Apple’s iPod is improbably still around: Here’s a look at its past 20 years


The iPod, in any case this time, continues to be round (in a drastically completely different type). 

Collin Buenerkemper/CNET

For a very long time, the iPod and Apple had been synonymous — entities that had been consistently morphing and shaping, quite than reacting to, the whims of its customers. But whereas Apple’s fortunes are nonetheless on the rise, the iPod’s gentle has dimmed and the iPhone instructions a lion’s share of consideration. However the gadget that jump-started Apple’s fashionable fortunes is nonetheless on sale after 20 years. 

No, significantly.

After its launch in 2001 the iPod, helped alongside by music retailer iTunes, turned some of the iconic devices of all time, spawning a bunch of imitators and legitimizing the market of MP3 gamers that it dominated. The iPod has developed and radically modified over time, it is now an iPhone with out the mobile radio. However you may nonetheless purchase an iPod Contact on Apple’s website (you might want to dig for it on the backside of the house web page), a testomony to its outstanding longevity in an trade the place final yr’s gadget is shortly forgotten. 

Is the iPod nonetheless related within the 2020s? Let’s look again on the iPod’s historical past and look at what’s contributed to its endurance, and the place (if anyplace) it may be going.

The nostalgia machine


Tony Fadell, inventor of the ipod.

Composite by Sarah Tew/CNET

Nostalgia is an emotion that retains arising when individuals discuss in regards to the iPod, however as any neuroscientist will inform you it is as a result of music and memory are intrinsically linked. Tony Fadell, the former Apple executive who designed and constructed the iPod was in a reflective temper because the music participant’s twentieth anniversary approached.

“Lots of people nonetheless bear in mind these iPod days,” Fadell informed CNET in an interview. “It was actually a superpower.” 

Fadell grew up listening to the Sony Walkman and, in a little bit of synchronicity, was recruited by Steve Jobs 20 years later to craft what could be its digital alternative. As ubiquitous because the iPod turned, it is simple to neglect that Apple did not really invent the digital music participant. The first MP3 players  — together with the Rio PMP300 — preceded the iPod by three years, however again then MP3 was a largely unlawful and extremely litigable format. 

Fadell and his colleagues labored to create the ensuing iPod — a tool which was introduced on Oct. 23, 2001, barely a month after the occasions of Sept. 11. This was a conveyable music participant with a 5GB arduous drive, a neater solution to load and purchase songs and the memorable tagline of “1,000 songs in your pocket.” Apple was capable of supply a conveyable music gadget — a bodily object just like the Walkman and turntable earlier than it — which mixed with its digital iTunes platform. It might additionally play individuals’s rigorously pirated curated MP3 collections as properly.   

Fadell likened his iPod to a time capsule which he likes to go to on occasion: “You form of jack in and you are like, ‘I am excellent again to early 2000s music and the music earlier than that.'”

It is good to be king

historical ipods

Apple photos composited by Sarah Tew/CNET

The iPod helped remodel Apple from a struggling laptop producer to the world’s largest firm. Fadell informed me the group was flying by the seat of its pants when it put collectively the iPod. However producing the primary mannequin was solely half of the battle.

As with Apple itself, the key to the iPod’s longevity has been its reinvention. The iPod went via a number of design modifications in its lifetime — from a “dumb” music gadget packing a hard-drive, to a screen-less fob, right through to what’s now primarily a cut-down iPhone. Whereas the main focus has been predominantly music, the gadget added a gradual sequence of options over time.

Fadell stated the designers stored including slightly little bit of functionality annually so that they “did not overwhelm the customers.”

“You begin with music, add some images and podcasts and movies and video games,” he stated. “So preserve layering on and giving them one thing new.”


The iPod Traditional

CNET Networks/Corinne Schulze

This branching-out led to dozens of models over the years from the Nano to the Mini and in the end to the Contact. To a contemporary eye, probably the most inscrutable of those is the iPod Shuffle — a participant and not using a display and only a easy set of controls — however its philosophy of “working your personal radio station” has additionally pushed streaming providers like Pandora and Spotify. Even with all of those completely different variations, the one which looms largest is the iPod Classic — with its iconic scroll wheel and chunky, clutchable form.

Regardless of its evolution, Apple’s precept of holding listeners in its closed ecosystem has been the important thing to the recognition of not simply the iPod, however fashionable gadgets just like the iPhone and iPad. As a part of this course of, Apple funnels any third-party purchases via its personal, profitable App Retailer. Fadell stated within the early days this was completed to enhance compatibility.

“It actually all stemmed from iTunes and iPod and making them work extremely seamlessly properly.”

The iPod additionally led to numerous innovations, together with the Bluetooth speaker. The Bose SoundDock 10 was one of many first gadgets to include each Bluetooth and an iPod dock. Then when Apple modified from the 30-pin plug to the Lightning connector — successfully killing the iPod dock — it was Bluetooth that proved to be the profitable characteristic.


iPod docks just like the Bose SoundDock paved the best way for right now’s Bluetooth audio system.


We additionally would not have podcasts with out the iPod. It is within the title. It is an understatement to say that podcasts are raging proper now. When septuagenarian Steve Martin makes a TV show about them you understand they seem to be a totally established a part of the zeitgeist.

For a decade, the iPod and its many sides captured the general public’s creativeness — the often-parodied, silhouetted iPod ads had been seemingly in every single place — however the gadget’s reputation was consistently examined, with the largest menace coming from inside. 

Pretenders to the throne

The music participant has weathered numerous threats in its time, most of which had been described as “iPod killers,” from Microsoft’s Zune to Sony’s personal reinvented Walkman to high-end fashions from the likes of Pono.

