Only a brand like Apple could make a product's most ostensible weakness it's most desirable and defining quality. Behold the iPod Shuffle - Enjoy Uncertainty. Life Is Random.
Despite the shuffle's lack of display and limited memory, it's actually a neat impulse gift, compliments existing owners of iPod and a reasonably priced low-cost USB pendrive.
I don't buy the Shuffle concept as inherently unique or indeed useful. However, it's the starting point for an interesting riff on the long-desired wireless iPod. Imagine a future variant of the Shuffle - the iPod Mixer:
- As well as settings for Shuffle/Continuous iPod Mixer includes a new Mixer mode.
- Invoking Mixer activates a Bluetooth radio, seeking other iPod Mixer's in the vicinity
- Using Rendezvous (as employed by iTunes Sharing and Airport Express), the Mixer mode plays tracks from other people's iPod Mixers.
The Mixer mode turns iPod into a mobile 'playlist attractor' - drawing in the Uncertainty and Randomness of others around you. Cross referencing this against tastes synchronised from your iTunes' music library could actually help assemble coherence from the 'noise'; in essence a mobile Last FM.
Mixer speaks to the essence of music as a social connector. MusicMobs and Audioscrobbler do a fine job of extending iTunes into social relationships, simply by listening to your own music. Unfortunately, such social software innovations, don't yet extend to iPod - other than iMix and the limited streaming features of iTunes.
The dictionary definition of 'mixer' implies sociability, a device that blends substances, an informal party to get people acquainted and indeed a soundtrack. More importantly, Mixer plays to the network effect - as the network of Mixer users grows, each low-cost device becomes more valuable.
In extending the sociability of music listening to an increasingly pod-casted, time-and-space-shifted, fragmented and introspectively on-demand experience, capabilities such as Mixer can enable listeners to continue to relate to each other musically.
Update: Chris Anderson (the one with the Long Tail) actually makes a compelling case for the Shuffle, arguing that with the application of some directed randomness - recommendation & discovery algorithms - that a Shuffle could actually pick out the less frequently played corners of your iPod library...an introspective journey into the long tail of music you already own :)