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Why Steve Jobs Loved the IPod Shuffle (wired.com) 214

"Right after the keynote in which Steve Jobs introduced the iPod Shuffle, I went backstage with one question in mind: What makes an iPod an iPod?" remembers Steven Levy. mirandakatz writes Apple recently announced that it's officially discontinuing the iPod -- sad news for anyone who'd prefer to not have to lug around an entire phone to listen to music. At Backchannel, Steven Levy offers a requiem... The Shuffle, he writes, was unique in that it was an iPod stripped down to a single basic function -- and, as Steve Jobs told Levy in 2005, it made the perfect [cheap] gift for inculcating young kids in the ways of Apple.

"I will go buy them one of these for 100 bucks apiece," he told Levy, referring to why the Shuffle was an especially appropriate gift for his daughters, six and nine at the time. "They'll probably lose them in 60 days. But they'll get into it this way."

Jobs called the Shuffle "every bit an iPod -- just a different iPod," saying that the definition was simply "a great digital music player." (Though later he'd say that creating a radically smaller Nano was still "a huge bet.") Levy remembers the Shuffle as "one of the company's most fun products ever...stripped down to the one feature I adored," writing that he loved how "algorithmic serendipity" approximated a genius deejay (or "the 'Hand of God' chess move that Deep Blue used to confuse Garry Kasparov into thinking the computer had trespassed into realms formerly limited to brilliant humans.")

I bought my first mp3 player in 2000 -- an Archos Jukebox 6000 which weighed three quarters of a pound. Anyone else have fond memories they want to share about the iPod, the Nano, the Shuffle, your old Newton -- or your own first mp3 player?

Why Steve Jobs Loved the IPod Shuffle

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  • What about ATRAC players? I was playing that game in 1993 as I was lugging around my Sony MZ-1.

    http://www.minidisc.org/part_S... [minidisc.org]

    My first MP3 player was some sort of iRiver chunky thing with a hard drive. It was clunky and big and unattractive.

    Now I just use my 5 year old LG phone.

    So I went from being far ahead of the game to just using the cheapest old thing I can find.

    • Normally if you are wanting/need a technology that isn't widely available. The only option is to get the latest and greatest. If that technology kicks off then and it gets cheaper. There is a point where you can get what you want and need far behind the curve, as it is a matured technology.

    • Everyone in tech does this:
      You start off using cutting edge, latest and greatest.
      Over time, you eventually default to "cheapest that gets the job done".

    • by kriston ( 7886 )

      The best part of MiniDisc ATRAC players, for me, was that they ran on a single AA battery and lasted forever. The disc spins up and about a minute or more of music data is buffered into memory. Then the disc spun down.

      It was a true masterpiece of clever engineering. Too bad Sony hobbled it with SCMS copy protection and not getting into the computer data storage segment until it was far too late to make any difference.

    • My first "MP3" player was a Sony VAIO Music Clip, my second a Sony NW-MS7 Memory Stick Walkman which used MagicGate cards. At the time, they were nice and compact, easily taken places. Even today, the form factor is decent.

      Of course, they were DRM-ed to Hell and gone. The Music Clip could take MP3 files, that were "wrapped" with Sony's ATRAC-whatever encryption. The other device had to have everything fully transcoded by the OpenMG software, which only ran under Windows 98. There was no copying files w

  • by seoras ( 147590 ) on Monday August 07, 2017 @03:51AM (#54954483)

    Apple could modify and update the Air Pods, removing the need even for a any device to stream from.
    A couple of taps to control. Just like the shuffle with a reasonable memory for shuffling a favourite play list.
    If the shuffle was that great...

    • I think the AirPods already support streaming compressed audio and decoding on the device (it's part of the Bluetooth spec), so the only thing that's actually missing is the ability to buffer music. You could stick 1GB of flash in them without changing much in terms of cost and form factor and it would only take about 5 minutes to fill that from a phone with Bluetooth 5. The phone could then go to sleep for a long time and the ear pods [wikia.com] could keep playing.
    • I had a couple of shuffles which were gifted to me, and worked really well. I passed them along.

