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The iPod shuffle’s death marks the end of an era for physical buttons

The iPod shuffle’s death marks the end of an era for physical buttons


The touchscreen has finally won

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This week, Apple announced that it would be unceremoniously killing off the iPod nano and the iPod shuffle, two of the last vestiges of the iPod era. While the nano may have been the spotlight product (quite literally stealing the show from the Motorola ROKR when they were announced alongside one another), the shuffle has always been a sort of black sheep in the iPod family, remaining frozen in time while the rest of Apple’s lineup leapt forward into the future.

An iPod distilled down to the purest essence of listening to music

While Apple would iterate slightly on the shuffle’s design over the years — including the incredibly puzzling third-generation shuffle, which killed playback controls entirely — the product was a constant in Apple’s lineup since its announcement in 2005. It took the entire idea of an iPod and distilled it down to the purest essence of listening to music, with just a few physical playback controls on the front of the device (again, third-generation model not-withstanding).

ipod shuffle

There was no screen, no click wheel, no touch interface — just five buttons that you could use in the pitch black of a car at night or without taking your eyes off the running track. As someone who likes to just close my eyes and flip through a playlist of songs while riding a subway home, the iPhone — for all its high-tech smarts — lacks the tactile advantages of Apple’s most humble music player.

No screen, no click wheel, no touch interface — just five buttons

I’ll be honest, when I heard that Apple was canceling the shuffle, I almost went out and bought one this week. I’ve always had a soft spot for the shuffle: the original, white-stick-of-gum-shaped model was the was the first iPod I owned. (Actually, it was the first Apple product I ever owned — or sort of owned, given that I shared it with my brother.)

In a world where my iPhone has essentially become a computer in its own right, there’s something kind of appealing about the shuffle’s almost low-tech physical button aesthetic. Even Apple realized this: the button-less third-generation shuffle was quickly phased out in favor of the fourth-generation model that Apple sold for the last few years of the shuffle’s life.

It’s easy to understand why Apple is killing the shuffle: it’s a budget product that couldn’t have offered much in the way of profit margins; it included what now feels like a paltry amount of storage; and it used a proprietary 3.5mm headphone jack to USB Type-A cable that was easy to lose for syncing and charging. Compared to the iPhone or iPod touch, it simply has very little to offer functionally that its vastly more powerful cousins couldn’t provide. (Again, Apple couldn’t actually sell me on one, and I’ve just spent a fair amount of time waxing nostalgically on it.)

Yet, at the end of the day, I’ll miss the shuffle. Perhaps out of a sense of nostalgia. But also because its physical buttons were the last relic of a more tangible era of mobile devices.