Updated at 6:22 a.m. PDT with more details and new images, and 8:45 a.m. PDT with comments from Apple.
Apparently the tiny iPod Shuffle wasn't tiny enough. On Wednesday, Apple unveiled a 4GB Shuffle that's half the size of its predecessor.
The new device is smaller than a AA battery yet holds up to 1,000 songs, Apple said. The preshrunk Shuffle also adds a new VoiceOver feature that can recite song titles, artists, and playlist names, as well as provide status information, such as battery life. Speaking of which, Apple said the gadget's battery life clocks in at 10 hours.
Priced at $79, it comes in silver or black. The aluminum body of the third-generation Shuffle stands 1.8 inches tall and is 0.3 inch thick. The navigation and volume controls are in a small protrusion on the right earphone cord.
With the new Shuffle, users can organize songs by multiple playlists. The VoiceOver feature can speak in 14 languages: English, Czech, Dutch, French, German, Greek, Italian, Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, Polish, Portuguese, Spanish, Swedish, and Turkish.
VoiceOver is Apple's term for the text-to-speech engine built into Mac OS X Leopard in order to let blind people use a Mac more easily. The "Alex" voice generated by that software is the one that Leopard users will hear, while Windows users and Mac OS X Tiger (10.4) users will hear a different voice, said Greg Joswiak, Apple's vice president of iPod and iPhone marketing.
The first time you sync one of the new iPod Shuffles with iTunes, Apple will install software on your Mac or PC that makes the voice feature possible. This isn't speech recognition; you can't speak into your iPod headphone and order up Bob Dylan's "Blood on the Tracks," but the voice feature is more useful than just reminding you of the name of that song you downloaded three years ago but had forgotten about until it randomly came up on your Shuffle.
Apple now supports playlist discovery with the new iPod Shuffle. A button in the center of the headphone controls, when held down for a few seconds, takes you into a playlist mode where the speech engine recites the names of your playlists in alphabetical order, allowing you to select a playlist by pushing the button again, Joswiak said.
The only controls on the device itself are the on/off switch and the shuffle/llnear switch, Joswiak said. Apple will ship its own in-ear headphones with the Shuffle, but third-parties will be able to make their own headphones that have the controls, and they'll also make adapters that will let you use the controls with existing headphones, he said.
Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster put out a research note Wednesday upgrading his expectations for Apple's earnings per share in fiscal 2009 based on his belief that the new Shuffles will generate more profit for Apple. The $79 price returns Apple to the price point used for the second-generation Shuffle, which was cut to $49 last year. Apple is discontinuing a 2GB $69 Shuffle introduced at last year's iPod event, but will continue to sell the older $49 1GB Shuffle, Joswiak said.