iPod Shuffle an opportunity for Podcasters

Michael Singer's article on the iPod Shuffle demonstrates the bias that a handful of programmers would like to present. The article Apple's iPod Shuffle Stifles Podcasting quotes pundit Doc Searls, co-author of the Cluetrain Manifesto, citing problems moving around inside a podcast. His take is that it is a problem on the regular iPod and instead of fixing the problem Apple eliminated the functionality.

Hopefully the people have tried to set the record straight about the incorrect stories in the tech press, will not ignore this issue because they are on the other side. Here is a bit of the reality for those who stop by. Many are a reprise from my earlier article on what Podcatchers (podcast listeners) want.

  • Shorter podcasts are not a bad thing - usually they are in fact better
  • Navigating the original iPod interface is not that difficult
  • Podcasts that drone on and don't say much won't continue to keep users
  • A series of short podcasts, mixed with a listener's choice in music, are superb companions for a walk

Finally it would be wise for the podcasting crowd to understand Apple has spent a whole bunch of cold hard dollars on market research. It is pretty short sighted to continue to believe you and your buddies have it right when many are telling Apple, both in research and in purchases, they have it right.



First, I had to speak with th

First, I had to speak with three different Apple employees at Macworld -- at the iPod part of the booth -- before I could find one who could give me detailed instructions on how to fast forward and rewind on one of the things. But "not that difficult" is relative. As I recall from a recent issue, Consumer Reports said an iRiver sounded better than both the iPod and the iPod Mini, but the magazine recommended the iPod over the iRiver because the iRiver's UI was too complicated.

Second, as for market research, I'm sure Apple has done a lot. And I give generous credit to Apple's market instincts as well. What research would have suggested, in the wake of the failure of Gateway in the retail space, that Apple would have a chance there? Yet they're enormously successful. Bravo for them.

That said, one former Apple employee told me he was pretty sure the Shuffle was the result of feature-cutting to fit a size and price point target, rather than, as Steve Jobs suggested in his keynote, a decision to addres users' affections for the shuffle feature. Still, who am I (or anybody) to second-guess a guy whose track record is a huge percentage of winners (5-for-5 at Pixar included)?

Third, the onus is on podcasters, as well as device manufactures, to make listening easier. That's why I believe long podcasts ought to be broken up into pieces that make navigation easier. How, exactly, is open to discussion; but something needs to be done.

Fourth (and finally), I've been trying to make it clear, since I jumped into various threads on this topic, this isn't about Apple. And the desire for a better podcast player isn't one Apple should feel obligated to addresss. Apple isn't Sony (as friends who work there have told me more than once.) They can't throw out a bunch of different SKUs to see which ones succeed or fail. Their model is, almost literally, to hit a home run with every at-bat. The entire Apple product portfolio is therefore quite small. Steve Jobs made that strategy clear not long after he came back and killed off the cloners, along with a mess of research projects and speculative development efforts, deciding instead to concentrate on high-percentage chances of success. And he's succeeded.

Podcasting is a niche market -- a tiny fraction of the music listening market that Apple has been taking over, both with iTunes and iPod. And podcasting is changing rapidly. If we're lucky, Apple will address podcasting's concerns in the next generation of the basic iPod. Or with a new product, someday. Meanwile, every market needs competition, and that goes for portable digital audio players and recorders too. Apple is a leading vendor on the player side of that market, and deserves enormous respect and credit for that. But a healthy market requires other vendors to offer compelmentary as well as competitive products. Those other vendors can only be helped by a market that voices its desires.

Thanks Doc for your thoughtfu

Thanks Doc for your thoughtful reply.

I should clarify a few things. My comment about the original iPod navigation is not related to the iPod shuffle (and I just learned it is not supposed to be capitalized), but is instead my reactionary stance from listening to too many early podcasts that harped repeatedly on the "fact" that the iPod cannot fast forward and the only way to listen to a segment again is to go to the beginning of a track. The interface on the original iPod is not that different from most CD player - diskman devices from Sony and several other makers. Until the end of next week, according to the Apple Store website, I won't know about the iPod shuffle. Ultimately that comment probably doesn't belong in this piece.

My comments on market research rely heavily on Jobs presentation when they introduced the iPod Mini where he presented quite a bit of research.

I'm in the relatively small portion of the audience who does listen to podcasts. After the novelty wore off I find that I listen mainly to relatively short (5-10 minute) podcasts that fit nicely into a music mix so I can get some perl of wisdom and have time to digest it while listening to songs.

Evidently I'm not in the minority when it comes to shuffle though. To be honest the only playlists I use (other than audiobooks) is simply a list that randomly plays any of the tracks from my 30GB of music, classical, rap, country, musicals, baroque and so on.