click, is not a new concept, so can we stop acting like nobody will ever get it?

Second, the 2G button had its share of holding, too, which everybody seems to have forgotten. You had to click/hold the center button to enable/disable the controls (i.e., the “hold” function). The 3G doesn’t need this feature because the controls were wisely moved off the device.

You also had to click/hold to fast forward or rewind. In short, you executed the next (or previous) track command but then kept the button held down. The 3G works the same way. This really isn’t that tough folks.

Remote Controls are Great

Remember the original iPod came with a remote? Yep, it clipped to your person and let you not have to fiddle with the device. It lasted a generation or two, but like the dock and extra cables, it got cut when Apple scaled back costs. Still, Apple knew the convenience of this capability, and I’m glad it’s back.

When the iPhone required the remote headphones that came with it, I don’t remember anybody screaming about how they were stuck with Apple’s headphones. And yet that was an expensive device where one may have more reasonably thought they’d have more choice.

Apple’s had remote headphones for a while now, and it’s a breeze to operate them. The controls are always in the same place; they’re easier to use, not harder. Third parties are getting on board as well.

Size Matters

Moving beyond the interface, I’ve read several more comments that this thing may be too small. The comments seem to think the 2G was “just right.” What is this? Goldilocks? It’s meant to be worn, people. Smaller is better.

Look at it This Way

Everybody trying to shoehorn this into the iPod line with standard thinking will have their head explode. This thing is to the 2G shuffle what the original shuffle was to the iPod. Apple took an interface element people just assumed had to be there, and removed it. Many think it won’t fly, but I like it.

Think of it this way: Apple took their $29 remote headphones, and for $50 added a 4GB memory stick wrapped in beautiful aluminum with a 10-hour battery, full iTunes capability (including playlists and podcasts) and voice features, all at a tiny size and weight with a clip to hold it on.

Complain all you want, the more I think about it, the more I like it. I hope to have mine soon.

57 Responses to “New iPod Shuffle Interface is Killing People: Apple Sought For Questioning”

  1. Adam Blaiss

    @Tom – One quick note:

    “Apple was already MAKING the remote headphones, so all they had to do was include a pair (basically, they just rolled their remote technology down to the shuffle line).”

    I believe these might actually be a “different” set of remote headphones, as they do not include a microphone, while every other remote set has included a mic. While not a radical departure, a change had to be made somewhere down the line.

    Once again, I think the new Shuffle looks great, but I really do think that forcing the earphones (at least until we get more options) will limit sales after the initial rush. People go into stores and check it out, then realize that they will have to use the Apple earphones, and that will be a turn off for some. In fact, one of the great things about going into the Apple store is testing the iPods with all the high end earphones they carry, but you’ll be pretty limited in what phones can be tested with the Shuffle.

    Maybe I’m wrong, time will tell, I suppose. Just my opinion, but obviously, this is striking a nerve with a lot of Apple fans across the Intertubes so there is at least a little merit there.

  2. Xairbusdriver

    I sit corrected! And I just got new lenses!! 8-| Glad to see, or at least read (finally), that there are some controls available. But I can also see the problem caused by losing the the earbuds. Looks like I’ll have to learn a bunch of codes and get better glasses, too! LOL! Thanks for the very tactful response to my stupidity! ;-)

    Man, I just knew I’d make it to the end of March for my first misteak of the yeer…

  3. @27 you are missing a lot. First: its not only an “on/off” switch, but a “shuffle/loop/off” switch. So you can play music in order.
    And second: The earbud-controls are “+” “-” and “center click”. And the first table in this article provides you a complete overview about all the possible control-variants you have with the new shuffle.

  4. Xairbusdriver

    I must be missing something (again?). But what does any of this article (and the responses) have to do with the _new_ shuffle? As far as I can see, there is NO control of any kind except for the ON/OFF switch on the body and the “+” & “-” deal on the earbud cable. Where’s the chart for what these ‘controls’ do? At least it would be nice to play the list in order of installation. Just because it’s called “shuffle” doesn’t mean that’s the only way to play a list. That certainly wasn’t the way the early ones worked. I guess 4GB would be fine for longer ‘songs’ (opera’s?) but I can see much more use if it can be turned into a ‘thumbdrive.’ ;-) Just my opinion, but I like it! LOL! :-P

  5. Adam,

    “What Apple should have done would be not include headphones but a small dongle that plugs into the headphone port and includes the controls,”

    I appreciate what you’re saying, but believe it isn’t appropriate for the low-end of the iPod line.

