20 Years of the iPod: How It Changed Apple and Music | gadgets

Launched two decades ago, the iPod is no longer as popular as it was a few years ago. Its main use, that of listening to music anywhere, was incorporated into several other devices, such as the iPhone, announced later by Apple itself.

Once available in numerous colors and sizes, the iPod is now sold in a single model whose design resembles a 2013 iPhone, demonstrating that this is no longer Apple’s best-selling (or sought-after) product. Even so, it is undeniable that he was one of the main contributors to the company’s rise, in addition to having revolutionized the music market to the point that several competitors were inspired by his functions.

But before all this success, the Cupertino giant had to face some battles for its portable media player to gain public attention, especially in the first years of launch.

arrival at the market

Apple isn’t usually the first company to launch a product. Before any announcement, the Cupertino giant analyzes how that device can impact the lives of users and, consequently, the technology market — and with the iPod it was no different.


iPod classic (Image: Press/Apple)

Rafael Fischmann, founder and editor-in-chief of MacMagazine, comment to Techblog that “when she [Apple] sees an opportunity, it usually takes a while, analyzes, prototypes internally and does not put products with a prototype footprint on the market.” This happened with the iPod, since, even after Steve Jobs’ return in 1997, Apple still took four years to release the first version.

The iPod classic, made official in October 2001, was a game changer. That’s because the company was facing a major period of crisis, and in an attempt to grow again, it decided to rehire Steve, who, while he was away, created NeXT Computers.

This was a wise decision, as soon as Steve returned as CEO, he managed to solve several problems and, to put Apple in the “spotlight” again, he introduced the iPod classic. This first model had a maximum capacity of 5 GB and promised to carry in your pocket no less than a thousand songs, a gigantic number for the time.

And what did the first iPod bring again?

The iPod was also very light and compact, which was one of the great differences in relation to its competitors, which, in addition to not providing a good user experience, were heavy and not very portable. “Is it over there [Apple] I brought a super beautiful device, portable, easy to use, with a great interface and a fantastic interaction with the click wheel”, comments Rafael.

The click wheel made it easy to navigate between menus (Image: Brett Jordan/Unsplash)

The click wheel made it easy to navigate between menus (Image: Brett Jordan/Unsplash)

The FireWire connector also played an important role in the launch of the first iPod. That’s because it was much faster than the USB 1.0 used at the time. On the other hand, this new standard only allowed the iPod to work on Mac computers — a limitation left out in future versions. “FireWire was something that changed years later when it switched to USB and popularized the iPod in the Windows world. It was super fast: you connected and synchronized in a few seconds”, explains Rafael.

Despite bringing benefits, Sérgio Miranda, former editor of the magazine Mac+ and product developer at Geonav, explains to Techblog that Apple was able to expand further with the removal of this pattern. “When two years later, on the third generation iPod, she [Apple] it takes off FireWire and starts using USB, giving access to Windows users, then yes, it starts to create a greater attraction in a product that leveraged the company”, he comments.

Difference between FireWire (center), USB Mini-A (left) and USB A (right) connector (Image: Markus Spiske/Unsplash)

Difference between FireWire (center), USB Mini-A (left) and USB A (right) connector (Image: Markus Spiske/Unsplash)

Shortly after the launch of the first iPod, Steve Jobs himself could see the product’s success as he walked the streets of New York. “Jobs said that he realized that the iPod had become something important when he saw several people with white headphones. Nobody made headphones in that color. The only ones that existed were the iPod ones”, explains Sérgio.

The first iPod also caught the attention of consumers for bringing a dedicated music transfer software. “Apple made a complete package. The device had a program [iTunes] that allowed him to select his entire library, name songs and organize them the way he wanted”, comments Rafael Fischmann.

iTunes still played an important role in the iPod’s positive reception because it made it easy to create multiple playlists, bringing together songs from different artists in one place and, consequently, eliminating that need to just listen to songs from a particular album.

Mirrored back of iPod classic (Image: Raimond Spekking/ Wikimedia Commons)

Mirrored back of iPod classic (Image: Raimond Spekking/ Wikimedia Commons)

Quality engineer Felipe Cepriano, owner of an iPod classic purchased in 2008, tells the Techblog that “back then it was difficult to make playlists, but on the iPod it was always super easy to put together, while on the phones it was a little more boring; the part of managing music and finding everything was very intuitive”.

Early years and evolution

The iPod classic was well received by the public, but since it’s not all flowers, the product took more than three years to reach the top of the music player segment. In its first year in stores, only 600 thousand units were sold.

The slower growth is basically due to two factors: the high price of $400 and Apple’s financial difficulties. “At that time Apple wasn’t ‘surfing the wave’. She rocked the market with the iMac in 1998 and Steve Jobs had shown that he’s back, but she didn’t have that ‘footprint’ of today of busting out. She was still in the recovery process”, comments Rafael. “It was an expensive device, like everything Apple does. Consequently, it was not accessible to everyone”, he explains.

