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iPod Shuffle: The reality check

CNET's Donald Bell points out some of the less desirable features of Apple's new iPod Shuffle.

Apple's iPod Shuffle received a refresh today that was long overdue. But as much as I love the way Apple is innovating with its iPod Touch and iPod Nano, I think it may need a reality check on this buttonless $80 paperclip it's calling the new Shuffle.

I'll be sure to keep an open mind when it comes time for a review, but for the moment, let's cut through Apple's reality-distortion field a little. Here are five criticisms I have about the new iPod Shuffle.

Has Apple crossed the line with the new Shuffle?

1. No buttons? Sure there are buttons on the headphone cable, but on the actual device--the part that you would hand to somebody and say, "That's my MP3 player"--has zero buttons. $80, 4GB, no buttons. I know Apple isn't a fan of buttons, but that's just ballsy.

2. Replacing headphones gets more complicated. With the Shuffle's controls on the headphone cable, you can't just buy any off-the-shelf headphones to use with the Shuffle (see point #1). Existing third-party headphones and adapters made for the iPhone won't include volume control (remember that wholeApple in-ear headphone debacle). At the moment, if you lose or break those earbuds included with the shuffle, you're going to need to shell out $30 for Apple's own earbuds. In fact, Apple isn't even selling its old-style earbuds anymore (not online, at least).

3. Easier to lose. I'm all for small gadgets, but not a month goes by that I don't get an e-mail about someone accidentally running their iPod Shuffle through the washing machine. Now that the Shuffle is the size of a few toothpicks, how are you supposed to keep it from falling into your seat cushions? I'm sure the same complaints were rolled out the last time the Shuffle got shrunk, but if they were justified then, they sure are justified now. Can you imagine going to lost and found and trying to describe your featureless, buttonless MP3 player? Forget it.

4. Voice isn't a new feature. Hey Apple, remember last year when you included spoken menus on the iPod Nano? Then why are you calling the Shuffle the first MP3 player that talks to you? Also, technically there have been a few MP3 players for the vision impaired that have already pulled this off. I'm glad to see the feature, especially if it can read me the song titles from my Too Short albums in a robot voice, but it seems odd Apple would claim that the Shuffle is the first MP3 player with voice cues.

5. Tiny clicker. I wasn't a big fan of the previous iPod Shuffle, but I did like that big, ergonomic, you-can't-miss-it play button on the front. Now, users need to control playback using a tic-tac-size concave button dangling from their ear? It just doesn't seem as intuitive.

Criticisms aside, there are some things I'm excited to see come to the Shuffle, like the fact you can now use playlists and hear artist and title information. Still, this feels like a product that didn't need to happen. The $80, 4GB configuration is a little overkill, too (a cheaper 2GB version would be fine for most users).

Enough of my ranting. What do you guys think?