The Apple iFail (Third Generation)

I was raised by polite folks and taught that if I didn’t have anything nice to say about someone, then I shouldn’t say anything at all. Unless I had something mean to say which was also funny, in which case it could be shared, at which point we would all say “Ooooo, that’s mean,” as we laughed hysterically.

Even though funny criticism and meanness is allowed, I have generally avoided it throughout my career as a print and internet critic. I believe that bad press is better than no press, so if something I was out to review wasn’t very good, I would generally opt to just not write about it.I generally had a good enough sense of what I was about to see that I could avoid things that were likely to be just outright bad. (Because of this philosophical bent, I find it alternately amusing and appalling that I have been the king of bands that suck on the Internet for many years now. Here’s the test: Google “worst rock band ever” or any variant thereof, and the top result should be from my website).

Sometimes, though, I stumble across things that are so bad, and so offensive to critical sensibilities, that I feel violated by having either spent money or time on them, and in such cases, I do feel that it is in the public good to warn people off so they don’t make the same mistakes. Take, for instance, the “Jethro Tull: Aqualung” book in the generally well-done 33 1/3 series. This is one of my favorite albums ever, so I was very eager to read a thorough critical analysis of it when I purchased it earlier this summer. But, instead, I got this. This book was so screamingly bad that I felt obligated to post an Amazon review for the first time in over five years, and then I actually threw the book in the trash to ensure that no sentient being would ever have to stumble upon it again.

On a music front, the most heinous concerts I have ever attended were by Juliana Hatfield, Marcy Playground and Mary Lou Lord (separately, not all in one show). I excoriated each of them in print, but they were all so gross and bad that I don’t even want to link to those review again. Best left forgotten. Lesson learned. Avoid at all costs.

I had another moment of epic stinkerdom this week when my first generation 1GB iPod Shuffle bit the dust, and I ordered a new one using my Visa Credit Card points (same way I got the first one). While I’m no fan of Apple (don’t get me started on my Mac screed), I had over the years developed a grudging respect for the Shuffle, which was perfect for working out, easy to load, contained a manageable number of songs, and was readily plugged into the AUX jack of my car stereo, so I could rock out in the car too. I’ve used it pretty much constantly since I got it, and I finally wore the poor thing out (the contacts in the volume control button and the headphone jack have gotten iffy, creating a lot of static and pop). Given how hard I worked the beastie, I didn’t begrudge its demise, but happily ordered a new one to replace it.

When my new Shuffle (a third generation 2 GB model) arrived, I eagerly opened the case and was shocked to see something that looked completely different from what I was used to. The volume and play controls aren’t on the Shuffle itself (which has twice as much storage in half the size gadget), but rather on the cable going into the left ear bud. This rendered my current ear buds, AUX cable and docking stations unusable. Which is annoying, but even worse, when I went to FYE, Radio Shack and even the Apple Store to buy a new AUX cord that would work in the car, I was told that they don’t exist! I can’t use the hard plastic default iPod ear buds (they don’t fit in my ears and give me headaches), and was equally stymied in trying to find soft foam ones that had the required cable based controls. And the new Shuffle came with a stubby little three inch USB adaptor that I can’t get to reach my available USB ports without having to move stuff around, leaving the iPod hanging out of the side of my monitor like a tumor.

I did some internet research, and even called Apple customer service, and was told that there’s nothing available yet to address my concerns. I figured I’d suck it up and try to work with the thing, since I read that you could set volume and play list with the stupid control ear buds, and then play it (minus any control capability) through a conventional set of ear buds or AUX cords. It was still completely unusable for me, though: with my big hands, I have a hard enough time trying to push buttons on the Shuffle unit, but trying to manipulate them on a wiggly cable hanging out of my ear was completely frustrating. And don’t even get me started on the voice technology that speaks to tell you the names of the songs that are playing. If I wanted that, I would listen to the radio. I don’t.

So here’s to Apple for taking a nice product and completely destroying it in the name of progress. Sure, it’s smaller, and, sure, it can hold more songs, but it’s impossible to manipulate, and I suspect that the battery charge is going to expire long before you get through your entire 1,000 song playlist, so what’s the point, since you’re gonna have to plug it into something anyway?

This useless and ill-conceived piece of junk will be meeting an untimely end this weekend, though I haven’t decided how yet. I’m thinking grill or garbage disposal. Or maybe axe. And then when I’m done, I’ll go to eBay and buy an “old,” simple, first generation Shuffle 1GB and really appreciate having it. You Mac people have now lost your right to make fun of Windows Vista, because the third generation Shuffle is every bit as much of a corporate muff job, “improving” something that didn’t really need to be messed with, outside of the shareholder greed motive. No!! Bad Apple!! BAD!!!

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