Even though I am Windows guy (I think we have established that by now), I try keep up with what Apple is up to, as they do have some fine products. They have these pretty cool “guided tours“ showcasing the latest and greatest of their offerings. This is were I first stumbled upon the latest generation iPod shuffle (see the guided tour here).
Originally, I never wanted to buy an iPod (or any other music player for that matter), because I already have a smartphone on me all the time and it plays music and video just fine. The iPod shuffle was so tiny and unique in the way the one interacts with it, though, that I had to see for myself what it was like. So when I saw the 2GB model for less than 55€ on Amazon the other day, I decided to get myself one.
Overall I must say I am very satisfied with my purchase. The device itself is excellent. It’s super tiny but thanks to the strong clip on the back it stays securely fastened to a shirt or jacket. The playback controls are on the headphone cord so one only needs to touch the device once to turn it on. No need to dig around in your pocket to pause or skip a song.
One comment on the playback controls: even though Apple prides itself on making products that are so easy to use, this claim is simply ridiculous with regard to the iPod shuffle. Aside from the volume controls, there is just one button. All functions of the iPod are accessed by one or more clicks of varying durations on this button. Click once to play/pause, twice to skip to the next song, three times to go back one song, press once and hold to hear the artist and song title read to you, press once and hold for a longer period of time to access… and so on. I mean, seriously, this isn’t really ease of use, but rather a strange fixation on putting ever more functionality into these devices while at the same time reducing the number of buttons; thus making the products less and less intuitive. While adding more features is a natural tendency in most industries and consumer electronics in particular, the fact that Apple feels it needs to make their products ever thinner, lighter, and with less controls seems unwise, to say the least.
The real drawback, however, wasn’t the device but the software, since using an iPod also means I had to install iTunes, even though I have been a very satisfied user of Windows Media Player since version 7 that shipped with Windows Millennium Edition (the most underrated release of all time, if you ask me). Compared to the current version of Windows Media Player, iTunes really looks a little dated. I mean, a UI that basically consists of long lists of songs with all the functionality buried in a menu at the top of the window, come on, that is so 1990s. Again, I didn’t find much ease of use here, as most of the functionality to make the user interface even half decent and usable was hidden behind multiple levels of fly-out menus under the View menu item. Even after changing a bunch of settings for the UI, iTunes was missing the two most crucial buttons any application to browse one’s media library must have: the back and forward buttons that web browsers have had since the mid 90s (see Microsoft Internet Explorer 1.0). Windows Media Player has have them for quite a while and it also includes cross references from every song to the artist, album, year and genre. I find these so helpful when I don’t really know what to listen to and just aimlessly wander my music collection. In this area at least, iTunes is of no use to me. There are a bunch of other things that drive me crazy in iTunes, but I don’t want this post degenerate into an Apple rant, so I’ll leave it at that.
Anyway, things did work out in the end and I can now fully enjoy my iPod without having to use iTunes thanks to a little piece of software called MGTEK dopisp (hat tip: M). It’s a plug-in for Windows Media Player that allows me to sync my iPod with Windows Media Player just like I do with my Windows Mobile phone. Really neat. So in the end I am a happy Apple customer after all.
Bonus link going with the theme of this post: Apple introduces the MacBook Wheel, a laptop with a single giant button