The life cycles of these two products have been such great stories.
The first nano was such a drastic miniaturisation of the iPod mini that came before it that I couldn’t believe it at first. The only other time I was swept away by such a reduction of size and weight in an Apple product line was with the iPhone, from the 4s to the 5. The nano only kept decreasing in size since then.
Although the nano more notably changed in form between product generations. It became somewhat of a test bed for the ID team at Apple. It was smushed, then narrowed, then smushed again, then narrowed again in what would be its final incarnation.
The nano experienced a lot of firsts, too. It was the first iPod to receive a camera. I had a friend with that model and I remember being amazed that a device that small could have a camera. The 6th-gen nano – and all its tacky third-party wrist-straps – was the Apple Watch before the Apple Watch.
Even as it underwent these big changes on a pretty regular basis, it continued to sell well. It also managed to retain what made it an iPod, in that you couldn’t mistake it for being anything other than an iPod. In fact, you could say it defined the iPod. That can’t be said for a lot of other Apple product lines.
The shuffle was a different story – in a way, it’s the opposite story. The shuffle didn’t change form and function all the much. It went from being elongated and looking more like the first nano to just being a click-wheel. Then it went to being elongated again and received VoiceOver, then it went back to the click-wheel design it’s most known for.
Okay, maybe it did change a bunch… but from what I’ve seen, it was the smaller click-wheel shuffles that were the most popular. I could swear I’ve never seen either of the elongated designs in the wild, so to speak. I think it attests to, more than anything, the popularity of the click-wheel interaction method. (Also, the buttons were great to fidget with. It was the fidget cube before the fidget cube.)
As the nano veered further and further from analog controls, the shuffle remained the iPod that kept its original vision alive – a portable device that simply played your music. The shuffle’s limited function made it the counterbalance to the ambition of the nano within the iPod lineup. It makes it all the more unfortunate they were phased out at the same time.