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Tales In Tech History: Apple iPod

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelance and long standing contributor to TechWeek Europe

Goodbye iPod and thanks for the music, as Apple continues to wind down its iPod range

Apple has this week quietly retired two of the three remaining iPod devices, as the popularity of smartphones and music streaming services obviates the need for a standalone music player.

From this week, users will no longer see any mention of the iPod Nano or iPod Shuffle on Apple’s website.

The iPod Touch (considered by many not a real iPod but rather an iPhone-lite) remains the sole standard bearer in this product category.

first ipod appleApple’s Saviour

“Today, we are simplifying our iPod lineup with two models of iPod touch now with double the capacity starting at just $199 and we are discontinuing the iPod shuffle and iPod nano,” Apple said in a statement.

The iPod has been around for a long time now (16 years) and has sold more than 400 million units since its launch on 23 October 2001.

Indeed, some credit the iPod as the device that saved Apple as a company. The iPod certainly cemented Apple’s return to the big time.

It had arrived in a world where people still wanted to enjoy their music whilst they were out and about. Indeed, people had been able to listen to their own music outside the home ever since Sony launched the first Walkman back in 1979.

And for many years the Walkman ruled supreme, but cassette tapes had limited capacity and were not exactly known for being robust.

CDs came along but portable CD players were frankly terrible. Other options were tried including Sony MiniDisc players, but again, these failed to achieve widespread adoption.

MP3 players such as the Diamond Rio and Creative Labs Nomad Jukebox however looked promising. But again they didn’t really sell that well.

The Jobs Effect

It should be remembered that back in the late 1990s, Apple was a company emerging from a near death experience, thanks mostly to the return of co-founder Steve Jobs.

His partnership with design guru Sir Jonathan Ive saw the introduction of colourful all-in-one iMac computers, which certainly made an impression. But it was in late 2001 when the first generation iPod arrived, that Apple’s fortunes well and truly changed for the better.

The original iPod arrived with a 5GB hard drive that Apple said could put “1,000 songs in your pocket.”

Sales were not bad, but there were issues holding it back, in that the iPod could only be used with Mac computers (that wasn’t changed until 2004).

Another development that really helped the iPod was the arrival of the iTunes Store in 2003, where consumers could easily (and legally) purchase songs for just $0.99 a piece.

Remember, this was back when record shops (selling CDs etc) were still common-place on the High Street.

These two developments really helped uptake of the iPod and sales skyrocketed as other firms looked on enviously. Microsoft tried to compete in 2006 with the launch of the Zune, but in terms of market share, Zune never got past the single digits.

And Apple began offering different versions of iPods. The traditional iPod for example morphed into the ‘iPod Classic’.

U2 iPodThe iPod Nano arrived in 2005 and replaced the iPod Mini, while the iPod Touch arrived in September 2007.

Classic Design

The classic features of the iPod were its simple rectangular display and iconic circular control panel on a plain body. This design gave the iPod a clean and uncluttered design, and allowed the user to traverse through menus, select items, Play / Pause, Skip Forward / Fast Forward, and Skip Backwards / Fast Reverse.

But it could be argued that the glory days of the iPod were numbered, when Apple in 2007 introduced its original iPhone.

500x_500x_ipod_appleNot only was the iPhone an internet communicator, app player and iPod player all rolled into one device, but it also a mobile phone.

The need for a separate iPod device simply to play music no longer seemed so vital, and it should be noted that the last update for the Apple Classic, Nano or iPod Shuffle happened back in 2012.

In 2014 Apple officially killed off the iPod Classic (arguably the original iPod).

And now with this latest announcement, the only device left standing is the iPod Touch, and one has to wonder how long this has left.

What we can say is that this week’s decision signifies the end of an era for Apple, as its focus on its ‘saviour’ product continues to diminish, thanks to the popularity of its other devices.

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