Since its introduction, and despite its wild commercial success, the iPod Shuffle has been criticized, mocked even by some computer cognoscenti. People who knew best said it lacked a screen, an FM tuner, was too expensive, that its shape was uninspired or its battery life too short. Yet, to me, the iPod Shuffle still is the best iPod ever.
Known among Mac people as “the iPod you should not chew”, the iPod Shuffle barely is an iPod. While even the Nano or the Mini shared a familiar interface with the original iPod, the Shuffle was the most distant relative one could imagine. Indeed, in terms of interface and controls (directional buttons instead of a scroll wheel), coating (plain white plastic instead of shiny acrylic), screen (duh!) or guts even (the iPod Shuffle marked the arrival of flash memory in the iPod line), this little device was a revolution in the Apple offerings.
Strangely enough, and this may be the real cause of the lukewarm reception it got, it was not a revolution in itself. In fact, many rightly pointed out Apple had finally acknowledged the many “crappy players” (in someone’s own words) that had made MP3 so popular a long while ago and done its own version of them, only not “crappy”.
To me, the iPod Shuffle is essentially a cheap machine: the plastic is nice, for sure, but doesn’t really attract any attention, especially given it tarnishes so fast, the controls have a feel that is very reminiscent of my old T68i and the USB cover gains a slightly wobbly feel after some intensive un-capping and re-capping cycles. In fact, everything about the iPod Shuffle screams “abuse me, I’m nothing special”.
Being an Apple product, though, you can abuse it without breaking it — and my own Shuffle would tell you it has been through some though times. Not feeling or looking like an Apple product, though, it invites abuse, like the worthless pieces of junk that litter the player market. That very quality makes it the only iPod I truly enjoy.
Taking it out in the subway at 11PM? Doable. And if someone attacks you, it’s $100 going away: bad but not life-threatening. Take out a black Nano in the same train and you may be found a couple hours later tied to a seat, wearing nothing but underwear. The same holds true for drops, scratches, diet cokes thrown into your lap… Just about everything that would send your regular iPod to the music player clinic the Shuffle just whistles through.
Don’t get me wrong, I think Nanos rock. But they’re like a Hermes belt: you like them because they’re gorgeous and special, not because of the mileage you get out of them. The Shuffle is the Volvo of the music player world: people may rant about it not being “special” but they still buy them because the quality is impeccable and it never fails.
All in all, the iPod Shuffle is the only non-Apple hardware product Apple is currently manufacturing. And I’m sad to see it is being mocked.