Tiny new Shuffle speaks up

The new iPod Shuffle is Apple’s third iteration of the ultra-compact music player. Though the player still does not include a screen, the newest Shuffle is the most advanced version. With a tiny form and a stunning 4 GB memory space, as well as its new VoiceOver feature, it is sure to catch the attention of many music aficionados.

The most obvious difference is the form. The new shuffle is almost completely aluminum, save the clip that is made of stainless steel. The silver and black options are simple yet beautiful, much like Apple’s design dogma. The new Shuffle feels like more of a fashion accessory than a piece of technology.

Much like the jump from the first to the second generation, the Shuffle has gotten even smaller, which is impressive when looking at the second generation player. The third generation Shuffle is half the size of the previous version. With such little surface area, Apple needed to change the new Shuffle’s control scheme to stick with the compact, intuitive design.

The new Shuffle’s controls are used via the new headphones. Though the power buttons are still located on the Shuffle, the volume, play, pause and other buttons are integrated on the headphone cord. The new earbuds are the same as previous iPod and iPhone editions, except that they have a small attachment above the cable zip on the right earbud cord. When wearing the headphones, this control capsule falls to about shoulder height, which is both intuitive and convenient. It includes three buttons: volume up, volume down and the center button.

Clicking the center button once pauses play or plays while paused, while clicking it twice changes to the next song. Clicking three times goes back to the previous song. Apple advertises that this new control scheme can be used “without taking your eyes off whatever you’re doing.”

The Shuffle has a unique on/off switch. Aside from the off position, there is a standard play switch that will go through all the songs of a playlist in order, and a shuffle switch, which will of course shuffle all the songs in the playlist. Overall, the new Shuffle only includes six buttons, but one feature makes it stand out from the rest.

Apple has created a new feature for all Shuffles called VoiceOver. With a simple free download from iTunes, the Shuffle can now “speak” to the user. By holding down the center button on the headphone attachment, the player will tell the listener the title and the artist of the track they are listening to. Holding it down even longer, the player will tell the user the name of the playlist. Holding it down for that long will cycle through the playlists and the user can then click again to select that specific playlist.

The controls may sound a little strange in print, but in person they are magnificent. The buttons yearn for exploration because of VoiceOver, and much of the time a person might cycle through songs just to hear the name and artist of every new song. VoiceOver understands 14 different languages, as well. VoiceOver’s technology is impressive. Much like Microsoft’s standard Text-to-Speech utility, the technology reads words and projects them into normal speech. It knows Coldplay and Kanye West as much local artists like Autovine and This Piano Plays Itself. Though the technology is not perfect, and the voice sounds slightly muffled when the button is pressed, the technology is representative of Apple as simply cool.

The Shuffle also has a new device connected, which uses a standard 3.5 mm headphone jack. Of course, this input for the computer is also the output for the headphones, which increases the minimalist value of this device.

The new Shuffle’s only issue is how small it is. Though it is difficult to notice and is not cheesy and “bling” like other players, especially because of its color options, it is extremely easy to lose. The fact that there is a specific set of headphones also means that users do not have the option of purchasing other unlicensed headphones because of a proprietary circuit in the control capsule. The earbuds are also slightly large for many users, which forces them to purchase third-party headphones.

Regardless of these shortcomings, the new Shuffle is a wonderful device. Some might be skeptical due to the fact that it does not have a screen, but this only increases its simple intuitiveness.

It is a wonderful flash player for those who already have a large hard-disk based mp3 player, like the iPod Classic or a Zune 120, but it is slightly difficult to recommend to those who have a new Nano. It is perfect for running, studying, cooking or whatever the listener might be doing because of how unobtrusive it is.

For only $79, it is a great higher-caliber gift option for a friend or family member. It’s easy to fall in love with the new iPod shuffle, and even easier to listen to music in an intuitive, fun and compact way.