      Just bought the latest Nano before they ended it. I think they should have included the ability to download tunes directly from iTunes instead of forcing one to connect to a laptop. iTunes on Windows is really flaky.

      One question - anybody knows how to transfer YouTube downloaded MP4s into a Nano? For audio files, I can put in an MP3, but for video tracks, what should one use that iTunes allows? Anybody

  • by Opportunist ( 166417 ) on Monday August 07, 2017 @04:04AM (#54954517)

    They at least give you the first one for free to get you hooked.

    • I was just thinking it sounded a bit like the marketing mantra of the Tobacco industry "Catchem when they are young!"
    • by Maritz ( 1829006 )
      A steve jobs dime-bag would cost $500 and only 'work' with certain rolling papers.
      • Don't worry, he'd sell you the papes as well. And the special lighter. And the filter. And the designer bag of chips for the munchies. And you better use them now, because the next bag you get from him won't work with those anymore either.

        But he doesn't rip you off, he just wants to make sure you get the best experience!

  • Different World (Score:5, Insightful)

    by skam240 ( 789197 ) on Monday August 07, 2017 @04:09AM (#54954533)

    It's a different world one lives in when one laughs off ones kids losing 100 dollar gifts.

    • As Hemingway wrote in "The Snows of Kilimanjaro":

      "He remembered poor Scott Fitzgerald and his romantic awe of them and how he had started a story once that began, ‘The very rich are different from you and me.’ And how some one had said to Scott, Yes, they have more money. "

    • It's a different world one lives in when one laughs off ones kids losing 100 dollar gifts.

      Yeah, fucking billionaires. They're all the same.

    • by creimer ( 824291 )
      My parents gave me a $250 gift each Christmas. Took five years to acquire a complete Commodore 64 system (C64, cassette recorder, printer, floppy drive and monitor). Being a "poor" middle class family, according to the seventh grade girls, we couldn't afford an Apple ][ system ($2500) or cable TV to get MTV.
    • For Jobs, he could probably had laugh off kids loosing a Macbook Air.
      However I think he was trying to be sensible vs. snotty in his message and wasn't laughing it off.

      A $100 gift for lower middle class, may be a big gift, however if lost stolen or broken it wouldn't cause financial stress, as a kid could if needed could save up his allowance and buy himself one (even with a modest allowance) . As a kid, I would had more stress knowing that I got this as a gift from someone who cared about me, and had lost

  • by garote ( 682822 ) on Monday August 07, 2017 @04:47AM (#54954647) Homepage

    Right now as I type this, an iPod Classic is playing next to me, hooked to portable speakers. Inside it is a 3rd party board with two SDXC slots, each containing a 512GB card. The board treats them as JBOD volumes and concatenates them automatically into one for the iPod, which - while still running the original Apple firmware - now holds 960GB of audio.

    In this form, the iPod lasts about nine hours longer than it originally did, never needs to waste time "spinning up", and of course if I drop it, no harm done. If it gets smashed or dunked in a lake, the SDXC cards can be recovered and put into another iPod.

    I used to have a 300 CD carousel made by Sony. It was the size of a pizza oven, and switching between CDs took ages. Now those CDs are all ripped into ALAC and sitting on the iPod. Same with all my audiobooks, and an enormous backlog of podcasts, because why not? I've got room...

    That leaves about 300GB, which I have stuffed with backups, since the iPod makes a decent external drive.

    Added bonus: It's so old, no one tries to steal it!!

    Who needs lossy cloud music, that vanishes the instant you travel out of cellular range? The iPod is still the one essential music listening tool for me. Long may it survive, until third party battery suppliers all lose interest and the warehouses run dry.

    • by Sir Holo ( 531007 ) on Monday August 07, 2017 @06:03AM (#54954811)

      ... In this form, the iPod lasts about nine hours longer than it originally did, never needs to waste time "spinning up", and of course if I drop it, no harm done. ...

      IIRC, the iPod was the first Apple product to incorporate an acceleration sensor that allowed it to park the HD in cases where it was dropped.

