What makes an iPod an iPod? That's the question evoked by Apple's latest member of its wildly popular digital-music-player family. To compete in the low-cost "flash memory" arena (using a memory chip on the device as opposed to a larger-capacity hard drive), Apple did away with such well-known features as the "click wheel" and the display screen--in fact, the sleek, white iPod Shuffle, which is barely the size of a pack of gum, has but two ways to play the 120 or 240 songs it carries. Either you play them in order or "shuffle" them to play back randomly (either way, you can't see the title of the tune). "When you don't have much music it's a wonderful way to listen," says Apple CEO Steve Jobs.
So what's an iPod, then? "It's just a great digital music player," says Jobs. As well as something that ties into the popular iPod ecosystem of the iTunes software and online music store.
The iPod Shuffle sells for $99 (120-song version) or $149 (240 songs). It's got a rechargeable battery (12 hours a charge) and a cool way to "autofill" your unit by loading a random selection of songs from your iTunes library.
Apple's other big noise at last week's annual Macworld Expo was its long-awaited low-end PC: the cigar-box-size Mac Mini. It's the first Macintosh under $500 (one dollar under, to be exact), and yes, it's a real Mac. Jobs takes pains to distinguish it from competing entry-level machines. "The typical thing to do to come in at that price is to make it big, ugly and noisy. We wanted something really elegant, small and quiet, without giving up performance." So what's missing? The keyboard, mouse and monitor. Customers must buy their own--or, as Jobs hopes, "take out their big, noisy Dell box, use the same display, keyboard and mouse, and plug it into this tiny, little, quiet minibox--and have a whole new computer."