Apple iPod: the first 10 years of the ubiquitous media player

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#ThrowbackThursday: The iPod is one of the most iconic devices of the 21st century and the product that propelled Apple to its current mammoth market position. We wrote this article in October 2011, when the original iPod was just turning 10. This week, Apple announced that they are completely discontinuing iPod products. We bumped this article as a nostalgic piece and to get some perspective on how we viewed these devices back then.

In 2001, Apple launched an MP3 player that can be partly attributed to shaping the landscape of today’s mobile computing market. In addition to being the best-selling portable media player and saving Apple from near irrelevance, the iPod influenced many of Cupertino’s ambitious and revolutionary projects, forcing much of the industry to constantly catch up.

The iPhone was the birth of the smartphone as we know it and stands as the best-selling device of its kind – just like the iPad and the tablet segment, despite Microsoft’s early fancies. In terms of software, the iTunes Store paved the way for digital music sales and represents the world’s largest music retailer, while App Store sales eclipse all competition – Android included.

In fact, the iPod and related products prompted Apple to change its name from “Apple Computer” to just “Apple”. Without doing everything possible about Apple’s efforts, on its 10th anniversary, we want to pay tribute to the company’s groundbreaking gadget. Join us as we take a short walk through memory…

The original iPod

October 23, 2001 — 5GB, 10GB

The first iPod was developed in less than a year, and while it didn’t rock the music industry overnight—in fact, it was heavily criticized—it set the conceptual framework for greater things to come.

Powered by a dual-core 90MHz ARM-based PortalPlayer processor and 5GB 4200RPM Toshiba HDD (a 10GB version came later), the rudimentary device only supported Mac computers, as well as AAC, MP3, and WAV audio files. The first version of iTunes for Mac was released in January of the same year.

Must see: Watch the first iPod introduced by Steve Jobs…

iPod 2nd generation

July 2002 — 10GB, 20GB

Apple’s second-generation music player arrived less than a year after the original device and brought several refinements, including a FireWire port cover, an improved Hold switch, and double the storage capacity.

It also abandoned the first-generation mechanical scroll wheel in favor of the touch-sensitive wheel used on many future iPods. This model introduced support for Windows through Musicmatch. Before that, tech-savvy users were forced to use workarounds for Windows compatibility.

iPod 3rd generation

April 2003 — 10GB to 40GB

In April 2003, Apple prepared a complete redesign of the iPod, adding an all-touch interface, a dock connector, a slimmer body, and the maximum storage capacity was doubled to 40 GB. The company also brought its own media platform (iTunes 4.1) to Windows, cutting ties with Musicmatch.

The increasing popularity of the iPod prompted retailers Best Buy, Target, and Dell to sell the device between 2002 and 2003. Microsoft and Creative were preparing their rivals, the Media2Go and Nomad Zen.

First iPod Mini

January 2004 — 4GB

After focusing on adding features to the original design, Apple went back to the drawing board and introduced a scaled-down, minimalist iPod. The iPod Mini, which cost $249, was the first to feature Apple’s Click Wheel and offered just 4GB of storage.

Despite the sleeker, trendy design, many criticized the device’s value. Around the same time, Apple replaced its $299 10GB iPod with a 15GB model, forcing retailers to reduce the 10GB model to $249. This made consumers even more skeptical of the Mini.

iPod 4th generation and iPod Photo

July 2004 — 20GB to 60GB

The first fourth-generation version came in July with a redesigned Hold switch and the Click Wheel of the iPod Mini. In October, Apple introduced a premium version, the iPod Photo ($499-$599), which had a longer battery life (15 hours vs. 12 hours), a color display, and support for common image formats, which was especially cool for album art.

In February 2005, Apple replaced the 40 GB iPod Photo with a thinner, cheaper 30 GB model. By June, it decided to merge the iPod Photo and iPod “Classic” lines. Photo above shows the first U2 special edition iPod.

iPod Shuffle: First and Second Generation

Jan. 2005 and Sept. 2006 — 512MB to 2GB

By further downsizing its media player, Apple introduced the first iPod Shuffle in early 2005. It served as an entry-level model with only 512 MB or 1 GB of storage and no display. The price was originally set at $99-$149. The second-generation Shuffle arrived over a year later. It was about half the size of its predecessor with a belt clip and a nicer aluminum housing. Apple called it the “most portable iPod ever.” Despite its smaller size, it doubled the storage capacity to 1 GB and 2 GB.

First iPod Nano

September 2005 — 1GB to 4GB

The second-generation iPod Mini came out shortly after the first Shuffle and offered an incredible 18 hours of battery life (the first Mini lasted 8 hours). It also introduced a 6GB model along with minor cosmetic tweaks.

