Home Tech Apple How the iPod changed the world

How the iPod changed the world


It doesn’t seem possible that the iPod is twenty years old. Steve Jobs introduced the innovative device on 23 October 2001. It stored 1,000 tracks in its 5GB drive and cost $399.

There had been other attempts at creating music players with disk storage but none had succeeded. The world of music still belonged with the portable CD player which, in its turn, had vanquished the Walkperson (sorry, Walkman) and the mini-disk upstarts.

There was just something about the iPod that caught the imagination. With the backing of Apple, then just a shadow of its current self, the iPod took on the world and won.

The original iPod, born 20 years ago. It cost $399 and the latest version, the iPod touch, still costs exactly the same (image Apple)
The original iPod, born 20 years ago. It cost $399 and the latest version, the iPod touch, still costs exactly the same (image Apple)

It can be argued that without the iPod, Apple might not have survived. But almost certainly, without the iPod there would have been no iPhone, no trillion-dollar company. It was Apple’s first mass consumer product and it paved the way for a Mac revival, for the iPhone and iPad.

The iPod still lives on, surprisingly in these days of instant music streaming, in the form of the iPod touch. Equally astonishing, it still costs exactly the same, $399, but you get over six times the storage (32GB) for the money. You can even boost this to 128GB or 256GB for a bit of extra cash.

Apple has disrupted the world of technology at least twice this century, first with the iPod and then with the iPhone. Both took the world by storm and provided the foundations for the Apple we know today.

What are your recollections of the iPod? Share your thoughts in our comments section below.

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  1. The day the original iPod was announced I was visiting Apple’s European HQ, which was then in a suburb of Paris. I had a meeting with Jean-Claude Wahl, Apple’s European Credit Manager. He knew I liked Apple products (I always used a MacBook even though my company’s standard issue was HP) and he produced the press release with the comment:

    “you might like this but me and Isobel (his assistant) think it will never sell”

    Of course it became the biggest selling consumer electronics product ever, and we often joked about this afterwards. Jean-Claude was brilliant at managing credit risk, but my advice to him was stick to your day job.

  2. I can see 6 iPods of various configurations on the shelf opposite my desk. I bought in to the first generation and then carried on until the iPhone turned up and made it redundant.

    As I understand it the clickwheel was ‘nicked’ from the Bang and Olufsen Beocom phone (we actually still have 3 of these from the 90s on our landline and still working fine.

    These days I either stream/download hires from Qobuz and play it through a nice Quad stereo (modern), or, if I really like something I buy the vinyl.

    But the iPod was the start of all of this and how exciting!

        • Thanks… I will take a look. Can’t resist a bargain.

          When I moved into my present home some 25 years ago, I installed a huge Panasonic business switchboard thingy. Complete overkill, but I thought it would be nice to have a phone in every room and the ability to call to the top floor from the basement. It even came with music on hold and TWO lines. I soon got tired of that, but it lasted over 20 years until I realised that I wasn’t making or receiving calls on the system and had it ripped out.

          Gradually, incoming calls dwindled until there were only two regulars left — an ancient great aunt and an almost-as-ancient friend who refused to use the internet or a cellphone. Great aunt has gone, iPhoneless, to a better place and the friend has given in and bought an old Nokia. Now the phone never rings. I am immune from spam calls for some unfathomable reason. This is probably not unconnected with the fact that I haven’t quoted the landline number on any documents of applications in 15 years. Long may it continue to be silent.

          There are still two good reasons to keep a landline (apart from its use as a broadband conduit) and that is for emergency calls and as a prop for one’s credit rating. Apparently, the lack of a landline is a major blot on credit ratings.

          So the B&O would be nice, but it would sit on the shelf of once-useful objects alongside long-defunct cameras…

  3. On “October 26, 2004 the first U2 iPod was released, based on a 4th generation iPod with a monochrome screen, 20 GB drive, and a chrome-plated back.” And I got one. Though the chome back now shows wear and tear, the engraved signatures of Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr are still visible. The front is a striking red on black. And I have the box it came in as well.

  4. I absolutely adored my iPod. It got me through many a long commute to college on the bus! It was unfortunately stolen and I never replaced it. Spotify is now my go to for music but I do also collect vinyls of some of my favorite artists. I’ll always have fond memories of my iPod though.

  5. I remember being impressed by my brother in law’s iPod – I got a Philips HDD120 cause I had no Mac back then but the Philips MP3 player, while sounding great and having some unique features such as audio recording, was virtually unusable as it required the use of Philips’ Digital Media Manager software which was horribly buggy and unintuitive. I got a real iPod and converted to iTunes as soon as I could.
    My iPod Classic suffered a HD failure after a drop on a hard floor, but I managed to salvage it by replacing the HDD with an SD card. It does not see much use anymore in those streaming times but it is still permanently hooked on my car’s audio.

