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On this day 20 years ago, the iPod changed the world, here’s what it means to us


The iPod is a funny product. That fundamentally changed Apple, and yet it was slowly and unceremoniously killed by its successors, the iPhone and iPad. The iPod has a long history, from how it originated to the huge number of models the company has been working on for two decades. The original iPod was the first handheld consumer electronics Apple made after Steve Jobs returned to the company, and it revolutionized almost every major industry around the world. But the iPod also means something special to me. The first Apple product that was brand new and truly mine was the iPod shuffle he gave me for my 7th birthday.

From City Hall to the world stage

On October 23, 2001, Steve Jobs took to the Town Hall stage at 4 Infinite Loop in Cupertino and unveiled his first iPod. There is no doubt that the industry was a bit confused by Apple’s decision to make an MP3 player. After all, the company was best known for making large, colorful computers, not sleek white boxes that fit in your pocket.

What the media didn’t realize at the time was that it was a natural next step for the company and that Steve knew exactly what he was doing. There’s that famous story about the executive team, especially Jon Rubinstein, who discovered a small 5GB hard drive made by Toshiba. It was a clear indication that the industry was really stepping on gas when it came to miniaturization. The iPod was the perfect type of device for consumers to get acquainted with the Apple product that goes with you everywhere. It was friendly, personal and unlike anything anyone else had ever done.

The first few years of the iPod were pretty slow. The device cost $ 399 and only played music. At the time, that was hard to justify unless you were an audiophile or loved music and money made a hole in your pocket. The iPod really came into being when it became compatible with Windows. Apple added the ability to sync your iPod with a Windows computer with a second-generation model, and a year later they introduced iTunes for Windows, simplifying the experience. In the blink of an eye, the iPod has become a drug for Windows users to get hooked on Apple products.

The company has shipped several different iPod families over its lifetime. The original white iPod, later renamed the iPod Classic, had 7 different generations. After the fourth generation of the iPod, the company created a new spin off line that eventually lasted a short time: the iPod Photo. iPod Photo was the first iPod with a color screen. In addition to iPod Photo, Apple also introduced the first U2 iPod to be perfected over the years as the iPod evolved.

Bono with U2 iPod + Steve Jobs with iPod Photo (via Classic Rockers)

In the same year, 2004, the company introduced the first colorful iPod: the iPod mini. The iPod mini was the first iPod to now have Apple’s signature anodized aluminum. It has only been revised once with some new colors and a better screen. It was also Apple’s first gold product. In 2005, the company made things … mini-air. With the iPod shuffle, Apple has democratized the product line and made it insanely affordable. For just $ 100, anyone could get an iPod that works with iTunes. The iPod shuffle was also the company’s first wearable device. It had a multitude of accessories such as strings, sports bags, docking stations, and even special types of headphones.

iPod shuffle and its many first-party accessories

In 2005, the cult iPod nano replaced the iPod mini. It had a revolutionary ultra-thin form factor and just made the iPod synonymous with low-speed SSD memory. Throughout its life, Apple has experimented with a product that has changed its design almost every year. The third generation iPod nano got a wide squat shape, the 5th generation iPod nano had a video camera and a unique polished finish, the 6th generation iPod nano was really a precursor to the Apple Watch and had a small square design with a screen to the touch. When Apple started working on the Apple Watch, they returned the iPod nano to a tall and skinny design and added a start button. IPod shuffle and iPod nano discontinued in 2017.

4th generation iPod nano from an unpublished ad

The last iPod to survive is of course the iPod touch. It’s still there, lurking in the shadow of the Apple Store. It is outdated, too small and honestly not good. But the iPod touch used to be the star of the show. When it was introduced in 2007, it helped the iPhone make the revolution it was. It was an iPhone without a phone and expanded the iOS user base. At the beginning of its life, it was updated together with the iPhone, it was skipped only a few times before the product finally lost its power. You can still buy an iPod touch from Apple in a few colors for $ 199, but who knows how long it will take. The company removed it from the new music site on Apple.com and now you have to actively search for the product to find it.

Apple ‘s advertisements for the fifth generation iPod (via The Verge)

The iPod itself was great, but it could be said that the reason it was so successful was Apple’s now legendary marketing campaigns. The company has worked with longtime Chiat / Day associates on iconic silhouette-shaped commercials that have made white headphones a fashion statement as they are. The company has repeated the style many times over the years and has had special guest artists like Eminem and Coldplay. They have revived the style several times since then, most recently with AirPods third-generation video and website discoveries.