    Apple was already MAKING the remote headphones, so all they had to do was include a pair (basically, they just rolled their remote technology down to the shuffle line). Your solution is to create a new device. It’s not just a simple adaptor. A standard headphone jack has no facility for the extra signal to send controls to the player.

    Apple may very well be working on one, but it’s going to cost you, and it’s an extra dongle you have to carry around. Had one been included with the shuffle everybody would be screaming that the shuffle was too expensive (it’s already $10 more than the previous high-end), and of course they’d complain about having the extra dongle. Further, they’d ask why Apple is “forcing us to use a dongle”!

    In short, your point may be valid, but the solution would have increased the cost and just led to a different type of whining. Apple may offer it as an option, though.

    I think the jury is out on third party ‘phones that have already been introduced with remote controls. Not sure if they will already work with the shuffle or not.


    Those of you who apparently have a pile of extra headphones laying around the house. I’ll assume you didn’t steal them, so since your headphone budget is huge just pick up a spare pair of the Apple headphones at the time of purchase and your nightmare is solved. I mean, seriously, this is a silly argument.

    As for those who cannot wear Apple’s headphones because they fall out of your ear. I understand that and, for now, the shuffle is not for you. Period. I believe third partys will change that soon but until then this is simply not a product to consider. But you know what? I think Apple figures the number of you is comparatively tiny to the millions of users who will simply use the total solution that Apple sold them. I think Apple’s right.

  6. @adam Blaiss:

    No, you don’t need a remote to start the music. The music will start if you switch the button from “off” to one of the two playback-options. Really simple and works with every kind of earphones.

    And: Most people seem to forget or haven’t read yet, that apple is in touch with other earphone-maker to either help them making remote headphones or, afaik, to make an remote-adapter for standard-earphones without controlls. It’s just a matter of (short) time I guess until everyone may use his most favorite earphones with the shuffle.

    BTW: This reminds me of the complaints about the first iMac: WTF??? No floppy drive? How can they build a computer without floppy drives?

    Hm. It even reminds me about the complaints about the Air: WTF??? No CD drive? How can they build a computer without a cd drive?

    Someone should make a diagramm about the “whine-to-win” ratio for Apple products: The more people are whining the bigger the success will be.

  7. You guys all understand that this interface really isn’t new – right? The whole track play/next/prev was in the 3G iPhone (more accurately probably part of an iPhone software update). The only new functionality is the click and hold section for hearing your playlists.

    Now, I can’t vouch for the Shuffle just yet, but I can for the iPhone. I have the Shure mic with button extension cord, so I can use my Shure earbuds to make calls instead of using the iPhone’s earbuds. And do you know what? The button on the Shure works the iPhone’s iPod controls!!! Whose to say that the same won’t hold true with the Shuffle?! Obviously we’ll need someone to get a shuffle and try it out – but it seems likely. And granted my cord has a mic in it as well, but the accessories are basically there already. How hard would it be for Shure and other companies to develop this cord sans-mic? Probably not hard

    And when it’s all said and done – us that want custom earbuds are a small user group. I can’t tell you how many people I see using the standard Apple earbuds. I think the average consumer will probably not care – because they’re already using Apple earbuds!

  8. Great article and funny too!. This fuss reminds me of people (alas, myself included) who made fun of Macs and their ‘pointy mouse thing’ in the mid-80s. Fortunately, I’ve grown less cranky as I have grown older. These new headphones are such a great idea, they’re on my must-have list when I replace my iPod mini.

    If some want to whine, they should pick a more sensible cause. That’s the quirky and non-standard power-and-synch adapter for the Shuttle. Lose that and your really are in trouble.

    Apple should do what cell phone manufacturers are beginning to do–put the micro-USB connector on the Shuttle. They’re cheap; you can find them anywhere; and the same charger that works with your cell phone will charge your Shuttle.

  9. @Adam
    Again i second that, besides of the sound quality, which is a matter of taste, I personally just can’t use the apple’s headphones, because they simply dont fit in my ear and fall out. I need eigher headphones that use those little ear-hooks, just to make them actually stay in/on my ears, or full sized enclosed headphones, which neighter apple offer.

