The iPod: More Than Just A Music Player
The Internet has been taken over by #RIPiPod as a generation of music aficionados reminisce about a gadget that holds innumerable memories
It’s been a week since Apple formally announced that it has discontinued the iPod line. I’ve finally processed this news that has left many iPod die-hards like me in a state of slight disbelief, although we knew it was inevitable. The Internet has been taken over by #RIPiPod as a generation of music aficionados reminisce about a gadget that holds innumerable memories. We all have those moments from our lives that are linked to one song, and, for many of us, those songs played out an iPod. The last refresh happened in 2019, when Apple launched the seventh-generation iPod Touch. Fans knew that time was running out for a product category that didn’t just change the way we listened to music but also turned Apple’s fortunes around.
Music becomes handy
For a generation that alternates between YouTube and Spotify, 1000 songs on a device is hardly a big deal. But in 2001, this was unimaginable. International CDs cost about Rs 500 back then (about $15 in the US). It’s also tough to imagine that the music industry faced an existential crisis at the turn of the millennium. Napster ushered in the P2P music industry in 1999 and rattled the industry as millions of users ditched CDs for free music. One challenge, however, still remained — moving that free music or MP3 format music files from your computer to a portable device. The iPod may not have been the first gadget to fix that problem, as a plethora of MP3 players hit the scene, but it definitely aced it.
Music becomes portable
Steve Jobs’ admiration for the Sony Walkman is well known. The Walkman went on to become a generic brand and can take credit for making music portable. It all began because Sony’s co-founder Masaru Obuka wanted to be able to listen to music on long flights. Today it’s preserved for posterity in London’s Design Museum that celebrates contemporary design in every form. Steve Jobs philosophy around design has equally been about how it works and not just how it looks or feels like. Johnny Ive, the former Chief Design Officer of Apple is arguably the most influential product designer of the 21st century. His first major design breakthrough was the iMac in 1998 with its translucent plastic case. Ive’s design template for the first iPod came from his passion for industrial design. It took design cues from the 1958 Braun T3 radio and yet looked futuristic. It’s most distinctive design element was the click wheel that would set the design mould for future generations of iPods.
The precursor to the iPhone
The first iPod debuted in 2001 but the big breakthrough was the iTunes Music Store that came into existence in 2003 with digital rights management protection to the songs. It was Warner Music that first bought into the Steve Jobs vision for the iTunes Music Store and songs at 99 cents a download. Soon most record companies came on board. The iTunes clocked 1 million downloads in week one and didn’t look back. It set the template for the App Store as we know it now. When Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone to the world in January 2007 (it hit stores in June that year) he referred to it as an iPod, a phone and an internet communicator. Even he might not have predicted in 2007 that the iPod’s days were numbered.
The 2010s changed music, yet again
We all have our favourite iPod. I still cling to my tiny 2GB iPod Shuffle. Almost a decade ago it was my default workout music gadget, but today it’s my LTE Apple Watch. The iPhone overtook the iPod in 2011 and began to outsell the iPod 10:1 by 2013. However, it wasn’t just the iPhone that killed the iPod. Apple now calls it the ‘Spirit of the iPod’ and how your music library can play out across Apple’s products from the iPhone to the Apple Watch.
Apple Music now offers 90 million songs and 300,000 playlists. Music streaming and players like Spotify have changed the dynamics. Add the growing popularity of podcasts to the mix and it’s a whole new world out there. The only spot you might miss music downloads is on a long flight. It’s why we don’t need the iPod in 2022. But we all might still miss those simpler times when we had all our favourite music on one device. We plugged in our ‘wired’ headphones to shut off from the whole world with no possibility of being disturbed by an email or a WhatsApp message on our iPod.