When Apple released the third-generation iPod shuffle in 2009, I saw it as a perfect example of the design hubris that many Apple detractors point to. From a usability perspective, there really wasn't anything wrong with the second-generation iPod shuffle -- it had a minimal number of buttons, true, but their functions were fairly obvious. In a textbook example of the emphasis of form over function, Apple's third-generation iPod shuffle removed all of the controls from the device itself and moved them to the headphones' inline remote. Not only was the remote far more complex to use than the old shuffle's simple buttons, it also meant that, if you wanted to use third-party headphones, you'd either have to give up all control over the iPod or shell out more money for an inline remote adapter. The third-gen iPod shuffle got savaged in reviews, and it deserved it.
Apple's fourth-generation iPod shuffle mercifully brought the buttons back. Apple even lists "buttons" as a feature on its page for the iPod shuffle. In a rare departure from typical Apple design, the fourth-generation iPod shuffle is much larger than the third-gen; it's not that Apple can't make a music player the size of your thumbnail, but it seems like Apple realized that it shouldn't. So, the return of buttons to the iPod shuffle proves that Apple doesn't always emphasize form over function. Right?
Unfortunately, although the iPod shuffle proves that Apple is perfectly capable of learning from its design missteps, the new iPod nano and iPod touch both feature design compromises that are almost as boneheaded as the buttonless third-gen iPod shuffle. Click "Read More" to see the way these new iPods, nice as they are in some respects, are in other ways an example of a "one step forward, two steps back" design.