  6. “..you get 50 times the storage (256GB) for the money. You can even boost this to 32Gb or 128GB..” ..er, you can “boost” 256GB to 32Gb or 128GB ..? I don’t quite get that.

    I’ve a (2nd hand) 160GB spinning-disc iPod, with my ..well, most of my.. music collection on it: I plop it onto my ‘Apple Hi-Fi’ (remember those? ..probably not!) speakers, and it plays all day ..normally playing over & over again the Love Theme from ‘Blade Runner’.

    Or else it plays my mixes (Playlists) of a mish-mash of tracks from The Real Roxanne to Buffy St.Marie, Aretha, Girl Groups of the Sixties, the music from ‘Diva’, Mambo No.5, Dancing in the Street, 633 Squadron, Claire de Lune, the SOS Band, Suzanne Vega, and I can’t remember what else..

    I did watch Steve’s “1,000 songs in your pocket” online intro to the iPod, then my Beloved and I went to an Apple(?) event ..no, maybe a general tech show.. at the Islington Design Centre in London, and bought a top spec original iPod ourselves (one each), which we still have ..and which need replacement batteries now, of course.

    I’d tried those awful little ‘Rio’ MP3 players (ugghhh!) and bought a burn-it-yourself MP3-disc burner/player for Rachel (our cinema manager) as a going away present for her round the world trip, but she couldn’t work out how to burn anything, and I spent an evening and a half trying to work out how to do it, and how to get it to work ..intuitive it was certainly NOT!

    Then in Micro-Anvika (one of those shops) in Tottenham Court Road a short while after, a customer asked the staff “What’s the advantage of a (very expensive) iPod over any other MP3 player?”, but they didn’t know the answer ..so I chimed in with “The iPod connects using a hi-speed Firewire socket, instead of USB, so it’s ten times faster to copy any CD to an iPod!” ..Sold!

    They were such a brilliant little device ..Tony Fadell, who dreamt it up, offered it to Philips, but they weren’t interested, and hawked it around several electronics companies with no success, then took it to Apple, and Steve Jobs pounced on it, revised and revised its ‘interface’ – the method of interacting with it; scrolling through menus, choosing Playlists or separate tracks, jumping back to the main Menu, etc – till it was super-simple (never more than three clicks to what you want) and bought all available teeny Toshiba 5GB hard discs for exclusivity of the hardware.

    Of course it was first an Apple-only device, and could be used only with a Mac computer ..the idea being to inspire Windows users’ envy, and get them to migrate to a Mac. But then ‘iTunes’ – the software which loaded music onto the iPod – was re-written for Windows machines ..making them compatible with the iPod.. and the iPod was then no longer a niche product, but THE de facto music player!

    Dance DJs copied all their discs to iPods, which were so easy to navigate ..to call up exactly the tune you wanted next, and to sequence them into Playlists. A dozen boxes of 12″ vinyl discs disappeared into a teeny device the size of a pack of ciggies!

    The Apple earphones were never as good as small Sony (and other brand) ear-pods, but the iPod took over the world, Apple sold gazillions of tracks at 99p (or 99¢) each, and Apple became a ‘Service’ or ‘Content’ company, instead of a computer hardware company.

    • No, I don’t get it either. Back to the drawing board. I will investigate! It’s 32GB base, with 128 and 256 as upgrades. I’ve changed it and thanks as usual for your eagle eyes.

      Ah, Mikro Anvika. Spent many a happy hour in there.

        • Ah it looks like I made a dog’s dinner of the entire article! I followed a US article on this and you could well be right. Anyway, to misquote someone who might be Mark Twain or even Jonathan Swift, never let the facts get in the way of a good story. Good to have your input!

  7. I bought the iPod shuffle. The one that Steve Jobs pulled out of his small pocket on the front of his jeans. I’ve still got it but I hardly ever use it now. However I’m still using my Sony Walkman and the David Bowie cassettes I had when I was at school in 1973 still play fine on it. No kidding. Pretty good going when you think that most Apple laptops usually have a four to ten year life ‘ with a battery change) at most.

    • I’m amazed at how well tape cassettes survive. I have a few thousand dating from the ‘80s and they play through a Marantz deck bought 20 years ago. Not my only form of music listening but a durable one considering I’d assumed they’d be an oxidised mess by now.

      • I love the analogue sound from cassettes. For listening at home I just plug the walkman into my Cambridge audio amp and speakers. No compressed dynamics, just good sound.
        I also bought the TEAC tape deck..the only one still being made today as far as I know.


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