SEATTLE – Apple Inc. unveiled a minuscule new iPod Shuffle on Wednesday that takes its “smaller is better” mantra to a whole new level.
The third-generation Shuffle, a slim aluminum rectangle less than 2 inches long, takes up about half as much space as the previous version even as it doubles music storage space to 4 gigabytes. To achieve such a tiny form, Apple had to remove most of the buttons from the body of the $79 device and build them into the headphone cord instead.
“Smaller has tended to work very well for us,” said Greg Joswiak, a marketing vice president at Apple.
The trade-off for a sub-$100 Shuffle always has been the lack of a screen to visually navigate through the music stored on the device. The first-generation Shuffle, which launched in 2005, could hold about 240 songs, arguably not enough to warrant a screen.
Now that the device can carry 1,000 songs, Apple has come up with a way for people to identify the music they’re listening to or find songs they want. A new feature called VoiceOver can, at the push of a button, speak the song and artist name or rattle off the list of custom mixes — called playlists — that the owner has loaded onto the device.
Here’s how it works: As you synchronize a new Shuffle using an updated version of iTunes, your PC or Mac looks at each track and playlist and creates a small file of a computerized voice speaking the title, artist for playlist name. If a song is in Spanish or Chinese, say, the software figures this out and speaks in the appropriate language. Apple says the device can handle 14 languages.
The new Shuffle, which comes in silver or black aluminum with a shiny stainless steel clip, is set to go on sale Thursday. Joswiak said Apple’s own earphones will be the only option for early buyers, but that other companies plan to make compatible headphones as well as adapters for regular headphones.
Ross Rubin, an analyst for market researcher NPD Group, said there’s no such thing as “too small” for gadget-happy consumers as long as Apple stays focused on ergonomics and provides a way to secure the device and keep it from getting lost.
But people who do buy a new Shuffle will be paying a premium for Apple’s design, he added, noting less-expensive mini-models like SanDisk Corp.’s Sansa Clip and Creative Technology Ltd.’s Zen Stone.
Shares of Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple jumped $3.91, or 4.4 percent, to $92.54 in afternoon trading.