The new iPod Shuffle released today has made some waves for using voice prompts. It's a great solution for the Shuffle which lacks a screen. In fact, that lack of interface has been the thing that has made me shy away from a shuffle since it seemed a little too limited to me. The new VoiceOver feature that Apple has rolled out sounds like a great solution to this problem. However, this interface doesn't sound at all new to me since I've had a PhatBox in my Audi since 2005 that does what the new Shuffle does!
The PhatBox (no link, it's been discontinued) is a Linux-based hard drive MP3 player that mounds in your car in place of the multi-CD changer. It interfaces with the cars head unit as if it were a CD changer, so you don't have to replace the head unit. The problem though is there is no display to show what is playing and with 20G of music to navigate you need something. So, PhatBox figured out to generate short audio files using the AT&T text-to-speech voices just like the new Shuffle does.
How does it work? Really great! Particularly in a car, taking your eye of the road to read something is dangerous and with audio prompts you just listen. I can see that the new Shuffle audio prompts would be equally as nice for jogging. You wouldn't ever need to take your eye of the trail.
The Shuffle does have a nice affect with VoiceOver by having it play while the song is playing, and the song volume ducks in the background. The PhatBox simply plays the recorded audio for the title and then plays the song. Stylistically improved, but not some completely new concept.