The iPod is 16 years old today

Original iPod first gen
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Sixteen years ago today, 23 October 2001, Apple introduced the first iPod. The rest, as they say, is history. The portable media player became the centre of Apple’s “digital hub” strategy, about eight months after rolling out the iTunes music app for Mac OS.

The late Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who introduced the ground-breaking device, called it a quantum leap forward in listening to music.

1,000 songs in your pocket

The first-generation iPod was cutting-edge for its time, although as usual, Apple wasn’t the first in the portable media player space. Because Steve Jobs knew, it wasn’t just about the hardware, but about the content and the user experience.

Nonetheless, in terms of hardware, the iPod was groundbreaking. It had a 5GB 1.8-inch Toshiba hard drive, the smallest at the time, which could hold up to 1,000 songs. It had a Firewire IEEE 1394 port (a standard co-developed with Intel) which had a data transfer rate of up to 400Mbps. It offered true plug and play between Mac and iPod, and it auto-connected to iTunes.

It also boasted a black and white LCD and the revolutionary mechanical click wheel. The click wheel was complemented by a scrolling interface that allowed you to quickly scroll through music and playlists, as well as easy access buttons for playing, pausing, rewinding and fast forwarding through your music.

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The built-in battery lasted up to 10 hours, and when it debuted the iPod cost USD399 (MYR1,691).

I loved it. I loved that I could carry around my music with me, and all those ripped CDs. My original iPod 5GB served me well, until 2005 when the battery died. It was later revived, only to have the hard drive die later on.

Sir Jonathan Ive was the creative brains behind the design. The overall iPod design was inspired by the 1958 Braun T3 transistor radio designed by Dieter Rams. The click-wheel user interface was inspired by Bang & Olufsen’s BeoCom 6000 telephone.

What’s interesting is that Apple did not develop the iPod software entirely in-house. It was based on PortalPlayer’s reference platform. Apple also contracted a company called Pixo to help design the user interface, under direct supervision of Steve Jobs.

On 17 July, the second-generation iPod debuted with double the storage at 10GB and 20GB. It also had Windows compatibility through Musicmatch.

The third iteration of the iPod came in 2003, featuring an all-new redesign with all-touch interface, dock connector and a slimmer body. It marked the debut of iTunes 4.1 for Windows, while support for Musicmatch was dropped. Apple also rolled out the iTunes Store, the online media store the quickly became the market leader.

Alongside the fourth generation iPod, which featured a colour screen, Apple added the iPod mini to its line-up, featuring a new click wheel.

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The iPod mini was shortlived, replaced by the iPod nano which lived through seven generations before it was discontinued in 2017.

Apple also added a new form factor into the mix in 2005—the iPod shuffle, the first iPod without a display, and the most affordable.

Apple iPod shuffle
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What’s left of my iPod shuffle.

By 2007, Apple had already sold its one-hundred millionth iPod, the biggest selling digital music player of all time. Based on Apple’s revenue at the time, the iPod attributed 32% of overall sales.

In the same year, Apple introduced the first ever iPod with Wi-Fi and a multi-touch interface, and came with a Safari browser as well as access to the iTunes Store and YouTube. It came just months after introduced the world to the iPhone and the magnificence of multi-touch.

The sixth generation iPod touch remains the sole model left in the lineup currently, featuring five colours, the Apple A8 chip, 8MP iSight camera, 4-inch Retina display and up to 128GB of storage.

Check out the full list of iPod models here.

The portable media player space has been hit hard, contributed by the rise of smartphones. It will be interesting to see how Apple can “reinvent” the iPod moving forward, if it is still a viable segment, that is.

Happy birthday, iPod.

Do you still own an iPod? What iPod models have you owned?

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