Apple introduced a smaller version of its popular iPod Shuffle music player on Wednesday with a new feature that tells the user what song is playing.The new 4-gigabyte gadget costs $79, is half the size of the previous Shuffle, and carries up to 1,000 songs -- twice as many as the last generation of the device.
All of the controls on the new Shuffle have been moved from the device to the earphone cord. The new VoiceOver feature announces songs and playlists to users in 14 different languages, according to Apple, whose shares rose 4.5 percent.
The voice function is particularly useful on the Shuffle, which does not have a display screen like most iPods or other digital music players.
Needham & Co analyst Charles Wolf said the new Shuffle design was appealing and called the voice function a "nice a little gimmick. It shows that Apple intends to keep that piece of the portfolio going. They're going to continue to innovate, upgrade the sub-$100 device."
"It won't necessarily stimulate sales, but it clearly will keep sales of the Shuffle going forward," he said.
The VoiceOver feature works by synchronizing with iTunes software, which installs a voice kit on the user's computer. VoiceOver can also tell a user how much battery life remains.
"You previously couldn't have multiple playlists on the iPod Shuffle because you couldn't really switch between them as there was no way to know how you would switch," said Greg Joswiak, Apple vice president of iPod marketing, told Reuters. "So now instead of seeing, you get to hear."
Although Apple does not break out Shuffle sales, Needham's Wolf estimated some 7.5 million units were sold in the December quarter, it's biggest-selling quarter. Apple sold 22.7 million iPod units overall in the period.
The third generation of iPod Shuffle will be the world's tiniest music player, smaller than an AA battery. It comes in two colors, silver and black.
Apple will continue to sell the second-generation version of the 1-gigabyte, 240-song Shuffle for $49. but phase out the 2-gigabyte Shuffle, which sells for $69.
The iPod music player has played an important role in the revival of Apple's fortunes. The company has sold more than 200 million iPods since they launched in 2001. It launched the first Shuffle in January 2005.
The refreshed Shuffle comes just a week after the company updated its line of Mac desktop computers. Apple refreshed it MacBook laptop computers last fall.