Internet vs Apple yet again: The great iPod shuffle headphones controversy

There's been wailing and gnashing of teeth on the Internet over the discovery of a chip in the new iPod shuffle that ties you into certain headphones. Here's why it's not the end of the world

The new 4GB Apple iPod shuffle is no stranger to controversy. We've established that it's very small , but after many bemoaned the fact you need inline headphones to work it, it seems a chip has been discovered inside the player that adds a sinister dimension to the whole issue. Except, of course, there's nothing sinister about it at all.

The chip is purported to lock the shuffle to only Apple-licensed headphones, so future third-party headphones are likely to be more expensive, and existing inline controllers won't work it. That's annoying for anyone who's recently bought an inline controller: we tried a Shure headphone adaptor purchased from an Apple Store by one of our trusty Operations wonks as recently as January. It didn't work. Okay, his particular model is a mobile phone adaptor (MPA), but it will happily control a non-phone-y second-gen iPod touch. The dual-armature Apple In-Ear headphones, introduced at the end of last year, work with all the new shuffle's features, however.

Still, the Internet controversy over this is a storm in a teacup, really. Our Ops fella doesn't even want a shuffle, and no-one's likely to want to go jogging in a set of £1,000 Sennheiser HD 800s or similar. Being cranky audiophiles, we're not entirely comfortable with being locked into getting extra bits and bobs, wanting to simply use the headphones we feel give the best-quality sound. But still, this is the shuffle we're talking about. So do we really care?

In principle, yes; in practice, meh. The open-source community is up in arms, but this really isn't a proprietary assault on our freedom to choose decent headphones, it's simply a technical quirk that's become an issue because of the unique buttonless design of the shuffle. Remember, you can still listen with any headphones -- just plug them in and turn the shuffle on -- you just lose the ability to skip tracks, use VoiceOver and, er, change the volume. That is rubbish, you're right. But it's not like Apple is forcing anyone to fork out for a separate new set of headphones. We'd be outraged if future iPhones, iPods and touches didn't work unless you use Apple headphones, but that's about as likely as Steve Jobs getting a Zune tattoo.

Oh, and did we mention that Apple isn't killing the previous, 1GB shuffle? So if all this has left you sputtering with outrage and unwilling to fork out £59, the squat older version can be yours for a very presentable £31. It doesn't do inline controls or VoiceOver, but c'mon, it's thirty quid! Bargain!

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MP3 Players
About the author

Rich Trenholm is a senior editor at CNET where he covers everything from phones to bionic implants. Based in London since 2007, he has travelled the world seeking out the latest and best consumer technology for your enjoyment.

 

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