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.