Several weeks ago, I bought a 512MB iPod shuffle. Without question, this is the most excite consumer electronic device I’ve come across since I saw my first walkman in the 80s (I don’t include the PC as a consumer electronic device). There is almost nothing I don’t like about this beast. It’s got a long battery life (~10 hours); it’s very light and tiny; it’s got a respectable storage capacity (about 140 songs at the bitrate I encode MP3s at) and nearly NO MOVING PARTS! It’s simply awesome. So taken with it was I, that I bought one for my brother’s 45 birthday and now he’s a fan.

Some have wrung their hands at the lack of a display on the shuffle or the limit size of the storage. These complaints are fundamentally misguided. The shuffle is not meant to be the sole repository of your MP3 collection (a linux box with a RAID system is :-). Those using iPods for this purpose are, I think, foolish. The shuffle is fills the niche that the cassette walkman did, listening to random tunes on the go.

The problem with the iPod is that it is too much of a computer and not enough of an appliance. Let’s start with the hard drive. I don’t like ‘em. There, I said it. Hard drives are complicated little beasts that spin platters and will, someday, have a head crash. Notebook hard drives are to be especially despised. Low RPMs combined with a strangled I/O bus produces an utterly retro computing experience for laptop users. And notebook hard drives are at the heart of the iPod. Do iPods need terrific I/O throughput? No. And what’s more, I don’t want to be thinking of I/O at all when I want some tunes on the go. I want to be a computer Barbie. I just want it to work. Always. The first time. For this, the shuffle delivers.

Before I dig too deep a hole, I should mention that I think the iPod is a pretty cool computer hack. But I think it’s a terrible appliance. It can do too much.

So, the shuffle: fun at any speed. Get one.

For my next Apple purchase, I’m looking at getting a Mac mini with 512MB of RAM. I need it for Safari (*cough* browser compatibility *cough*), so I don’t need a lot of horsepower. Should be interesting.

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