  10. If you don’t like the 3G just go and get a refurbished/used 2G. They should be a lot cheaper now. You still have a choice–make it and stop the whining.

  11. Constable Odo

    How would you lose your headphones if you keep them in the device. I can understand breaking them, but losing them is probably unlikely. I’m glad I know how to splice headphone wires, so Apple would have nothing on me. Anyway, for those that don’t like the no-button Shuffle, feel free to go buy a Sansa Clip which is supposedly 5X better and much cheaper than any Apple Shuffle. You get buttons, display, FM radio, recording, and one ugly chunk of a player. You don’t like the new Shuffle? Glance at it, say it’s not for you and move on. Life is easier that way.

    Do you know how many recorder devices and converter boxes don’t have all the buttons on the main unit? You lose your remote and you’re screwed. But I guess nobody seems to notice this. Only when Apple comes out with a device without buttons on the main device it’s like the end of the world and Apple will fail big-time. Wrong. Personally, I think there’ll be a hell of a lot of people that will be happy with this new Shuffle. You’ll see after the rest of the mp3 player companies start mimicking Apple with remote switches. That’s why the player is so small or can’t anyone figure that out.

    I’m not saying it’s a great thing. It’s just a matter of marketing the NEXT thing whether it’s better or not. Apple is definitely trying to create a halo on all it’s products to lock users into buying more Apple products. There will be aftermarket headphones eventually that work with the Shuffle but meanwhile Apple has got ya. I don’t care since I’m an Apple investor and want people sucked into the Apple reality distortion field.

    I have never used those Apple ear-buds. They don’t stay in my ears at all and I use Etymotics. So I won’t be buying the Shuffle anyway. But just because it doesn’t suit me, it doesn’t make it an automatic failure.

  12. Adam Blaiss

    @Artur – That’s a great call! I would totally pay $30 for an Apple in-line remote that had a 1 or 2 line LCD like the old school Discman. Of course, I’d want it to be very light (the Apple in-line is on the cord on your right ear and you never even notice it’s there…that light) but that is a supreme idea.

  13. Adam Blaiss


    1) It’s not always about studio reference earphones. A lot of people just don’t like Apple’s earphones. When I am running or working out, I use cheap Sony headphones that have earhooks so I don’t care when they get sweaty and don’t fall off. None of Apple’s current headphone offerings with a remote supply that and certainly not at Sony’s price ($10).

    2) I’m pretty sure you will need to a remote to start the music. So your second paragraph can be deleted.

    Look, I’m all for just using a remote and taking buttons off the Shuffle. I love my Apple In-Ear With Remote and using the remote for my Touch is awesome. And the new Shuffle looks great overall. But I still think that Apple could meet the best of both worlds by just including an in-line remote. Since I would use a Shuffle in a gym experience, necessitating the earhook headphones, I’ll pick one up once I can get an in-line remote for a cheap enough price.

  14. I second the Adam Blaiss’s argument on this, i wouldn’t be complaining at all if apple would give us a small dongle that plugs into the headphone port and includes the controls. If they would do just that i can’t imagine this discussion take place. everyone could use Appple’s headphones, and if someone wouldnt like them (like me, they’re rubish when it comes to sound) it’s just a matter of switching the headphones, because the controls would be on the cable anyways. I had this kind of solution on my discman years ago and it worked great. Besides the controls it actually was displaying the song title/artist too, so it was useful, and i could choose whatever headphones i wanted.

    I know the whole idea of iPod Shuffle is that it’s the most wearable ipod, and it’s mostly for pople to use at gyms, when jogging etc. so you can easily say that those kind of people dont need high quality headphones anyway, but there are people that use this ipod everyday, just because they find it most useful/the smallest/whatever, and they do appreciate good sound quality. I didnt search, but i am 99% sure sennheizer or technics or [your favorite brand] does not offer ipod 3G compatabile headphones.
    My point is, if Apple decided to include the headphones with controls and make us use them, the least they could do is to make them high quality ones, so everyone would be happy, but they didnt, and the complains began.

