Apple is doing away with the iPod Shuffle, a gadget I'd eradicated from my mind until yesterday. And now I'm suddenly awash with emotion for a little white stick I hadn't considered once in this decade. I'm going to miss the hell out of it. Damn you Apple, quit playing shuffle with my heart.
All photos: Harrison Weber/Gizmodo
Late spring in 2006, at the ripe old age of 14, my girlfriend slid a box across the table at a restaurant we picked for our second anniversary. I unwrapped it, and what I saw packed neatly inside a sporty, lime-green box elated me: a 512MB iPod Shuffle. The original Shuffle, about the size of a half-empty pack of gum, and glossy white; the only iPod I would ever own, until I bought an iPhone in 2009, out of shame for using a feature phone while blogging about tech.
Today the iPod shuffle looks like a distant relic of the past; a chunky USB 2.0 thumb drive capped by a yellowing lanyard, and a headphone jack -- two wholly outmoded technologies, by Apple no less. On the stick are six clicky, physical buttons (Apple killed those too), and a combo shuffle-power switch that transformed the 120 songs I could store into a soundtrack for brooding carpool rides.
Back then it was almost perfect; a lovably dorky device, and relatively affordable at $US100 ($125). I loved the damn thing, cared for it meticulously and protected it with an ugly plastic jelly case, or occasionally, a modded Altoids tin, because I saw a DIY guide for it online. It was immaculate, I swear, until about four years later, when a stumble during a brief run left it scarred forever.
When Apple unceremoniously pulled the product from its digital shelves, I fished mine out of a drawer and plugged it in. The shuffle that's now dangling from my neck was outdated months after I got it. Apple redesigned it that spring and did so a few more times until a final update in 2010.
There it sat more or less untouched for seven years. An eternity, for tech. After failing to get my Shuffle working with just a quick charge, I decided I'd leave it plugged in overnight.
I woke up this morning to a fully charged Shuffle and bad news: It would not play. It would not shuffle. A lonely pair of green and orange lights blinked, indicating -- something. Sometime near the end of its first life, I remembered that I'd used the Shuffle as an actual USB thumb drive and wiped it clean to print something. This morning I dusted off an old install of iTunes on a laptop that still had USB ports and clicked on the stick of gum-shaped Shuffle icon to restore it.
"Welcome to Your New iPod." The message splashed on my screen with a graphic of an iPod touch, a pair of wired earbuds, and an iPod nano (RIP). I named it "Harrison's Last iPod."
I needed songs next. After multiple migrations from one laptop to another, I figured I had no music left to my name. Gone were songs ripped from CDs, downloaded from Kazaa, torrented, or lifted from friends. Instead I signed into my old iTunes account and rummaged through old albums in the iTunes cloud.
A handful of records I once paid $US10 ($13) for flooded back from the ether. Ben Kweller's Sha Sha. Dashboard Confessional's So Impossible EP. Sigur Ros. Rilo Kiley. A Hillary Duff song. Frou Frou. A U2 Album I certainly did not buy. I clicked "Autofill" and wham: 44 songs -- three hours, 49 minutes of music -- zapped life back into my shuffle. I still had 264MB to spare. Time for a jog.
I ejected my iPod, snapped the lanyard cap back on, slid the power switch to shuffle, slipped in a pair of wired headphones and pressed play. Free from my phone. No push notifications. No Tweets. No way to track my distance or speed. Just a refreshingly simple break, the USB stick thumping against my chest with All The Things She Said by t.A.T.u.
I jogged to a nearby park, passing people listening to music with wireless earbuds and their phones -- the only practical iPods that exists today. In the bright sunlight this morning, the indicator lights were too dim to tell me if I'd probably skipped a song, or show how much battery life I had left. All I could do was listen.
My shuffle will never connect to the internet. It's utterly useless to the millions of music fans who now just rent their music from a service like Spotify. Of course the Shuffle doesn't make any sense today, not for me, or just about anyone else. No iPod does, really -- unless you're trying to live off the grid.
So goodbye, Shuffle. I will stow you away with music on you this time, so one day, after iTunes dies too, I can grab a few USB dongles and adapters, charge you up, and listen to you once again.
- The iPod Shuffle is dead!
- 512MB and 1GB storage options, or 120 to 240 songs
- All The Things She Said is now stuck in your head
- The iPod Shuffle was good.