      In any case, the classic iPod, with the actually spinning wheel, would spin-up to load 2-3 songs into the buffer, and then spin back down again. That little trick was a real battery-saver. . . unless you were playing a 14+ minute track, in which case the HD would remain spinning for the entire song, draining the battery pretty quickly.

    • Do you have a link to this third-party SDXC adapter? Would it work in a 3rd-generation iPod?

    • What reputable vendor would one find such a board at? Asking for a friend.
    • I love my iPod classics - they live in both of my cars, and I take one every time I fly. You can't beat a dedicated device for music.

      I'm still hoping, one day, that Apple will throw caution to the wind and reboot the iPod classic with flash memory, bluetooth, and a lightning connector.

      C'mon Tim! Make a new iPod classic!

  • by lucasnate1 ( 4682951 ) on Monday August 07, 2017 @04:55AM (#54954661)

    I bought a 60$ android tablet that lasted for a year. The thing that makes something cheap is not only how much it costs but how long it lasts. People seem to forget this.

    • There is "cheap" and there is "inexpensive." Something that is inexpensive need not be cheap.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      People also forget that there is good, lasting, inpexpensive gadgets. Is up to them to buy the right ones.

      If they are too lazy to shop around, just buy Apple. It will be good, albeit very, very expensive. Consider it the price of laziness.

    • by creimer ( 824291 )
      My first-gen iPod Touch lasted eight years before the batteries died.
    • by houghi ( 78078 )

      There used to be a clear difference between price and quality. This is not the case anymore. I have had things I bought for 400EUR break in a year, replaced it for something for 40EUR that lasted for 4 years.

      And then you can also buy something expensive and the company says "You are holding it wrong" or the battery explodes. There where items that where not 'cheap'.

      The hard part is to find out for what item it holds true and for what it doesn't.

    • The user experience matters too. If something is so annoying to use that you simply don't, you've wasted your money. If using it is bearable but takes twice as long to get things done with it, consider how much your time and frustration over the course of a year are worth.

      There are certainly things not to like about Apple products, but generally, the user experience is not among them.
  • by gsslay ( 807818 ) on Monday August 07, 2017 @05:33AM (#54954715)

    sad news for anyone who'd prefer to not have to lug around an entire phone to listen to music

    That's right, because there are no other manufacturers of digital music players, and there aren't thousands of other players to choose from.

    If you choose to lock yourself into the Apple ecosystem, you choose to limit how you do things.

    • by Maritz ( 1829006 )
      I, like many people, bring a phone around with me anyway. Making a dedicated music player utterly redundant.
      • by tepples ( 727027 )

        I, like many people, bring a phone around with me anyway.

        But then you have to 1. upgrade from a flip phone to one that plays music, and 2. be careful to buy one with a microSD slot or risk having to cram all your music into the same 8 GB that already holds the OS, apps, and apps' data.

    • by tepples ( 727027 )

      If you choose to lock yourself into the Apple ecosystem

      Before Amazon Music went live, there wasn't really much choice: it was either iTunes Music Store, buy and rip CDs, or break the law. And back then, even music purchases had FairPlay digital restrictions management.

    • If you choose to lock yourself into the Apple ecosystem, you choose to limit how you do things.

      Yes because no other music player can play AAC or MP3 formats at all. None.

      • Though competitors' devices can play music purchased from iTunes Store since DRM was dropped in 2009, virtually no non-Apple device can play videos purchased from iTunes Store. Videos still use FairPlay digital restrictions management, which is compatible only with Apple devices and x86-64 Windows PCs running the iTunes application. And the only remotely pocket-sized x86-64 Windows PC that I'm aware of is the 5.5" GPD Win laptop [amazon.com].

  • by Sir Holo ( 531007 ) on Monday August 07, 2017 @05:40AM (#54954741)

    I agonized on the decision between the Archos and the iPod, but made the right choice. I bought one of the first iPods to fly off of the shelves. Those Archos things were heavy, and as I recall, had a non-intuitive, click-button based interface. The iPod––you could grab it without looking to hit 'next song' or whatever.

