Today in Apple history: iPod Shuffle randomizes our music


Do you remember the first-gen iPod Shuffle?
Photo: Apple

Jan11January 11, 2005: Steve Jobs introduces the world to iPod Shuffle.

Positioned as Apple’s entry-level iPod, the Shuffle lacks a display, but instead randomly shuffles its music, while giving the user the chance to skip any songs they don’t like.

It’s the first iPod to use flash memory, plugs directly into a computer using an onboard USB 2.0, and comes in 512MB and 1GB configurations. Oh, and it’s smaller than a pack of gum, and weighs less than an ounce!

The joy of randomness

Playing songs in a random order doesn’t sound like much today. In fact, at the time that the iPod was making waves, cultural critics were tripping over one another to wax lyrical about the way that iTunes and the iPod had forever disrupted the tyranny of the album, which suggested there was a set way to listen to your songs.

Random shuffle had been available on previous iPods, and had inspired laudatory essays in everything from The New Yorker to the Guardian.

Michael Bull, a Professor of Sound Studies, proclaimed that shuffle mode turned the iPod into an “Aladdin’s Cave of aural surprises.” Journalist Steven Levy even published his book celebration of the iPod, “The Perfect Thing: How the iPod Shuffles Commerce, Culture, and Coolness” with the chapters in a random order to reflect the feature.

From Apple’s perspective, building the iPod Shuffle around, well, shuffle solved a big problem: how do you shrink the iPod past the point at which a display wouldn’t make any sense? It was a gutsy decision to make, and one that allowed Apple to prove that it was willing to take risks in the name of progress and minimalism.

This didn’t come without problems, however. Some users reported that their first-gen Shuffles stopped working and flashed orange and green — but with no display to show what the problem was. Documentation suggested only that an “error” had occurred, which meant that users had to take their devices into an Apple store, rather than solving the problem themselves.

Nonetheless, the iPod Shuffle was a massive hit for Apple. In 2005, at peak production, one hundred thousand units were being churned out each day at Apple supplier Asus’ factory. Prices ranged from $99 to $149, thereby bringing iPod technology (which in 2001 had cost a minimum of $400) to a whole new customer base.

Did you own the first-gen iPod Shuffle? What’s your favorite iPod in history? Leave your comments below.

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