High price hindered the rapid growth of the first iPod (Image: Cartoons Plural/Unsplash)

High price hindered the rapid growth of the first iPod (Image: Cartoons Plural/Unsplash)

The iPod also suffered from other problems, some of which were not related to the device itself, but rather to the release period. “There were a lot of people from that time who still bet on CDs. The internet was not as fast as it is today, so it took up to 1 hour to download a music album, depending on your connection”, says Rafael.

Of course, these difficulties didn’t discourage Apple, which showed important evolutions in hardware — many of them happening in less than a year — and compatibility with the Windows operating system already in the second generation of the iPod, released in 2002.

The Cupertino giant also hit the nail on the head when it launched the iTunes Store in 2003. In less than a year, Apple’s music store has sold 25 million songs, something that has helped iPod sales around the world as it did in that year. At the time, it was the only device capable of reproducing them due to DRM restrictions — an acronym for Digital Right Management.

iPods of all colors and sizes

In 2004, a new model was made official: the iPod mini. In addition to being more compact and bringing 4GB of internal storage, it was also available in five different colors. In 2005, Apple replaced it with the iPod nano, with a color screen and versions with 1, 2 or 4 GB.

iPod mini (Image: Ben Szymanski/Unsplash)

iPod mini (Image: Ben Szymanski/Unsplash)

That same year, two other models were launched: the iPod shuffle, a more affordable alternative without a screen and with 512MB or 1GB of storage, and the iPod Video, which brought a color display and 30, 60 and 80 GB versions of hard drive. This iPod was well received by the public for offering great battery performance.

Until reaching the seventh generation iPod touch, the only one still officially sold by Apple, the company introduced new generations of iPod nano, shuffle and classic — the latter was discontinued in 2014 with a record internal capacity of 160GB of HD.

iPod Video on the left and iPod shuffle on the right (Image: Press/Apple)

iPod Video on the left and iPod shuffle on the right (Image: Press/Apple)

In other words, it is very clear that the evolution of the iPod was fast and constant. That’s because Apple found that, in addition to a good music player, consumers also needed more refined versions to meet specific needs or, in many cases, fit their budget.

“Apple was creating different models from different audiences. The guy who said ‘This iPod looks great’ could take the iPod nano that looked like a box of gum. For every type of person Apple created an iPod that fit into their life. With that, she managed to please a lot of people”, comments Sérgio.

Music Market Changes: iTunes Store

The changes made by the iPod remain today. This Apple device was one of the main responsible for digitizing the songs. “If you look at the sales chart for CDs and other physical media at the time the iPod was launched, you can see a significant drop, which was already happening with the arrival of Napster itself”, explains Rafael.

The iTunes Store has lessened the need for CDs (Image: Antoine Julien/Unsplash)

The iTunes Store has lessened the need for CDs (Image: Antoine Julien/Unsplash)

The launch of the iTunes Store also contributed a lot to the songs being digitized and no longer something accessible only via CD. “In the beginning you had to take a CD, put it on your computer, import the songs you wanted to iTunes and then move to the iPod. With the iTunes Store, everything is easier”, says Rafael.

The iPod also brought changes to the way people listen to music. After all, before this device, you used to play the songs of a certain artist or band using a specific CD. But after Apple’s gadget-driven digitization, consumers were able to randomly listen to music from multiple genres, eliminating the need to swap CDs. In addition to having a shuffle mode, the iPod also delivered suggestions and playlists, features that are now found in music streaming services, for example.

Old iTunes Store interface (Image: Mickfuzz/Wikimedia Commons)

Old iTunes Store interface (Image: Mickfuzz/Wikimedia Commons)

The arrival of the iPod also impacted the music market in terms of album purchases. Back then, many people needed to purchase an entire CD just to listen to one or two songs by an artist/band. After the iPod and the iTunes Store, that scenario has completely changed. “With the iTunes Store you had the songs you wanted, you didn’t have to buy the entire album. All you had to do was buy a song, which cost US$ 0.99, to listen to it right away”, comments Sérgio Miranda.

Overall, it’s possible to say that these and other features of the iPod have changed the music market a lot. “If you affect who is listening, you affect who is producing, who is selling and one thing leads to another”, points out Rafael Fischmann.

Competition Attempts

In the late 90’s, the music player market was booming, but none of them delivered a good user experience, especially as they were heavy, not portable and not very intuitive. “Even MP3 players at the time were very limited. They had bad interfaces and you couldn’t easily find a song”, says Sérgio Miranda.

