20 years of the Apple iPod and how it changed the world

When someones says iPod, many thoughts cross our minds. The iPod isn’t just an MP3 player from Apple. It’s an iconic legacy that redefined how broad the limits could be on a compact device. Not only did it blow us away, but it also changed how we consume music — especially when on the go. Eventually, this product rightfully claimed the lingual throne to become the de-facto, coined term used when referring to any miniature music player — iPod. This 2001 device continued to evolve throughout the years. Apple would make groundbreaking adjustments, leaving us mesmerized — wondering how possible these impossibilities are. However, most things, no matter how great, end with a downfall. And the higher something rises, the deadlier its fall. Ultimately, being in the spotlight attracts attention and an ever-increasing set of unattainable expectations. The iPod is now dead, but we acknowledge that it has impacted the world.

iPod lineup

Last month, I expressed my firm belief on how the iPod is a relic of an era gone by and that it should be killed. To my surprise, Apple actually discontinued the product a few days ago. With stores quickly running out of iPod stocks, this legendary device will soon meet the same fate of its sock and become a collector’s item. Nonetheless, its short-term prominence should be celebrated, and we shall dive into its history and how it has changed people’s lives.

Birth: An iPod history

iPod Model Name Storage Options (GB) Original Release Year Highlights and Changes
“Classic” 1 2001 The very first iPod model — revealed by Steve Jobs as a new way to enjoy music in a portable manner.
“Classic” 2 2002 Switched from mechanical to a touch-sensitive wheel.
“Classic” 3 2003 Full design overhaul with all-touch controls.
“Classic” 4 2004 Included the Click Wheel from the iPod Mini.
“Classic” 5 2005 Another redesign with video playback support.
Classic 6 2007 Added the Classic suffix — which was absent on the previous-gen models — and included a new interface.
Mini 1 2004 Smaller model — available in five colors and introduces the Click Wheel.
Mini 2 2005 Introduced a longer battery life and brighter color options.
Nano 1 2005 Replaced the iPod Mini and brought a colored screen for viewing photos.
Nano 2 2006 More color options and different build materials.
Nano 3 2007 More compact Click Wheel, video support, and updated interface.
Nano 4 2008 Switched back to the tall design, nine color options were offered, and introduced an accelerometer to support the Shake to Shuffle feature.
Nano 5 2009 Introduced a video camera, bigger display, FM radio, and more.
Nano 6 2010 Removed the camera and introduced a multi-touch screen in a smaller form factor.
Nano 7 2012 Switched back to the tall design, introduced a Lightning port, and added Bluetooth support.
Shuffle 1 2005 A new lower end model that has no display.
Shuffle 2 2006 Smaller build made from anodized aluminum.
Shuffle 3 2009 Even smaller design with earbud controls and VoiceOver support.
Shuffle 4 2010 Controls returned to the actual iPod — rather than earbuds.
Touch 1 2007 First multi-touch iPod to support Wi-Fi and the Apple App Store.
Touch 2 2008 Included a built-in speaker and Bluetooth support
Touch 3 2009 Utilized the iPhone 3GS’ internals.
Touch 4 2010 Overhauled design with two new cameras for FaceTime calling and video recording.
Touch 5 2012 Switched to an aluminum chassis with more color options.
Touch 6 2015 Boosted the internals, increased the storage limit, and introduced new colors.
Touch 7 2019 Further increased the storage limit and upgraded the processor.

Steve Jobs unveiled the first iPod model ever back in 2001. At the time, many people depended on portable CD players to enjoy music on the go. These had several inconveniences, though. For example, they don’t fit in normal jeans pockets. So carrying them around was a hassle. Additionally, a typical CD at the time would usually fit 15 songs. So if you wanted to go on a long journey or listen to various/albums, you had to carry artists extra CDs with you.

iPod generations

Credit: Mactracker

There’s no denying that Apple sometimes It comes up with innovative products and solutions — especially during the Steve Jobs era. The man had very high standards and aimed at the very best, even if he had to sacrifice playing nice in the process. His vision had to be met, no matter the cost.

“Those are air bubbles,” he snapped. “That means there’s space in there. Make it smaller.”

