There were three lines out the door when I went this morning to Apple's downtown San Francisco flagship store to pick up an iPod Shuffle. I know, I know. I *just* bought a Creative MuVo, which is what inspired me to write that long Windows Media article on Saturday. What do I need a Shuffle for?! Answer: I just hate being trapped in Microsoft's DRMed world and Steve gave me a way to escape to his planet today and I took it! Besides, I'll be picking up a Mac Mini shortly and I want all my gadgets to play nice together. :-)
The only model they were selling today was the $99 512MB version, which I didn't mind, as that's the model I had decided was a good deal. They were selling them by the armload. Seriously, the guy in front of me bought ten of them (picture above) and wacked over $1,000 on his credit card without blinking. Luckily, as this was the only product people were buying, the long lines actually moved reasonably fast and I was out of there in less than 30 minutes with my shiny new iPod.
It's definitely sleek, and comes with a little strap that goes around your neck (that Apple calls imaginatively a "lanyard" - I've never seen that word before in my life). All you get in the package is the "stick", the lanyard, an extra USB plug cap (in case you don't feel like walking around with it hanging around your neck), two white Apple stickers and the iTunes set up disk. Oh, and a little laminated card which explains the controls and what the embedded red, amber and green LEDs on the front and back of the Shuffle mean (battery levels mostly). There's no power charger, it gets its juice solely from your USB slot when it's plugged in. And on a Windows PC at least, when you plug it in, it looks just like another drive like any of the number of other flash-based players out there.
There's just two play modes - straight through and shuffle. I find it incredibly amusing that Apple's marketing department has successfully compensated for the fact that the device doesn't have a display for navigating your music and folders by making a standard feature on all music devices the key selling point of the music player. "Life is random" Honestly, only Apple could get away with it. Which they have and I feel good about it. They should have classes at major institutions which do nothing but study Apple marketing. I'm reading the Tipping Point now, and in the first few pages it talks about how American industry has two main competitive advantages left: Inventive technology and Marketing. This device is definitely on the latter side of that equasion.
Anyways, I loaded up iTunes 188.8.131.52 on my virgin corporate laptop and it detected the plugged in iPod with absolutely no troubles. Again, since it shows up as a drive this isn't that miraculous, but it's nice to see. As I was installing the software I thumbed through the manual and low-and-behold, in addition to AAC, MP3 and WAV formats, the iPod Shuffle also supports Audible's custom AA format!! Woohoo! Since I just bought two audio books last week before I figured out that my MuVo didn't support that format, I was psyched. And unlike iTunes which AMAZINGLY doesn't let me re-download my purchased music, Audible will allow you to log in and re-download your files. Wooohoo! I take everything bad I said about Audible before back. I can now listen to David Sedaris and Douglas Adams on the way home tonight in the car. Rock!
As none of my music is on my work laptop, that's all that's on my "stick" at the moment, and there's still over 400MB free, which is pretty great. I think it's really annoying that iTunes doesn't let you re-download the music you've already purchased. It'd be nice to grab the $120 worth of DRMed music that I've already paid for on my device now.
So back to the Shuffle vs. MuVo comparisions. A few weeks ago when I was looking for audio players, $100 for 256MB was definitely the sweet spot in the market, so getting 512MB for the same price already makes the Shuffle a bargain. After that though, you would think that the MuVo wins hands down, especially since I had that extra 512MB MMC hanging around to plug into the extra memory slot it supported bumping the total up to 768MB. But it doesn't. First, I'm starting to miss that extra memory in one of my phones, so I wanted to take it out and I was thinking about swapping it for a smaller size MMC anyways, and secondly, dealing with two drives when I plugged the device in was a pain (what should I put where, and what gets played during shuffle?). Secondly, the menu system on the MuVo is pretty bad. After a couple weeks of using it, it's still confusing. I have to *look* at it: so the iPod Shuffle *definitely* wins for in-car use (where I use an audio-player the most), you don't have to look at it at all. But, the MuVo also has a stop-watch and a radio, and comes with a running strap, all for $99! The iPod Shuffle doesn't have any of that, and the running strap costs $30!!! But if you factor in the ease of use, the fact that I can amortize my already-purchased music, can now download audio books and the fact that, hey, I get to have an iPod(!), the Shuffle, wins hands down.
I will say one thing - the lack of controls means that there's also a lack of any adjustable equalizer. I don't have another iPod right here to compare it to, but from memory it definitely doesn't have the same sound quality as the other iPods I've heard based on the one music MP3 I have hanging around. Really, it's just a normal MP3 player, which is fine since I'm mostly listening to Podcasts, but I like pumping up the bass when exercising.
Regardless of the device itself, you have to admire Apple's incredible long view of the market. Not only are they selling what would seem like inferior music technology (wasn't Jobs ridiculing Flash based players just last year?), but they didn't really canabalize their existing products to do it. Notice how this came out a few weeks *after* the Christmas rush? I almost bought an iPod Mini this Christmas but went with a cheaper option (to the benefit of Creative). There are many people, I'm sure, that didn't fall on my side of the line, but went with the iPod mini because that's what was cool and cheapest. Many of those people would've done what I did today and got the Shuffle.
Soooo... anyone want to take a slightly used Creative MuVo Sport 100 off my hands? :-)
Update: I just got a chance to see some Keynote highlights (which I hadn't seen before), and it looks like I repeated some of what Steve already said in terms of criticisms of the other audio players. That's interesting as this means they were able to predict where the pain points in the market were and how to address them. The Shuffle really is an incredible example of ignoring the competition and going with simplicity over functionality. You have to give Apple credit.
Also, I understand why I was able to get my Shuffle so easily now - Steve pointed out the nearby Apple Store in his keynote, and I'm sure they were extra-stocked to take care of the load.