The Mini line was discontinued later in 2005 when Apple released the first iPod Nano, which was essentially a smaller version of the Mini (half the thickness and about 11mm narrower). However, it had less maximum storage (4 GB vs 6 GB) and a shorter battery life of 14 hours.

iPod 5th generation (video)

October 2005 — 30GB to 80GB

2005 was a landmark period for the iPod. In addition to refining the fourth-generation iPod and releasing the Mini 2, Nano 1, Shuffle 1, Apple unveiled a completely redesigned fifth-generation iPod with a thinner body, a larger 2.5-inch 320 x 240 screen and support for common video formats. such as MP4 and H.264.

That feature earned it the nickname “iPod Video.” In addition, sales jumped 400% that year to 22.5 million units, dwarfing all previous years combined.

iPod Nano 2nd Generation

September 2006 — 2GB to 8GB

Compared to the year before, 2006 was fairly mild for the iPod, although sales remained strong, accounting for nearly half of Apple’s total sales. It brought a new version of the increasingly popular Nano, which offered a scratch-resistant anodized aluminum housing, more color choices, a brighter screen, double the storage capacity and a huge boost in battery life from 14 to 24 hours. The second generation Shuffle was also released, as was an 80 GB version of the fifth generation iPod.

First iPod Touch

September 2007 — 8GB to 32GB

In an ironic twist, since the iPod was arguably responsible for the creation of the iPhone, Apple introduced the biggest overhaul of the music player. Using existing iPhone hardware and software, it was the first iPod with a multi-touch display and Wi-Fi. This allowed for surfing the web via Safari on the iPod, as well as accessing the iTunes Store and YouTube. It just lacked the iPhone’s cellular connectivity and services, along with the speakers and camera.

iPod Classic and iPod Nano 3rd Generation

Sept. 2007 — Classic up to 160GB / Nano 4GB and 8GB

The ‘Classic’ branding for the traditional iPod didn’t come until the sixth generation. Apple’s latest addition ditched the familiar white polycarbonate faceplate for silver anodized aluminum and left the special edition models. It also had a thinner shell, a revamped user interface and offered up to 36 hours of music and 6 hours of video playback.

While the iPod Touch was in the spotlight during Apple’s September 2007 launch, the company also unveiled a promising Nano overhaul that ditched the rectangular shape in favor of a smaller, nearly square design. It was 19mm shorter and 11mm wider than its predecessor with the same storage capacity and battery life. It more than doubled the resolution from 176×132 to 320×240 and got a Cover Flow interface. Some people criticized the lack of a third-generation Nano touchscreen.

iPod Nano 4th and 5th Generation

September 2008 and September 2009 — up to 16 GB

The fourth-generation Nano reintroduced the elongated shell, though Apple managed to shave 0.5mm off the thickness and 12.5mm off the weight, despite adding a larger screen, more storage space, as well as a horizontal display accelerometer ( for videos) and the ability to shuffle songs by shaking the device.

This design was refined the following year when the fifth-generation iPod Nano received a larger screen, camera, FM radio, speaker, pedometer, improved jack placement and a polished paint job.

iPod Touch 2nd and 3rd generation

September 2008 and September 2009 — Up to 32 GB (2nd generation), up to 64 GB (3rd generation)

As with the iPhone, the iPod Touch remained largely unchanged during its first few revisions. The second-generation device got a tapered chrome back, volume buttons and a built-in speaker. More importantly, it was the first iPod to ship with Apple’s newly minted App Store.

The third-generation iPod Touch mirrored the changes of the iPhone 3GS, including a faster processor and graphics core, more RAM, support for voice commands, and a model with 64 GB of flash storage.

iPod Shuffle 3rd Generation

March 2009 — up to 4GB

Although Apple has refreshed the second-generation Shuffle with new colors several times, the series went nearly three years without a serious overhaul. Its successor came in March 2009 with twice as much storage (4 GB), a smaller chassis reminiscent of Apple’s first Shuffle design, and a completely new interface.

Instead of hardware buttons on the device itself, Apple moved the volume and playback buttons to the right earbud cable and introduced VoiceOver functionality for hands-free control.

iPod Nano 6th Generation and iPod Shuffle 4th Generation

September 2010 — up to 16GB (Nano), 2GB Shuffle

The sixth-generation iPod Nano borrowed elements from the 2007 version, but delivered what the third-generation couldn’t: a touchscreen. The device had a 240 x 240 multi-touch display, and given its dimensions of 1.47 x 1.61 inches, Apple has reduced the camera and video display of its predecessor, but kept functionality relevant to active users, such as the pedometer.

Meanwhile, the fourth-generation iPod Shuffle essentially served as an entry-level Nano with no touchscreen or accelerometer.

iPod Touch 4th generation

September 9, 2010 — up to 64 GB

After about three years and four generations since the first touchscreen model, iPod sales began to decline noticeably — a fate largely driven by the iPhone and competing Android handsets.

The lines between portable music players and smartphones (especially the iPod Touch and iPhone) were incredibly blurred. Nevertheless, the fourth-generation iPod Touch represented Apple’s best offering at the time with a high-resolution “Retina” display, Apple’s A4 SoC, as well as front and rear cameras for FaceTime and video recording.

What iPod models have you had over the years? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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