Silhouette-shaped ads were not the only important marketing campaign for the iPod. The company’s ads have evolved over the lifetime of the iPod. Some of my favorite commercials include: a 4th generation iPod nano drip paint ad placed on Chairlift’s “Bruises,” a 3rd generation iPod nano ad placed on Feists “1234,” and a 2nd generation nano commercial for trippy 3D coloring. Like the iPod nano itself, the commercials were a test field for wild and unusual ideas.

One of my favorite iPod commercials from 2011

Let’s go in person

With the history of the iPod, let’s go in person. I asked 9to5Mac the team will share their thoughts on the 20th anniversary of the iPod, and you can read them below:

Chance Miller

Like many people, the iPod was the first Apple product I owned. Specifically, it was a second-generation iPod nano with an impressive 2GB of storage. When I got my hands on this second-generation iPod nano, something immediately clicked in my brain and I knew I would be buying Apple products for years.

Most of my iPod memories are of the iPod nano, including unpacking a fourth-generation model on Christmas morning, admiring but never buying a sixth-generation Apple Watch-style model, and impulsively buying a seventh-generation model from Target. (We didn’t know this would be the last iPod nano ever sold.)

Although the iPod was eventually available in a number of different form factors, the iPod nano will always be the “essential” iPod in my mind. From its vibrant and fun colors to its iconic marketing campaigns, the iPod nano represented everything that could be loved about Apple in the mid-2000s. In many ways, falling in love with the iPod nano is why I’m happy enough to have the job I have today.

Should Apple revitalize the iPod line in 2021? While there aren’t many practical reasons for this, I have to admit that the so-called “iPod Max” inspired by the iPod Classic design, but with a modern twist, would be an instant purchase for me.

Ben Lovejoy

I’ve always loved listening to music on the go, from the first Sony Walkman onwards. It was eventually replaced by Discman and then the first mp3 player, the MPMan F10. All three generations of technology had one thing in common: they gave me access to only one album at a time.

I happened to be in New York the day the iPod was on sale, and I remember going through half of Manhattan before I finally found a place that had them in stock. So much of my music on me at all times was an absolute joy and I literally carried that thing everywhere I went.

My final model was the 160GB 6th-gen Classic, which stored all my music. That, for me, was the ultimate thing at the time: to be able to play any of my music anytime, anywhere.

Eventually my iPhone took over music duties, and now, of course, we have the luxury of being able to play almost any music on demand – but I will always look back on my iPods with great love.

Parker Ortolani

The iPod meant the world to me then. When I was little, I desperately wanted an iPod. I remember my dad, who was quite technically savvy at the time, had a beautiful silver iPod mini. I should have had one of my own. Of course, on my 7th birthday, Grandma surprised me with an iPod shuffle. It was the first Apple product I got brand new out of the box. I carried it everywhere with tape, fastened it to my room, I even used it as a flash drive for school.

I had a bunch of iPods as a child. The other iPod I got was a 5.5 generation black iPod video of 2006. I asked my parents for a (PRODUCT) red iPod nano, but they surprised me with the best iPod you could get at the time. I filled that thing up with so many TV shows and movies and it was the first iPod to slowly creep into my Nintendo DS. A year later, Apple introduced the original iPod touch, which I got that year for Christmas. Everything has changed. I saluted my dad’s original iPhone and hoped the company would make an iPhone without a phone. The original iPod touch is one of my favorite Apple products ever made and it was the first iOS device I owned.

Left to wither, but not forgotten

Some of Apple’s best products were iPods and it’s sad to see the product line drop. Apple knew that phones would cannibalize the iPod, so he made his own phone. Of course, they were right and the iPhone ate lunch for the iPod. It is stuck in the form of an iPod touch, but shows no signs of life.

Apple Music has also changed things. It contains almost every song ever written. We are far from 1000 songs in your pocket. You now have tens of millions on your wrist. The Apple Watch, AirPods, and HomePod have probably taken the place of the iPod. Apple is obviously having fun with three product lines. The new HomePod mini comes in beautiful colors that look like an iPod. AirPods are everywhere and are arguably more cult than the old white headphones. And the Apple Watch is everywhere on the wrists and serves a similar purpose as the iPod. It is an addition to your phone.

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Naveen Kumar

Friendly communicator. Music maven. Explorer. Pop culture trailblazer. Social media practitioner.

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