After 20 years, the Apple iPod makes its final bow.
The company announced on Wednesday that it was ceasing production of the portable music player, which isn’t a huge shock considering the device was last updated in 2019 and hasn’t really been mentioned by Apple since.
When the iPod first hit the market in October 2001, it was still common to see people bowing their heads to music blaring through chunky headphones plugged into a portable cassette or CD player.
However, the iPod was not the first of its kind.
There were already other MP3 players on the market, but the combination of iPods with iTunes software, which Apple had released earlier that year, turned the device into a game changer.
When he first introduced iPods, Steve Jobs, co-founder and then CEO of Apple, stood on a small stage in his ubiquitous black turtleneck for a powerpoint presentation and talked about the current portable music devices on the market.
Most cost between $70 and $150 and could only hold between 15 and 150 songs.
The first version of the iPod cost $399 and could hold up to 1,000 songs with its 5 GB of storage.
“Having your entire music library with you at all times is a huge leap forward in listening to music,” said Jobs.
How the world reacted
Reactions to the device have been mixed; some initial online commentators complained about introducing another mp3 player.
The customer base for a first-generation iPod was also limited because the device initially only worked with a Mac. Apple released a Windows PC-compatible iPod seven months after its initial launch.
Some musicians also initially refused to make their music available on iTunes; AC/DC guitarist Angus Young told The Telegraph in 2008 that one of the reasons the band wouldn’t sell its new album on the platform is because Apple allows customers to buy individual songs rather than forcing them to purchase entire albums.
But many, if not most, other musicians didn’t object, and the available storage space, ease of use, and sleek design of the device allowed it to gain a steadily growing customer base.
In October 2004, Forbes reported that the company had sold approximately 7.3 million iPods and that Apple made more from selling iPods than from “a single line of its computers.”
Three years later, in 2007, Apple reported the sale of its 100 millionth iPod.
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After Mr. Jobs died in 2011, several music industry heavyweights reflected on his impact on iPods.
The director of the Grammy Museum, Robert Santelli, said what Jobs did with the iPod was as important as the invention of the phonograph.
“We counted on him as a world to show us how we listen to and consume music,” said Mr. Santelli.
The Evolution of the iPod
The current – and now definitive – iPod design is virtually unrecognizable compared to its first iteration.
The first-generation iPod was the size of a deck of cards and featured a small black-and-white LED screen with a circular control panel with a scroll wheel below.
The device has undergone several transformations over the years.
The first few versions kept the same general shape and style as the original, emphasizing expanding the available storage space.
Then came colored LED screens and the ability to play videos.
iPods through the ages.
Some of the most famous generations can be considered the iPod nano and the small iPod shuffle (the first iPod without a screen).
Despite Sony, Rio, and Dell’s competition, iPods dominated the portable music device scene for years.
But the 2007 iPod touch, which should have been revolutionary with its combination of touchscreen, camera, messaging, and app store, was overshadowed by the release of the first iPhone earlier this year.
And iPods never recovered.
The beginning of the end
Apple’s first iPhone would be considered an unbearably slow rock by today’s standards, but in 2007 it was revolutionary — and it could listen to music.
Back then, the iPhone’s music app was called “iPod.”
Mr. Jobs referred to the iPod touch as “iPhone training wheels,” and the layout was appropriate; the device was really a cheaper version of the iPhone with less usage.
The first iPad pushed the market further in 2010, and in 2017 Apple discontinued the iPod shuffle and nano, leaving the iPhone replica-like iPod touch as the sole representative of the iPod lineup.
But Apple was never afraid to cannibalize itself.
In 2013, Apple CEO Tim Cook saw self-cannibalization as a “huge opportunity” for the company.
“First, our basic philosophy is never to fear cannibalization. If we do that, someone else will just cannibalize it, so we’re never afraid of it,” he said.
“We know that the iPhone cannibalized some iPod activity. We’re not concerned, but it’s done.”
In 2015, Apple’s then-marketing chief Phil Schiller said it was “almost by design” that every Apple product had to fight for a place in its offerings.
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While the latest updates to iPhones weren’t nearly revolutionary, with new features coming mainly in speed and camera quality, it was inevitable that iPods would eventually end up on the chopping block.
And since Apple predicts that the global shortage of microchips will continue to hurt the company’s production and sales, it makes sense that the time is right now.
iPods can still be bought while supplies last, but this week’s announcement puts a silent death on one of Apple’s foundational products that had a lasting effect on how people worldwide consume music today.