iPod Turns 10
October 24, 2011

iPod Turns 10

The late Steve Jobs, Apple´s co-founder and former CEO, introduced to the world the first iPod 10 years ago this week, changing how we listen to music and transforming the tech gadget giant forever.

While the iPod was not the first mp3 player to hit the market, Apple was the first to get the technology correct, making a device that could hold a thousand songs and perform on a 10-hour rechargeable battery. Now, ten years later, the iPod has virtually replaced the mp3 player.

“If ever there was a product that catalyzed Apple's reason for being, it's this,” Apple's late co-founder said shortly after the iPod was released.

Rival devices at the time were bigger, heavier, and many stored less music and took longer to transfer songs. The iPod was capable of transferring lots of music from your computer quickly, and still is.

It was early 2001 when Apple decided to develop a handheld music player. Steve Jobs asked Apple´s head of engineering, Jon Rubinstein, to look into it. Apple introduced iTunes in January of that year, and a month later, during a visit to Japan, Rubinstein was shown a 1.8-inch hard drive.

“They said they didn´t know what to do with it. Maybe put it in a small notebook,” Rubinstein said later according to the Telegraph. “I went back to Steve and I said, ℠I know how to do this.´ He said, ℠Go for it℠.”

A team of 30 engineers, designers and developers began working long hours on what was called Project P-68. The goal was to develop a music player by Christmas of that year.

Jonathan Ive, a British designer who has worked at Apple since 1992, told the Telegraph's Shane Richmond: “Like everyone else, I knocked myself out, not so much because it was a challenge — which it was — but because I wanted to have one.”

Engineer Tony Fadell, who had an idea for a digital music player for some time as well, was brought in by Rubinstein.

Ive, who was behind the candy-colored iMacs in 1998, oversaw the whole process, from the very first design to the way the device was packed for shipment. The user interface for the iPod was built on top of software from Pixo, purchased by Apple. And the basic blueprint for the hardware came from a small start-up company called PortalPlayer.

While Ive was in charge of operations, he was not the only source of input. Phil Schiller, Apple´s head of marketing, introduced the idea for the scroll-wheel control system. The name of the device came from Vinnie Chieco, a freelance copywriter, who said the player reminded him of the escape pods on the spaceship in the film 2001.

Reinforcing it all was Jobs´s demands for simplicity and elegance. He demanded a device that could reach any song in three clicks or fewer. There were many mp3 players on the market, but Apple needed to get it right the first time. And the tech company was the only company that seemed to understand that the key was to create a complete experience.

“It´s the whole thing,” Jana Scholze, curator of modern furniture and product design at the Victoria and Albert Museum, told the Telegraph. “It´s the delivery, it´s the packaging and how it comes to you.”

She noted that Apple´s designs are subtle, but connect you emotionally, like iMac´s redundant yet charming handle or the iPod´s vague visual echo of a speaker. “With the help of design, they give people an experience that is far more important than music,” she said.

While Apple created a device that changed mp3 players forever, not everyone was enthused. Many hardcore Apple fans were confused and angry. “Hey — here´s an idea Apple — rather than enter the world of gimmicks and toys,” one lashed out. “Why don´t you spend a little more time sorting out your pathetically expensive and crap server line up?”

Critics also censured the iPod, saying it was too expensive at $399. Others thought the iPod lacked substance. And at first, it only worked with Apple´s own Mac computers. Not until a year later did it release a Windows-compatible iPod. Apple then released an iTunes store for Windows users a year after that.

Once that happened, the iPod took off like a rocket. “That´s when it all started coming together. Sales of the iPod went through the roof,” said Feargal Sharkey, the former Undertones singer, who has been buying Apple products since the first Macintosh.

Apple sold its one millionth iPod in June 2003, and another million went out the door just six months later. By the end of 2004, Apple had sold more than 10 million. To date, more than 300 million iPods have been sold, the Telegraph noted.

However, iPod sales have slowed, as more and more people now carry their music on their smartphones. In the fourth quarter of 2010, iPod sales accounted for just 8 percent of Apple´s total revenue.

Now that Apple´s iPhone business is top seller in the foray, the company could be winding down its iPod business. Some rumors had been circulating before the release of the iPhone 4S that Apple would be ditching the iPod Classic. Although there were no updates this fall, as there usually are, Apple said the iPod won´t be going anywhere anytime soon.

Sharkey, now chief executive of UK Music, said iTunes took the record industry by surprise. Many labels were slow to sell their music digitally for fear of online music piracy. But Apple quickly took control of the market. “It was a marriage of phenomenal technology and great content,” Sharkey told the Telegraph.

IPods were everywhere by the middle of the decade. And everywhere you went, there sure was to be an Apple advert touting the iPod. Celebrities raved about them as well. “The kind of insidious revolutionary quality of the iPod is that it´s so elegant and logical, it becomes part of your life so quickly that you can´t remember what it was like beforehand,” said Moby, a musician, DJ and photographer.

As sales of iPod grew, so did its range of versions: an iPod Mini, an iPod Shuffle, and an iPod Touch.

“It´s a real tree of progression,” said Graham Barlow, editor in chief of MacFormat magazine. “You can see a clear evolutionary line starting with the iPod.”

“It was the start of Apple becoming cool. The iMac redefined Apple but it was the iPod that connected it to something larger, to a world of rock stars and so on,” he added.

But the iPod would not be the cultural icon that it is had it only changed markets. It changed how we listen to our music, too. We now listen to music more often because we always have it with us. And now, we listen to playlists, rather than albums.

While the evolution of the playlist has, perhaps, forced a downward trend in real-world album sales, Sharkey pointed out that sales of digital albums are growing.

That was another thing that Jobs foresaw. “Nobody thinks of albums anymore, anyway. People think of playlists and mixes. We'll still sell albums as artists put them out, but for most consumers of popular music, we think they'll more likely buy single tracks that they like. And then they´ll organize them into customized playlists in their computers and on their iPods,” he said in 2003.

And now, companies, such as Apple, Google and Amazon, have introduced internet “cloud” servers that store all your music for you, allowing you to download them whenever you want to whatever device you are carrying.

Despite the iPod´s significance waning as of late, it will not be forgotten. It revolutionized the mp3 market and has shown that we will not lose that desire to carry our music with us. “Ten years on, the most important thing is that it still has all my favorite tunes on it,” says Sharkey.


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