Dan Appleman: Kibitzing and Commentary

My personal blog

I tend to be a skeptic of gadgets. Oh, I do get excited by the latest new gizmo (I’m too much a techie not to be), but the excitement is mitigated by the knowledge that buying it would mean having yet another gadget to learn to use and keep track of. Another source of worry with regards to breakage, crashes and loss of data. Another charger to match with it’s correct device. And, of course, another device to inevitably replace in just a few months when it becomes hopelessly obsolete.

In my experience the benefits of devices from cell phones to PDA’s are often outweighed by these hidden costs and hassles.

So it was with doubt and trepidation that I opened a box containing an IPod shuffle that was recently given to me.

Honestly, when I first heard about it I thought the Shuffle was a stupid idea. With minimal controls – just enough to skip forward or back in a play list (which is either the order you defined when you loaded it, or a randomly generated order), and a volume control, this is not a “feature rich” device by any means. Besides, I already have a very nice MP3 player – a 60GB Nomad Zen which, while not as cute as an IPod, is quite usable and benefits from having a replacable battery. On the other hand, I only use the Nomad on flights – it’s too much of a hassle to keep charged, carry around, etc.

So I was stunned – floored in fact – to discover that I really like the Shuffle. That in fact, it is the very simplicity that makes it so useful.

First there is the size. It is truly a “fit anywhere” device. I swear it’s just about weightless. And there’s no pocket it won’t fit in.

And it has no charger to lose. It charges right off the USB port.

But most important, once you have loaded it there is nothing to learn or configure. In a daily routine that has way too many decisions, the Shuffle offers none beyond turning it on or off. And with 100 or so of my favorite songs loaded, it turns out I really don’t care what order they play in.

So to my surprise I find myself carrying it with me often. And sometimes just turning it on when I feel like listening to music, even if just for a song or two.

All is not perfect though. Like the regular IPod, it’s battery is not replaceable, meaning it’s ultimate demise will be much earlier than it should be. And it uses ITunes software. Now, I’m sure ITunes is a very nice program for managing a full IPod. It has plenty of features and power and a suitably confusing user interface. But the feature rich UI is in total conflict with the sublime elegance and simplicity of the shuffle. It is far too easy to accidentally delete songs painstakingly selected and loaded. It’s basically awful.

But such imperfections aside, the Shuffle is a surprising treat, and for those of you who appreciate that more complexity is not always better, you may find it a pleasant and painless gadget to add to your collection.

(for the record, I do still own a small amount of Apple stock)