Apple unwrapped an update to its Shuffle music player. That it is smaller with twice the capacity is pretty much progress to be expected. The bigger news is that the new Shuffle uses voice to finally bring a bit of organization to all those songs.
A computerized voice can announce which song and artist is playing. That's nice enough -- but a user probably knows the songs they've loaded. The voice is more useful in enabling the Shuffle to handle playlists, allowing listeners to organize their favorite tunes by mood, style or even person for a shared Shuffle.
It's just one of a crop of tiny devices turning to voice for navigation. Unlike others, including the BlueAnt Bluetooth headset, the Shuffle only speaks and doesn't respond to voice commands. At least not yet.
Already tiny in its previous incarnation, the Shuffle kept itself sleek and cheap with no LCD for visual cues. Apple made the idea of aimlessly sifting among as many as 500 songs a marketing virtue in the device's name.
The Shuffle played tunes randomly. Or users could click through them, one at a time. That had to seem daunting with the jump to 4 GB of memory and 1,000 songs. Being able to leap between playlists takes a lot of shuffling out of the Shuffle.
Apple also moved the physical controls to the cord on the Shuffle's earbuds. That seems a mixed blessing. It may prove more convenient, but users won't be able to choose their own buds. Or they'll have to pay more if and when other headphone makers duplicate the controls.
The new Shuffle is selling for $80, or $10 more than its 2 GB predecessor. An earlier, $50 version with 1 GB of memory and no voice also remains on sale.