The advent of the new Apple Shuffle proves at least one thing: Apple is not willing to give up the bottom of the digital-music-player market.
Facing new competition from the likes of SanDisk with its new Sansa SlotRadio 4GB player, Apple is out with the third generation of the Shuffle, at $79, with a host of changes that not everyone might be happy about.
The new Shuffle is tiny — about the size of a house key. Unlike the second generation Shuffle, which is still out there ($49 for 1GB, or about 240 songs) with five vibrant colors, the new model comes in either silver or black aluminum finish.
It has 4GB of flash memory, and advertises room for about 1,000 songs. I loaded on 973, but some of my selections are pretty lengthy orchestral works.
Apple claims the new Shuffle has a battery life of 10 hours compared with 12 for the 2nd generation. But as I write this, my Shuffle has been going nonstop for 12 hours and 3 minutes. We'll see if lasts out the piece.
Apple claims it will be 80 percent charged after 2 hours, and fully charged after 3. I had no way of measuring the partial charge, but the charge indicator was fully green in just under 3 hours.
The design of the new Shuffle is sleek and attractive — but it comes at the expense of traditional controls. Most of them have migrated to Apple's custom Shuffle earbuds.
Undoubtedly the weak link in an otherwise attractive design, the only controls left on the Shuffle itself are a tiny LED to show charging and connection status and a three-way switch that will turn the Shuffle on, off and let you switch between shuffle mode and linear play.
The rest of the controls, including the new Voice Over feature, are all on the cord of the right earbud. There's a built-in three-way-click button that will let you adjust the volume, advance and reverse tracks, listen to the name of the song and artist playing, listen to the names of your playlists and let you choose one. You can also pause.
My major concern is that Apple's included earbuds have always been the weak point for all of the iPods. Sooner or later, just about everyone I know has blown out, broken or lost a set of them.
But with the new Shuffle, you can't just pop in a set of $10 third-party earbuds — or upgrade to a much better-sounding $100 pair. Well, you can, but it will leave you without much functionality.
A new set of custom Shuffle earbuds will run you $29, and on its Web site Apple will also try to steer you to its more comfortable in-ear phones for a mere $79, the same price as the Shuffle itself.
Apple says there will be third parties bringing out compatible phones. Klipsch, the speaker and headphone maker, announced at the end of last week that it would have earbuds for the new Shuffle. No word yet on pricing or availability.
I don't mind the Voice Over feature, and I'm quite happy to be able to import my playlists, many of which I created using the "Genius" function on iTunes.
I will confess that I had some issues with the middle button on the earbud controls. Click and hold for the song name and artist. Continue to hold for the tone that signals the coming of the playlist names. Click while holding to change the playlist. Double-click to advance the track. Triple-click to go back to the previous track. Single-click to pause.
Got all that? It's taken me a while, though I'm sure the 10-year-olds will nail it in a matter of moments.
By the way, the battery died at 12 hours and 23 minutes. Good show.
You charge the shuffle with a very short connector from the headphone jack to a USB port on your computer. A longer cord is an available option. The tiny LED flashes red, amber and green to signal both the charging and the discharging processes.
The new Shuffle was designed with the workout in mind. Clip it on and forget it. The controls are right on the cord.
I think it's great that Apple has decided to refresh the bottom of the line. I really like being able to use my playlists.
But watch out for the earbuds. They could well be the Joker in this reshuffled deck. There's a good chance that replacing or upgrading them will put the true cost higher than the $79 you're starting out with.