iPod Shuffle, Take Three: Form Trumps Function
Wednesday's product launch of Apple's third-generation iPod Shuffle highlights the company's obsessive attention to design. The new version of Apple's most affordable digital music player arrives in a reduced color palette (with only silver and black being offered, compared to the virtual rainbow its predecessor has for color choices) and a single drive size: 4GB.
The feature Apple would most like prospective buyers to focus on is the voice feature, which provides audio cues for song information and playlists, information that's been missing with the simplified controls and lack of display on the previous Shuffle incarnations. (See PC World's video tour)
The other noticeable feature, however, may not prove as popular. The familiar iPod controls have been removed from the iPod and shifted to the headphones, which now have a tiny built-in remote. It may give the new Shuffle a streamlined design, but it also ties Shuffle owners to Apple's ear buds. Replacing the ear buds if they were lost or broke will set U.S. customers back US$29 for the ear buds with remote, or $79 if they follow the first link provided at the online Apple Store for "Apple In-Ear Headphones."
In contrast, SanDisk offers the Sansa Clip, a 4GB player at a price point hovering around $60, compared to the Shuffle's $79. It may lack Apple's voice feature, but does allow the user freedom of choice in headphones, as well as an FM tuner. As Apple continues to demand, rather than encourage, complete customer buy-in of its products, buyers may start to look elsewhere for competing products that trade the focus on design for user freedom of choice.