    The iPod replaced radio in my car (no ads, and I had already ripped my 300+ CDs with N2MP3, the first Mac CD ripper. This was long before iTunes had the ability to rip CDs. Remember the ad campaign: "Rip, Mix, Burn"?, and the RIAA's fit over their misinterpretation of those three words?

    In use, it was funny to watch people's reactions to the iPod when they'd ride in my car. "Here, it's intuitive, and it's got about 40 albums-worth of music on it. Try it." They'd get confused and have to be told to scroll the wheel and to click the button. Within two minutes, however, they always 'got it' and were hooked. Well, except for my PhD advisor, who hit play with random engaged, and as luck would (not) have it, a song from John Lennon's Shaved Fish came on – "Woman is the Ni..." The title scrolled across the screen. Questions. I had a little explaining about how John liked to write smash-mouth lyrics, and explained the meaning of John's lyrics on this one... I told him to hit "next song" and he was OK after that. Man – 40 albums and that one song comes up when I'm giving my advisor a lift! Anyway, he bought an iPod very soon after.

    I've still got an 80 GB iPod lying around here somewhere. I hear that they can handle installation of up to a 256 GB HD, which would be plenty for my entire music collection + books-on-tape. 65 days-worth of music might as well be a radio station, but with no ads. :-) But without a car, that project is on hold.

  • I spent a year in Germany, and all over the place were portable CD players that could also play MP3 files (meaning 10 albums on one CD). EU had VAT, so I figured I'd just pick one up when I got back to the States – for cheaper.

    WRONG. Every electronics store back in the US would tell me that no such thing existed, and that I was stupid. Yeah, whatever, pimple-boy. I had to wait almost two years for the iPod to come out. It was another year or two before CD-player boom boxes that could play MP3 CD

    • No, we had those in the states as well. They just stopped selling once the iPod and it's various clones came down to a reasonable price point.

      • No, we had those in the states as well. They just stopped selling once the iPod and it's various clones came down to a reasonable price point.

        I returned to the US in the Fall of 2000. There were none to be found, at least in my extensive search at the time (in a major US city).

  • My first MP3 player was a Rio Chiba 128 MB, a tiny little thing that had a built-in belt clip, and was even smaller than the iPod I went on to replace it with. It was powered by a couple of AAA batteries, and could store around 60 songs; easily enough for a few albums to listen to on the way to work.

    Thing is, I didn't buy the Rio Chiba - I actually won it in a prize draw on the "MyCokeMusic.com" website, not long before that disappeared forever. It was the first time I'd ever won anything of any value. M

  • by Anonymous Coward

    $100 for a fucking mp3 player that wouldn't even let you choose songs? A 512 mb Sansa Express was about $25 at the time IIRC, was a similar size and shape (though not brushed aluminum, admittedly), had an sd micro slot, and actually let you choose songs. The Sansa Clip Jam (8gb) is the current iteration, $28 on Amazon right now.

    • by Nutria ( 679911 )

      Not only that, but the mindset which thinks that $100 is cheap.

      • Not only that, but the mindset which thinks that $100 is cheap.

        If you're out of school and have a real job, $100 IS pretty cheap...hell, I've had bar tabs larger than that before....

        • by Nutria ( 679911 )

          So have I. but then I got married, a mortgage, kids, wife was SAHM, etc. Suddenly, $100 becomes very uncheap.

          But when you're as rich as Jobs, $100 is throw-away.

          • So have I. but then I got married, a mortgage, kids, wife was SAHM, etc. Suddenly, $100 becomes very uncheap.

            Well, you did CHOOSE to have a wife, get married and have kids.

            If you had decided to forgo 1 or both of those, you'd have a LOT more freedom, and disposable income.

      • Most people who buy Apple think $100 is cheap.

    • this is a very minor complaint about the Sansa Clip, it tends to have problems when you put in a microSD card with more than 64GB of content on it
  • Ah, my 1st gen iPod shuffle and 1st gen iPad -- I can bear to chuck other gadgets away but not these two.

    In case anyone is wondering what use is the 1st gen Shuffle -- it holds one long AIFF track of a binaural beats meditation audio. Which is somewhat ironic because it means I never use the shuffle setting.