Steve Jobs threw one of the early iPod prototypes in an aquarium to prove to the engineers that they could further shrink it. And, indeed, the final result was the size of a card deck. From having to carry a gigantic CD player to just putting a minimalistic device in our pockets — the iPod reimagined what portable and light truly mean.

The first iPod had 5GB of storage — allowing users to store around 1,000 songs at 160kbps. It had a 10-hour battery life and charged through the FireWire technology. Apple then started making tweaks to the iPod and releasing a new model around once a year — as the table above reflects.

iPod lineup

The iPod iterations included plenty of different variables. Some models had/lacked screens, touch controls, the Click Wheel, cameras, a tall design, etc. Apple was making small adjustments almost annually and sometimes reverting them in following models. At some point it had several lineups available for people to choose from. So whether you were looking for the tiniest form factor of the Shuffle, the smarter features of the Touch, or a budget-friendly model — there likely was an iPod for you. By catering to various needs, the iPod started gaining popularity to become the new cool — even if temporarily.

Maturity: How the iPod impacted our lives

Music listening on the go

The iPod impacted the way we view music listening when on the go. It raised our standards — wanting to fit more in a tighter space. Carrying 15 songs through a CD player became unacceptable. This pushed other companies to reevaluate their products and release similar iPods. Instead of switching between compact disks, we could suddenly just load our entire libraries within minutes and effortlessly fit this magical device in our pockets. It truly revolutionized music portability.

A threat to piracy

Piracy has been around for who knows how long, and it truly hurts creators. Not only does it hinder their livelihoods when it comes to the monetary aspect, but it also demotivates some of them and kills their creativity. When someone sees their hard work — where they’ve poured their soul and time — getting spread on illegal websites, it truly destroys parts of them.

Buying CDs wasn’t the most convenient way to get our hands on the latest music. Many people would resort to pirating the MP3 files and then burning them on the compact disk. Apple eventually introduced iTunes — an online store that is fully compatible with the iPod. People would just buy music through their computers, connect their tiny music players, sync, and enjoy the tunes on the go — which was infinitely easier. Yes, people could still pirate music and sync them to the iPod. However, iTunes was a solution for those who didn’t feel good about stealing other people’s art but also wanted a more convenient way to do the right thing.

More than just multimedia

iPod with updated Apple Music app

As the iPod shifted designs, it eventually reached its final form in late Touch models. It basically became a smartphone that lacks cellular capabilities. In fact, throughout the years, it was an inspirational product that proves that a phone can indeed be smaller and smarter. It lead the way for us to reach our current stage today. The iPod was no longer just about music, photos, and video. It became a gaming and social device — through iOS and its App Store. And this is exactly where the beginning of its end is.

Death: Why the iPod needed to retire

iPod sales

In the tech world, to maintain relevance, a product needs to offer something that no other does. “Dumb” phones have died (for the most part). Why? There are better products that offer the same capabilities and more — smartphones. You either evolve and continue to offer exclusivities, or you lose your seat on the (continuously-refreshing) list of relevance. The iPod turned into a SIM-less iPhone. So while the former may have paved the way for the latter, it also failed to keep up with the times. The iPod gave brith to the iPhone — only to get killed by it a few years later.

Why spend money on an iPod when you could buy a second-hand or budget iPhone with better specs and use it without a SIM card for portable music listening? Additionally, why settle for the tiny 4-inch display for gaming and watching series when the affordable iPad has a 10.2-inch screen that makes more sense for these kinds of entrainment? The iPod simply fits nowhere today. It does a little of everything that other devices have already mastered.

I have to admit, as much as I wanted to see Apple kill the iPod, it still is — in a way — heartbreaking. It’s a bittersweet moment, putting this (formerly) mind-blowing device in its grave. But that’s the course of life. People and things serve a purpose, and eventually they have to move on. The iPod has done its job, and now it’s time for it rest. We shall remember it as one of the breakthrough innovations that truly changed the course of compact technologies, as its headphone jack smiles at us from above.

How do you feel about Apple killing the iPod lineup? Let us know in the comments section below.

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