  15. Gazoobee


    Tom writes an excellent article about how lame all the whining about the new shuffle is and explains in detail how it has no real basis, and all the responses are …. lame whining about things that have no real basis?? Brilliant! :)

    The Apple earbuds are not the best for everyone, but we are talking about a cheap, almost throw away PMP here. All you professed “audiophiles” are either lying to us, or to yourselves in that if you need $200 dollar headphones I just don’t believe you will be buying the cheapest iPod on the block to stick them into. Also, you can buy the “in ear” Apple headphones anyway, so you have two chioces.

    Also, other headphones *do* work in the shuffle, you just wont have any access to the controls. So??? It’s a “SHUFFLE,” get it? Given that the stated raison d’être of the shuffle is just to randomly play a bunch of shuffled music, just plug whatever headphones you want in there, put it on shuffle with the hardware shuffle switch and go for your run. Most people use playlists anyway, in that case switch the shuffle switch to off.

    Is it really going to kill you if for ONE DAY (assuming you misplace the earbuds), you have to jog without the ability to advance past a song you don’t like? So what? What the heck do people expect when they buy a budget PMP anyway?

    “I’m not going to buy this product because even though it’s cheap as dirt and has more capacity than other payers and has cool features that they don’t have it’s possible that some day I will lose my earbuds for a short while and thus have to suffer through only having the original features that it came with for at least a day or two and then it will only be just as good as all the others and not significantly better.”


  16. Exactly

    @Adam Blaiss: Exactly! Why aren’t more people pointing this out? I love the old remote, but hate Apple’s earbuds, especially for working out.

  17. “Suppose I want to use my fancy enclosed studio reference headphones? Not with this iPod…”
    Ah yes. I regularly take my studio headphones with me when I’m jogging. Nothing like a proper heavy pair of headphones to test those neck muscles while running.

    These are all the same arguments that are brought against Apple products time and time again. Most aren’t intended for people who absolutely have to get the utmost performance out of every device. They are for the those who like stylish products with elegant software and innovative interfaces.

    The Shuffle is made for ultra-portability, not sound quality.

  18. stop whining and buy the adapter when it’s available or don’t buy.

    in case you don’t understand, Apple is in the business of selling things not accommodating you. Apple tries to make things really cool and changing things just enough to make you buy one.

    BTW, you can still buy the 2G shuffle on if you need it.

  19. I agree with Adam. If apple was going to use this “remote”, then they should have just kept it as that: a remote. I personally cannot stand Apple’s headphones as they hurt my ears. I can’t stand earbuds in general. Too bad I suppose, maybe I’ll see if I can still get a 2G shuffle while they’re still around. Other than the headphones, I actually liked the shuffle quite a bit…

  20. HobbesDoo

    Great article! I always find fascinating how much whining goes on when Apple releases a new product. I guess the most fascinating part is that probably most people whining don’t even want to buy the product they’re whining about. It’s that simple, if you don’t like it, don’t buy it and stop the whining. Geez!

  21. For me, this is less about removing the controls from the body of the device and more about forcing customers to use the included (and likely dreadful!) headphones. Suppose I want to use my fancy enclosed studio reference headphones? Not with this iPod…

  22. Adam Blaiss

    What Apple should have done would be not include headphones but a small dongle that plugs into the headphone port and includes the controls, and you can plug your headphones into that. People that are buying a Shuffle almost definitely have some headphones already that they like and this allows all people who buy it to use whatever headphones that they want. And if you want Apple headphones, you can buy them separately. This makes more sense then requiring you to use Apple’s headphones until they release a dongle to buy separately. And this is coming from someone that has the new In-Ear Headphones that will be compatible with the Shuffle.

  23. @walkerp: Sounds like your problem is losing stuff, not Apple requiring a set of headphones with a controller. :) If we’re following your argument, you’d need multiple shuffles laying around in case you misplace one.

  24. You want to go for a jog. You grab your shuffle. The headphones don’t work or you misplaced them. You grab and old pair at least for that run. Then when you have time, you go buy a new pair. Can’t do that with this shuffle. Clearly, different users behaviours are different, but this happens to me all the time.

  25. @walkerp: I don’t have “tons of old headphones around.” Or at least certainly not ones I’d want to use…that’s why I stopped using those old ones…because I didn’t like them. If I lose the headphones I like, I buy a new pair…not continue to use ones I don’t like.

  26. You miss the point about the headphones. Everybody has tons of old headphones around that you can swap in if you lose or break your primary pair. With this new shuffle, you won’t be able to do that. It makes a big difference.