Analyzing this scenario and seeing a huge potential, Steve, his engineers and other extremely talented professionals, such as Tony Fadell, Michael Dhuey and Jon Rubinstein, managed to develop a product that, in addition to being light and compact, was capable of storing a significant amount of songs, eliminating the need to carry a bag full of CDs.

To join the “wave” created by the iPod, some companies also presented competitors — or at least tried to. In November 2006, Microsoft released the Zune, which featured 30GB of internal storage and a 3-inch screen.

Zune HD, device that tried to compete with the iPod (Image: Manimecker/Wikimedia Commons)

Zune HD, device that tried to compete with the iPod (Image: Manimecker/Wikimedia Commons)

A few years later, more precisely in 2009, the company made the Zune HD official for US$ 219.99 (16 GB) and US$ 289.99 (32 GB). This model relied on a touchscreen display, Wi-Fi, an internal radio antenna and could stream HD videos to a larger screen. But all this was not enough to draw the public’s attention, since in 2011 these breeders were discontinued.

Other brands even introduced simpler models, such as Creative Labs’ MuVo, but none proved to be a serious rival to the iPod. They even brought a cool technology, which was flash memory, but the main negative point was still the low storage capacity. “What existed at the time were devices with 100, 200 or 300 MB. Many looked like USB ‘keyrings’ to plug into your computer and transfer music. So, like the iPod itself, it didn’t have any”, explains Sérgio.

    Creative Labs 256MB MuVo TX FM (Image: Hołek/Wikimedia Commons)

Creative Labs 256MB MuVo TX FM (Image: Hołek/Wikimedia Commons)

So it’s pretty clear that, no matter how hard companies tried, no player at the time could deliver anything similar to the iPod’s functionality. As a result, Apple’s device was the market leader for many years.

Is it the end of the iPod?

Well, let’s go by parts. As much as the iPod has not “died”, looking at the current scenario and Apple’s position regarding this product, I believe that its end has already been decreed — even if not officially.

Currently, only the seventh generation iPod touch is sold by the company. This gadget has evolved a lot since its first generation, presented in 2007. In fact, it can be considered a kind of “cousin” of the iPhone, since, in addition to playing music, it is possible to browse the internet, download applications and take photos, for example.

But even with these functions, the technological advancement of the iPhone (and smartphones) made the iPod lose its main attraction. “He [iPhone] does a lot of other things and is with you at all times. So much was lost on why someone not only buys but uses the iPod. You don’t need to leave the house with another device to listen to music if your smartphone already does that”, comments Rafael.

seventh generation iPod touch (Image: Zsinytwiki/Wikimedia Commons)

seventh generation iPod touch (Image: Zsinytwiki/Wikimedia Commons)

For Felipe Cepriano, the evolution of flash memory was also one of the factors that “erased” the iPod from the market. “It became much easier for you to have more storage in other devices. Today a 32 or 64 GB memory card is quite common for those who insist on having a larger space to store their music. iPhones, for example, go up to 512 GB, a capacity that no iPod has reached”, he explains.

In addition to these evolutions, it is possible to say that music streaming platforms have also managed to “sink” the iPod. “These services made the iPod’s advantages of having a huge library accessible to everyone. Today, people can listen to different music at the same time and anywhere, without having to buy an album first”, concludes Felipe.

According to recent rumors, Apple intends to make a new version of the iPod official. If that’s true, for this device to be a hit in sales and get the public’s attention as it once was, the company will have to show a really interesting attraction that convinces consumers not to buy an entry-level iPhone for $300/400 which, in addition to playing music, offers many other functions.

7th generation iPod touch is still officially sold (Image: Playback/Apple)

7th generation iPod touch is still officially sold (Image: Playback/Apple)

The fact is, the iPod is still sold by Apple. In Brazil, the seventh generation of the touch can be purchased in 32GB, 128GB or 256GB versions, with prices of R$1,699, R$2,499 and R$3,299, respectively. But as I mentioned earlier, many people no longer see the point in investing such amounts in this device. In fact, on the brand’s website, the iPod page isn’t even listed at the top, showing that even Apple itself doesn’t seem to bet much on the product.

“For the first 10 years, the iPod was still significant. But as of 2010, 2011, it lost its relevance, it stopped being so important and gradually disappeared”, comments Sérgio Miranda.

Looking at all of this, it’s pretty clear that the iPod is no longer one of Apple’s top devices. It’s possible that the company will keep it in their catalog and make minor updates just to please the most nostalgic fans, but the sales volume and revenue generated is certainly not the same as in the good old days.

iPod evolution from the first model (Image: Christine Sandu/Unsplash)

iPod evolution from the first model (Image: Christine Sandu/Unsplash)

In total, Apple has sold no less than 350 million iPod units since the first model in 2001. These days it’s not that popular, but its launch was essential to leverage the brand and make it one of the biggest technology companies. of the world.

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