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Elegy for the iPod, the device that transformed Apple

Kirk McElhearn | July 22, 2014
The iPod helped turn Apple Computer into Apple, Inc., from a computer company into one of the most recognizable brands in the world.

iPod classic

I hold a small metal device in my hands and twirl my finger on a circular controller, navigating the menus on my iPod classic. I haven't done this in a long time. I have a full range of iPod models, and this one, bought back in 2008, doesn't get much use any more. That click-wheel controller was never a great idea--it's clunky and inefficient--but it's emblematic of the early iPod line, before tapping on a tactile screen became the norm.

In a way, there's something nostalgic about listening to music on a device that does little more than play music. (Yes, it can play videos and display photos, but with its tiny display, I've never used it for either of those things.) It reminds me of the early days of the iPod, when music listeners marveled at the ability to store so much music on a pocket-sized device, to listen to any of it with a few spins of the click-wheel, to play music in shuffle mode instead of one CD at a time.

The story of the iPod is, in many ways, the story of Apple's comeback. The iPod helped turn Apple Computer into Apple, Inc., from a computer company into one of the most recognizable brands in the world. Instead of just selling Macs, Apple branched out into the product lines that we know today, including iPhones and iPads--portable devices that were mere dreams when the iPod was launched. (Of course, Apple never sold only Macs; over the years, the company had also sold digital cameras, printers, scanners, speakers, and a PDA. But none of those products survived for very long.)

But now the iPod product line is on its last legs. And while Apple will most likely continue selling them for a few years more, there's no reason to think the company will do anything to significantly update the current iPod product line. Apple's iconic music player has reached its twilight years.

Music on the go

Portable music devices actually have a long history. For me, it started with an AM radio, which I used to listen to songs that would prompt me to make my first record purchases--music by Three Dog Night, The Guess Who, Grand Funk Railroad, The Beatles and Chicago. Portable radios date back to 1954. They fit in your pocket, didn't weigh very much, lasted for days on a single nine-volt battery, and had that distinctively tinny sound. But those little radios opened my ten-year old mind to a new world of rock and roll.

For years, that's all we had--other than cars--to listen to music outside the home. That began to change in the 1970s. Near the end of that decade, I bought a Sony Pressman. This precursor to the Walkman was about half the size of a brick, and weighed about as much. I initially wanted it to record music I played with a few friends: it had two microphones and recorded in stereo. But when I wasn't recording with it, I used it--together with some cheap headphones--as a portable music player.


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