  • As if (Score:4, Informative)

    by markdavis ( 642305 ) on Monday August 07, 2017 @07:24AM (#54954953)

    >"sad news for anyone who'd prefer to not have to lug around an entire phone to listen to music."

    Seriously? As if there aren't many dozens of other MP3 players out there for many, many years, that are also better and cheaper? Sandisk Clip perhaps?

    • Re:As if (Score:4, Insightful)

      by mstrcat ( 517519 ) on Monday August 07, 2017 @10:45AM (#54955837)
      MP3 players seem to be a dying breed, killed off by cell phones. I am a huge fan of the Sansa Clip and Clip+ lines. I use them to listen to audiobooks, and the Sansa devices integrate well with the Audible.com software (which sucks btw). Currently the Sansa devices command a premium on Amazon since they've been discontinued by Sansa but still have a fan base. For my money, Sansa Clip was the best MP3 player. It wasn't Apple (no iTunes lock in), had decent memory sizes (4 GB, now 8 GB + microSD card), a nicely simple interface. The glaring flaw was the headphone jack. It would wear out (stop making good contact) after about two years heavy use.
  • by indytx ( 825419 ) on Monday August 07, 2017 @07:54AM (#54955045)

    I love my Shuffle. I'm probably in the minority here, but I still use my first generation 512 MB iPod Shuffle every week, and the original ear buds still work great. This may be one of the last Apple products which was made like an older Apple product . . . it just worked and it was built to last. For over ten years it's been my music player for working out, and on an arm band you don't notice it's there. Tough, truly great design, minimal not for the sake of being minimal but because it made sense to the function of the product. This was a truly high water mark for Apple before it went down the road of disposable products.

    • by kqc7011 ( 525426 )
      My first generation iPod Shuffle was stolen from my car a few years ago. I had left the car unlocked and someone opened the door and grabbed the shuffle and some of the change from the center console. But the Shuffle's battery was worn out and would only operate with a external battery pack that I had in the house to recharge its batteries. So the thief got a Shuffle on its last legs, a handful of change and increased Police scrutiny. (Small town police will actually keep a eye on people and things.)
  • This article is poppycock. Steve Jobs loved the ipod shuffle because he got millions of dollars from selling it. End of story.
  • bought used, good quality, though i cannot get used to the interface or the lack of modding.
  • Sure it only supported compact flash with an external kit you had to dock into it with, but it would allow me to play all my mp3s I had to download at school. There was even an Armband that you wore it on while exercising if needbe....i think.

    All i remember is running miles with that thing blaring music into my ears that I couldn't get into another form factor at the time. Now? I wish I had a mini bluetooth mp3 player so I don't have to carry my phone around with me while running. It rains allot and water+i
    • There are many water-resistant smartphones, you could look into that. Or just get the mp3 player, those things are dirt cheap from China.

  • I had a nice RCA player that took compact flash cards, so you could swap them out. I bet it still works but you needed to use WMP to transfer the files so they could get encrypted into some goofy DRM format. That one ran off of AAs so was great for road trips as a kid. Later on I got an iRiver which was a great anodized aluminum player with a capacitive strip to interface with but it had a mini hard drive in it so eventually it broke down. Nowadays I mostly just use my phone, but I do have an old shuffl
  • The iPod shuffle was very expensive for what you got. Cheaper and better music players included a display and didn't require iTunes.

  • by hey! ( 33014 ) on Monday August 07, 2017 @09:29AM (#54955433) Homepage Journal

    He didn't *invent* the things he supposedly invented. He just figured out how to make already existing things successful.

    And Jobs could do that because he *was* a genius at choosing the features to leave out.

    Any engineer is aware of tradeoffs. Everything you add to a project has *some* undesirable consequences. But even so the temptation to hit every conceivable point on the punch list is overwhelming for most people.

    Where most people would be struggling with that basic impulse, Jobs would play 11-dimensional feature chess. Case in point, the original iPod touch. It didn't have a speaker or hardware volume control. Any normal person would have put *some* kind of a speaker. It didn't make sense; what did it save, maybe $0.25?