None of those took off in the best way their inventors hoped, with the iPod commonly grabbing roughly 80% of the market throughout its heyday. No, it wasn’t different MP3 gamers which threatened the iPod however a unique kind of gadget.

“The true competitors got here when cell telephones began getting information — cell telephones beginning to be 2.5G, beginning to appear to be Sidekicks and beginning to placed on MP3,” Fadell stated.

The Motorola Rokr E6 bombed virtually as quickly because it hit cabinets.

CNET Networks

Apple flirted with these so-called “feature phones” by serving to to create the notorious Motorola ROKR in 2005 — however that product wasn’t an ideal telephone and it was an excellent worse MP3 participant. It was, nonetheless, the precursor to one thing that will grow to be far more influential than the iPod. 

In 2007, Apple launched its first iPhone on AT&T as an unique, and it was the logical evolution of the corporate’s concepts. It was a lot greater than an iPod with an antenna in it. This gadget was easy to make use of and it might play music, browse the online and make telephone calls. It wasn’t till the iPhone 3G, which benefited from decrease pricing, a quicker mobile connection and the newly launched App Retailer, that individuals started flocking to purchase the gadget. 

Pockets and pocketbooks are solely so deep and so Apple’s followers reached the purpose the place that they had to decide on between the 2 gadgets. “Persons are solely going to hold one gadget. Which one goes to be their go-to gadget — communication or media?” Fadell stated.

Regardless of new and extra handy sizes and shapes, together with sports-friendly clips, the iPod’s days had been now numbered, and the corporate itself was the one in charge. Even Apple acknowledged that.

“We count on our conventional MP3 gamers to say no over time as we cannibalize ourselves with the iPod touch and the iPhone,” Peter Oppenheimer, Apple’s chief monetary officer said in July 2009, as reported by MacWorld.

The gradual decline

Once I spoke to Roger Cheng, CNET’s head of stories, about scripting this piece, he responded with: “Is the iPod nonetheless alive? Oh rattling it’s.”    

After 2010, the speed of iPod releases slowed as extra individuals spent their cash on iPhones and rival Android telephones as an alternative. The varied fashions began disappearing from the corporate’s lineup. We stated goodbye to the iPod Classic in 2014 and, extra not too long ago, the iPod Nano and iPod Shuffle.

Streaming music providers had been the ultimate dagger since their introduction within the early 2010s. Customers not needed to load telephones with songs beforehand after they might hearken to music anyplace with a cell connection. With an iPod Contact you both needed to bear in mind to obtain songs for offline listening or, extra doubtless, keep tethered to a Wi-Fi community to stream your Spotify playlists. 


The iPod Contact (2019) versus the Nintendo Swap

Sarah Tew/CNET

The latest model of the iPod got here out in 2019 and it was an opportunity for the corporate to aim one other reinvention. The iPod Contact’s launch coincided with the discharge of the Apple Arcade, which was the corporate’s first gaming subscription service, and the iPod was now pitched as a complementary gaming gadget.    

The problem was that the iPhone was at all times a extra standard gaming gadget than the Contact, and at costs between $199 and $399, players had been extra interested in the shiny, new Nintendo Switch as an alternative. In fact, the Swap cannot take images or browse the online, however in his evaluate of the 2019 iPod Touch CNET’s Patrick Holland known as it “Probably the most lovely piece of nostalgia you do not want.”

In a single fascinating footnote to the iPod’s 20 years the gadget has outlasted the Mac OS program that launched it — Apple iTunes — because it was changed with Music as soon as Catalina debuted (iTunes does nonetheless exist on Home windows). 

Apple did not reply to my requests for touch upon this story, and once I contacted market analysis agency NPD for gross sales information the corporate stated that gross sales had been “fairly minimal over the past 5 years or so”. The elemental query stays: Is it a matter of when, and never if, the iPod Contact would be the subsequent to go?

What’s the future for the iPod?

Regardless of the highly effective emotions that nostalgia invokes it is unlikely that the iPod can get pleasure from one other renaissance in the best way that different merchandise have. Single-use gadgets just like the Swap and the iPod Traditional at the moment are changing into rarer, and lots of digital gadgets can do a bunch of issues moderately properly. The issue for Apple is that there are a lot of gadgets that may do what the Contact can do, they usually can work as a phone too.

For 10 years, the Apple and iPod had been inexorably linked — one’s fortunes had been tied to the opposite. These days have handed now because of the iPhone, a resurgence of Macs and a slew of equipment. These days, iPod’s legacy is extra substantial than its gross sales.  

But the iPod Contact nonetheless hangs across the website, even when it takes a bit of labor to search out it. It is unclear why Apple retains it round — respect? nostalgia? — however what’s extra sure is the legacy that the iPod created and that which informs new merchandise such because the AirPods 3.

It has been two years for the reason that final model of the iPod, and it’ll doubtless be the final. If this mannequin disappears quietly with one other website redesign — as did the iPods earlier than it — we’ll go rooting via the underside drawer for a 30-pin adapter to remind us of the nice instances. Ours and Apple’s. | Apple’s iPod is improbably nonetheless round: This is a take a look at its previous 20 years


Hung is a Interreviewed U.S. News Reporter based in London. His focus is on U.S. politics and the environment. He has covered climate change extensively, as well as healthcare and crime. Hung joined Interreviewed in 2023 from the Daily Express and previously worked for Chemist and Druggist and the Jewish Chronicle. He is a graduate of Cambridge University. Languages: English. You can get in touch with me by emailing:

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