The New iPod Shuffle: I'm Sorry, but What's the Point?

Edit: I thought long and hard on whether I should post this or not, as I know anything perceived as negative of Apple will receive a lot of flack. And it has. However, let me set the record straight. I have full respect for the Apple Design team and by no means belittling any of their amazing effort. In fact I have recognized that they are almost 100% responsible for making business leaders recognize the power of design. So let me clarify, what I’m doing here is asking “Why?” and the reason for their strategy behind it all. I therefore would like to have a constructive discussion here and will not hesitate to delete comments that do not have any value add to this discussion.

I had a little shiver of anticipation when I heard from a colleague that Apple had released a new iPod Shuffle. What did the boys from Cupertino think up next?
When Apple’s homepage finished loading up, my immediate response was “What the hell is that?”
Also suitably confused I asked myself “Why”?
Why would there be a need for a super thin half a Mahjong tile that could talk back to you? Ok, so Apple decided to build a product around a great user interface that works with a technology that converts text to voice. Great! But tell me, what is the point of this product?
Later that day a friend SMSed me.
“What do u think of the new Shuffle?” He asked.
“Hmm…I’m starting to think what is the point of it all?” I SMSed back.
Beep. “The Apple brand is about great ideas and a company that innovates at all costs by pushes the boundaries. However such ideas with does not necessary make the Shuffle a better product.”
“Innovation for innovation’s sake?” I thought.
Beep. Another message came in. “But you are right, what is the point of having this product? When the rest of my iPods still work fine?”
Exactly the point of this post.
It has now come to a point where making a product smaller becomes a pointless exercise. How much smaller can you make it before the product becomes unusable?
Is having a device operating on pure remote control efficient? Don’t you think that this great technology could have been easily included in the next iPhone / iPod update? Then, is there even a reason for this product’s existence?
I think there will be a number of struggles ahead for Apple. With such frequent product updates, many of which are incremental, is there a point to even upgrade your already thin iPod Nano to the next new one?
Interestingly, it also looks like the world has finally caught up with Apple. With every product reiteration, Apple’s innovative application of technology in an easy to use framework does not seem to get them that far ahead of the crowd these days. With competitors getting better in creating equally compelling products, Apple’s impact just seems less and less exciting to me.

13 Comments
  • j.

    March 15, 2009 at 2:31 am Reply

    I disagree. I am now buying an iPod shuffle due to the price, a decent 4gb and the fact that I can now use playlists. Personally I think it’s beautiful and an improvement from the previous. I like how it has moved away from looking like an electronic product, good move for a product that spends most of its time clipped to sleeve/collar/belt, a nice yet subtle accessory. And also the flush headphone to mp3 transition is a very nice touch.
    You fail to provide any convincing evidence as to why this product shouldn’t exist apart from the fact that you and your text buddy both use iPods. So whats the point of this blog entry?

  • Daniel Chua

    March 15, 2009 at 2:37 am Reply

    i still have my first gen shuffle
    😉

  • lucywz

    March 15, 2009 at 3:40 am Reply

    if i didn’t have an ipod already and was not sure if i want one, i would more likely buy this new design just because it’s got new functions and smaller which seems to justify my splurge. i imagine many new customers do that. Same reason why food companies update their graphic design on cereal boxes and the curves on their bbq sause bottles every a few months.
    and of course there’re those who just keep on buying anything Apple offers and we can’t reason with them anyway, can we?

  • js

    March 15, 2009 at 9:49 am Reply

    One thing they do better then anyone else is their ability to excite and suprise.
    The new voice interface of the shuffle is a nice touch, its suprising cuz no one’s done it well before.
    A few years back we were all talking about wearable electronics, i think the neutural looks of this shuffle make it go well with most type of clothing.
    If don’t already own a 1st gen nano, this shuffle would be a product i’d buy.

