Ten Years of the iPod
- October 23rd, 2011
- WoA Feature Articles
- Alex Brooks
Ten years ago today the late Steve Jobs took to the small stage in Apple’s auditorium. Dressed in his trademark black turtleneck and blue jeans and addressing a room of only 200 journalists and Apple staff he said, “We have something really stunning for you today.”
What was presented on that stage on a crisp Tuesday morning reinvented the music industry.
Apple at the time was a very different company to the one we see now. With a stock price of just $9, a tiny product line made up of just Macs, a handful of retail stores and a CEO who had only been at the helm, albeit for the second time, for a little over a year.
In mid-October 2001 Apple PR sent out invitations via FedEx to the media encouraging them to attend an event at Apple’s corporate campus that would see the introduction of “a breakthrough digital device”, the invitation also had the cryptic clue that read, “Hint: it’s not a Mac.”
The Apple rumour mill in 2001 wasn’t much different to how it is now. Some of the sites no longer exist and the interest in the rumours these days is palpable and a source of great income for the sites that supply them.
No major rumour site pinpointed that Apple would release an MP3 player, in fact many predicted the resurfacing of the Newton. This post from Mac Rumors highlights just some of those rumours from October 2001.
Despite Apple being very tight on rumours at the time it appears that the iPod did get ousted a little bit earlier than Apple would have liked but the rumours didn’t gain much traction.
On October 19th Brad King at Wired wrote:
Apple on Tuesday will unveil a new portable electronic device that allows people to listen to digital music files away from the computer, according to sources familiar with the company.
The device — called the iPod — can be synched with the computer using a high-speed cable connection that allows consumers to download their music into a portable system, which can then be accessed by either a car or home stereo system.
CNET on the other hand ran with:
Apple apparently is not planning to introduce a portable MP3 player, but something more sophisticated such as a component for a home digital stereo system.
Slightly more entertaining are some of the comments on many of the Mac Rumors articles, most wishing for the return of the Newton.
When the day came Mac Rumors ran a lacklustre post titled “Apple’s New Thing (iPod)” detailing the 5GB device that could hold 1000 songs available for $399 and would ship on November 10.
Some highlights from the vibrant Mac Rumors community on that day:
hey – heres an idea Apple – rather than enter the world of gimmicks and toys, why dont you spend a little more time sorting out your pathetically expensive and crap server line up?
I still can’t believe this! All this hype for something so ridiculous! Who cares about an MP3 player? I want something new! I want them to think differently!
Why oh why would they do this?! It’s so wrong! It’s so stupid!
iPoop… iCry. I was so hoping for something more.
Climb to Success
The iPod at first wasn’t wildly popular nor much of a sales success. In July 2002 Apple added a 20GB iPod to the lineup and made them compatible with Windows computers, helping increase sales slightly. During the first year on sale the iPod generated $143 million in net sales for Apple, somewhat paling in comparison to strong sales of the Mac.
The major milestone in the iPod’s success was in 2003 when Apple introduced the iTunes Music Store in April, a Windows version followed in October, at the time Jobs claimed: “This has been the birth of legal downloading”.
2003 really was the year that the iPod’s rise to fame began, in May 2003 Apple introduced the third-generation iPod, the first with a Dock connector and featured both USB 2.0 and Firewire. It was that same event that Apple announced sales of 1 million iPods, six months later it had sold another million, 18 months later that figure had climbed to 9 million.
The iPod from 2001 to 2007
In six years the iPod climbed to rockstar status and became a must-have device, selling more units than any other consumer electronics device and catapulting Apple into the hands of millions of people.
Here’s how it played out:
- October 2001: First iPod introduced with 5GB hard drive and Firewire connectivity and mechanical scroll wheel. A 10GB model followed soon after.
- July 2002: Second-generation iPod released available in 10 and 20GB capacities, touch-sensitive scroll wheel, available for Windows.
- April 2003: Third-generation iPod unveiled, eventually available in capacities up to 40GB. Did away with the iconic scroll wheel and instead had a row of buttons for player functions. Introduced the Dock connector and USB syncing.
- January 2004: iPod mini is the first iPod to feature the “click wheel” and available in five colours. Available in 4GB capacity.
- July 2004: Fourth-generation iPod available, returning to the original scroll wheel design. Now only in 20 and 40GB capacities.
- October 2004: Fourth-generation iPod revised to have colour display, marketed alongside normal iPod as ‘iPod photo’.
- January 2005: iPod shuffle revealed with no display and 1GB of storage. The size of a stick of gum and is the first iPod to use flash memory for storage.
- February 2005: Second-generation iPod mini introduced, now in 6GB capacity with more vibrant colours.
- June 2005: iPod color released, same as fourth-generation but saw the demise of the black and white screen.
- September 2005: In an unprecedented move Apple replaced the popular iPod mini with the new iPod nano only available with 4GB storage.
- October 2005: Fifth-generation iPod released with a new design and very thin case. Plays video and available in both black and white. Eventually having a capacity of 80GB.
- September 2006: Second-generation iPod nano has an anodised case and available in six colours. Available in capacities up to 8GB.
- September 2006: Second-generation iPod shuffle now even smaller with anodised case in new colours and up to 2GB of storage.
A Touching Revolution
In January 2007 everything changed, again. We know the story well by now, Steve Jobs, again in his famed uniform, took the stage at Macworld San Francisco in front of thousands and announced the iPhone. The iPhone at the time was described by Jobs as the “best iPod we’ve ever made”.
This was the very same event that Apple Computer became Apple Inc. Truly cementing the company’s status as a producer of consumer electronics.
The effects of the iPhone on many industries could not have been predicted, its effects on the iPod less so. During 2007 it would have been crazy to think that the iPod’s grand run would come to an end in only a few years, more so to think that Apple’s own product would cannibalise the iPod so quickly and ruthlessly.
It was September 2006 when Apple began its yearly tradition of introducing new iPods in September, eventually more commonly known as ‘Apple’s music Fall event’. It was a year later in September 2007 that we had a glimpse of where the iPod was heading and the sneak peak at the drastic changes the iPhone was bringing in.
The iPod touch was the slimmer, less functional brother of the iPhone. Available in capacities up to 32GB (compared to the iPhone’s measly 8GB) and super thin it still featured the famed 3.5-inch multi-touch display, WiFi and access to Safari, YouTube and more importantly the iTunes Store.
Alongside it in 2007 Apple kept pushing the other iPods, the sixth generation iPod known as the “iPod classic” was released and is the iPod that remains available today. The iPod nano was refreshed with a new shape in 2007, and again in 2008, 2009 and finally 2010. This year the iPod nano got a minor refresh. The shuffle also remains unchanged from 2010.
With sales of the iPod declining quarter after quarter it’s no surprise that Apple has slowed the development of iPods. In the last reported quarter Apple sold over six million iPods, pushing the total sales over 300 million, it’s still no figure to sneeze at but well down on the golden years.
It’s also not possible to envisage a future where the iPod doesn’t have a place in Apple’s product lineup. Whilst the iPod touch is beginning to go head to head with ever cheaper iPhones both the iPod nano and iPod classic continue to serve unique purposes. That said, once the iPod touch climbs beyond 160GB of storage expect to wave goodbye to the clickwheel forever.
Today we celebrate ten years of the iPod, a device that has spurred on changes beyond what was thought possible, but it’s unlikely to see out another ten.