    But it wasn't something that made a difference in sales; they sold millions of the things, which meant the choice translated into millions more in profit. But still, a speaker and hardware volume controls are things are something you'd want occasionally. Remember with the first gen touch there was briefly a thing where iPod users would unplug their earbuds and offer their jack to another iPod user?

    Then Jobs introduced the second gen iPod Touch, and it had a speaker and hardware volume controls. And people who shelled out $299 for the first gen Touch wanted them, and after all the second gen was cheaper at $229. Result: you ended up spending $528 over the course of two years instead of $300.

    And that's the difference between genius and mere cleverness: genius is thinking ahead, and also in other dimensions that a clever person isn't considering. That makes genius surprising at the time and obvious in retrospect.

    • Steve Jobs didn't figure out how to make things successful, He shoved advertising down everyone's throat. Every other MP3 player was either feature-compatible and cheaper, or better in almost every way and potentially more expensive.

      3+ years ago, a FiiO X1 was ~$99, a refurb Sandisk Sansa MP3 player for $25-$50, and both were only limited by the size of the micro-SD card you put in them.

  • Still using my second-generation iPod shuffle every day. I had to replace the battery - which is a procedure I hope I never do again - and the Chinese replacement doesn't last as long as when the iPod was brand new.

    I was waiting for The Source [thesource.ca] to discount their remaining units, however seeing they only have three colours remaining I'm thinking they're not discounting them at all. I guess I'm off to buy one from the local store later today.

    What's funny about the iPod shuffle generations [wikimedia.org] is that after... let'

  • I purchased mine in an Apple Store as I was Christmas shopping two iPod 20GBs for family members.

    I was skeptical that I would need an MP3 player as I had Winamp and I was almost always in front of a PC.

    The iPod Shuffle was just a little white USB stick on a lanyard. Turned out to be the gateway drug for me.

    Since that day I've owned two iPods, an iPod touch, three iPhones, one iMac and one Macbook Pro.

  • I remember going through an old backpack and finding a shuffle and wondering why I hadn't used it in years. Then I remember, iTunes. And then I remember that iTunes is the main reason I don't buy any apple product.
  • the iPod shuffle made some sense back in the day, at least for me, because it while it was twice the price of the cheap Sandisks I had nothing but trouble with those. Constant sync issues and the like. I'm guessing the chips running cheapo MP3 players, like the ones in cheapo ethernet cards & bluetooth dongles, have standardized and just work now. My bro's an old school PC tech who got out of it when the pay really went to hell and he's always shocked when things work the first time.
  • My first MP3 player was a Diamond Rio. I liked the idea but never did anything with it. I gave it to a friend and ordered an Archos Jukebox 6000, which I really liked (mainly because of the capacity and sound quality). I loved the fact that it simply mounted as a hard drive and didn't require an app of any kind of the host computer. It was a simple, handly, and very reliable device. It went to Iraq with me in 2003. It was special. It could take me to a different place. I remember finding a quite place up f
  • Off the top of my head, here's how I've experienced portable music players changing:

    1. Cassette Player ("Walkman")
    2. CD Player
    3. MP3-capable CD player, mini-CD player
    4. Proprietary medium player (mini-disc, etc.)
    5. MP3 player with internal storage, some expandable (Diamond Rio, Creative Nomad, Archos Jukebox, Apple iPod, Sandisk Sansa)
    6. Smartphones (using local media collections) & surviving MP3 players in the market
    7. Smartphones (using streaming media collections) & re-emerging MP3 player
  • Is that really what the 'Hand of God' in chess means? In chess, this refers to players breaking the rules,
      e.g. repositioning pieces after a move is completed.

    So, is this article saying that the iPod Shuffle was breaking the rules of pure shuffling and nobody was noticing? Or is the author referring to some kind of magical intuition?

  • I got one as a piece of vendor swag. The process of installing iTunes was bad enough I gate it away without using it once.

  • it made the perfect [cheap] gift for inculcating young kids in the ways of Apple.

    Accept this gift and your journey to the dark side will be complete!

A sine curve goes off to infinity, or at least the end of the blackboard. -- Prof. Steiner

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