  • DT

    March 16, 2009 at 1:10 am Reply

    Hello all, thanks for your feedback. Now let’s discuss.
    @J: You made some good points on Apple’s object focused design. But you have not answered “What’s the point” of this product. What you have described of your purchase decision could be describe almost any Mp3 player, cost, memory size etc. But are you sure it is so much better? What would happen if you lost your remote control earphones? Also don’t you think it would be bit of a bitch if you had to scroll through your 4GB of 1000 songs or play lists?
    So the point of this article? Well I though it was pretty clear. I’m challenging the need for a product to have so many re-iterations.
    @lucywz: Ah you mean the so called Apple Fanboys whom are blinded by love? I have to say I am getting there myself, with my iPhone and my soon to be purchase Mac Book.
    However I agree with you, as Apple holds a majority market share in the Mp3 player market, almost everybody and my Granny owns an iPod/iPhone of some kind. Therefore it will be a huge challenge and struggle to come up with the next great thing to entice your customers to upgrade.
    @js: I think your comment sums it up. Existing users have no reason to upgrade, and it is very likely the person on your left and right will already own one.
    @Daniel Chua: Great job, use less, and reduce our landfills! It’s not about green products, it is more about our buying behavior.

  • DT

    March 16, 2009 at 1:34 am Reply

    Hello all,
    It has taken a few discussions here and on twitter to get it clear in my mind about the issues at hand. I don’t think there is anything wrong with the physical product and/or the industrial design. What I do question, if you would like, is the objectives of the strategy behind the product and what Apple plans to do with it in the future.

  • Estelle

    March 16, 2009 at 7:47 am Reply

    I totally agree with you. I have this feeling with the entire collection of new iPods… Why should an iPod Nano have a moovement sensor? When I saw the new collection I thought “thank god I bought a nano just months ago”
    I miss the way Apple used to look to the clients, us, and at the ways we use their products.
    Where are the gaps that these technologies are meant to fill?
    Any research would give results like: people would like to share more. Why iPods don’t have bluetooth?

  • joseph

    March 17, 2009 at 1:16 am Reply

    There is a lot of hype about the sleek new design of the iPod Shuffle. People are eating up the re-design, paying much respect to the size with little regard to the true benefits that have been incorporated with the new speaking feature.
    The iPod Shuffle is being drooled over for all of the wrong reasons. The ADA-friendly music device has bridged the gap between the visually impaired and the audio aficionado. Never mind how the speaking feature can be used for the blind, say design blog authors, look how small it is!
    Bloggers and gadget geeks are abuzz because the Shuffle tells you what you’re listening to in a cool robot voice. But, have you heard that if you use a PC to load music, you get the lesser of cool robot voices (think Marge Simpson

  • Khaled

    March 18, 2009 at 5:54 am Reply

    I have to disagree the smaller in size the better as far as Im concerned its less bouncing around when you are on the running machine. Also by eliminating the controls its less to go wrong especially if the player gets a little wet during the workout, the screen/controls are usually one of the first things that goes when I have to replace a mp3 player.
    I think Apple are trying to capture the sansa clip market who have a very good mp3 player very similar in size and with a good storage capability. I also like the idea of the controls on the headphones, not having to unclip the player and fiddle with it to get the track you want will be a big plus and selling point for me. It will be interesting to see how the two compare sansa clip v new ipod shuffle.

  • DT

    March 20, 2009 at 10:02 pm Reply

    @estelle: Thanks for dropping by and sharing your thoughts. You are not the only one wondering why there is no Bluetooth!
    @joseph: Thanks for the thoughtful comment and taking the time to write it. I have to say also that access to the blind was something that also crossed my mind and I like to give Apple the benefit of the doubt but the cynic in me does not really think that was the intention. I could be wrong.
    @Khaled: Thanks for sharing your thoughts with the Sansa. It could be Apple looking to solidifying their position and locking the Sansa out of the market space.

  • gah

    April 8, 2009 at 2:56 pm Reply

    firstly i have to agree with you that i think this design is pretty nonsense, cos it really is nothing. you look at it and it doesn’t tell you anything. The previous generations of shuffles communicate the functional idea of a clip, the wheel to me always represents music medium (cd,tape,turntable etc). However i suggest not making too critical comments until u try it. Normally apple’s product are really logical stuff.
    anyway i have a 60gb ipod and i hardly look at the screen, it’s always on shuffle mode. so for 4gb that’s not an issue.

  • Andrew

    April 22, 2009 at 5:51 am Reply

    I think the point is, it’s so small you lose it and have to buy another one.

  • DSB

    June 2, 2010 at 9:42 pm Reply

    wow that Ipod shuffle looks great. The issue however I have with these little MP3 players, is that I cannot continue with the songs on the player, after I switch it off. The issue is of course that I keep on starting with the same song, over and over again. If I turn it off and want to start with an other song, I have to click next over and over again :(. Therefore a MP3 player with memory, display or shuffle is very important for me.

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