White is the new gold. Nothing says "bling-bling" quite like a pair of white earphones.
But this year's hot item is next year's has-been. And, while those white earphones may still be the it accessory, to really turn heads you'll want them coming not from an iPod, but an Altoids tin. Or a pack of chewing gum. Or maybe even a hand-sewn, beaded Hello Kitty case. In short, you're going to need to customise your iPod Shuffle.
While hacking or modifying electronics is nothing new, something about the Shuffle has really taken off with the DIY set. Modders have taken to it like clay, and hardly a day goes by when a new customisation doesn't show up online.
iPod Shuffle mods have spawned their own websites, forums and discussion groups. There's even a Flickr photo group dedicated to the hacks. But what explains the Shuffle's popularity with modders?
"I think one factor is that the Shuffle is cheaper and less complicated. People aren't as worried about damaging it; even if you do you're not out $300," says Jim Younkin, who runs a website dedicated to Shuffle mods.
Shuffle customisation seems to fit into a larger cultural trend. From magazines such as Max Power or Ready-Made, to television shows such as Pimp My Ride, modding is in. The hottest bikes these days aren't mountain or road bikes; they're hacked fixies. All the hip kids are sporting T-shirts from Spunky.co.uk, CafePress and Threadless, designed not by fashionistas but by consumers themselves.
"I think people have rediscovered the joy of making things with your own hands," says Make editor Mark Frauenfelder. "There's a great deal of pleasure to be had in modifying your technology, because it then becomes part of you on some level. People knew this well in earlier times, but it was forgotten when manufacturing methods improved to the point that it became a lot cheaper to buy new stuff than it was to fix or customise broken or older stuff. Shuffle hackers are definitely part of this re-found joy of hacking the world around them to suit them."
So what are some of the better mods? Despite Apple’s tongue-in-cheek warning (’do not eat iPod Shuffle’) most, oddly enough, seem to focus on food. Perhaps the best known of all the Shuffle customisations is the Altoids case mod that will wrap your Shuffle in an aluminium enclosure. One ingenious modder has also come up with a Tic-Tac case, and if you're not a fan of breath mints, you could always try a Juicy Fruit box instead.
Not hungry at all? There are plenty of other innovative cases, from Mac OS X wrapper, to the USS Enterprise mod, and even that old stand by, duct tape. But while case mods are pretty common, they are far from the only type showing up.
"Also I think the standard USB connector is something that inspires lots of hacks," says Younkin. "On Shufflehacks we've seen USB extensions, stands and even how to charge a Shuffle with an Xbox controller. Those all stem from the Shuffle's USB connector."
Since the iPod Shuffle charges through the USB port, several modders have come up with ways to power-up on the go. Not to be mistaken with the Altoids case mod, you can also charge your Shuffle through an Altoids tin. For the truly old-school modder – or anyone who wants to keep on listening to music in a post-apocalyptic society – the hand-crank Shuffle charger is a must.
But be warned, disassembling an iPod Shuffle can be quite tricky. And don't expect Apple to replace your digital audio player once you've torn it up.