Apple (AAPL) continues to push the limits on how small it can make its iPods: The new iPod shuffle, announced today, is half the size of the last one, Apple boasts. And the new shuffle talks to you — it’ll read the title/artist info to you in a computer voice. (But won’t yet let you request a song by name.)
But the new features and size seem to come with a tradeoff: By giving up on the big round ‘play’ button and moving play/pause/volume controls onto the iPod earbud cord, it seems like the new shuffle all but requires you use Apple’s (crappy, overpriced) earbuds — and not the cheaper/more expensive/better headphones many people choose instead. (Update: More thoughts about Apple’s influence on earbud design here. And, separately, Apple has announced an adaptor. Not ideal, especially for an ultra-portable iPod. But until more companies make compatible earphones, it should help.)
It’s possible that some essential controls, such as ‘play’, will work with any headphones. (That could be good enough, assuming the volume is to your liking.) And other headphones increasingly come with play/pause buttons — like the excellent Etymotic Research ones we’ve been using with our iPhone. Some other earphones even include volume settings, too.
But if you lose your iPod shuffle earbuds, it looks like you’re now all but stuck buying another $30 set from Apple — whether you want to or not. (If this is true, a nice way to boost Apple’s likely-high-profit accessory sales!)
To be sure, iPod shuffle buyers are probably not the likeliest to plug in $100 headphones — and this should not affect iPod shuffle sales. We’ve asked Apple for information about compatibility with other headphones and will update if we hear back.
Meanwhile, you may ask, why is Apple updating the shuffle in the first place? Believe it or not, it’s still assumed to be a huge seller. For instance, Piper Jaffray analyst Gene Munster estimates that Apple sells about as many iPod shuffles as it sells iPod nanos.
And in a crappy gadget-spending environment, anything that’s cheap and can boost Apple’s iPod unit sales — which new shuffles have done in the past — is a good thing for Apple.
Update: Munster updates his iPod/shuffle estimates for 2009. He thinks the new shuffles will significantly boost sales. And the higher price tag — $79 instead of $49 — means better revenues and margins, too.