Many from my generation have now buried and praised lots of gadgets we grew up with: NES, SEGA, flip phones, GameBoy, Polaroid cameras, Walkmen, VHS, and pocket translators. The most recent to move onto obsolescence is the iPod nano and Shuffle. Since the iPod Classic was decommissioned in 2014, this means the iPod as we knew it is no more. Though the iPod Touch treks on as a phoneless iPhone, this moment represents the end of an era in music and computing.

I am sure we will meet again, iPod, when somebody inevitably introduces a retro model ready for the holiday season around about 2040. Until then, vaya con Dios, little buddy.

I am sure we will meet again, iPod, when somebody inevitably introduces a retro model ready for the holiday season around about 2040. Until then, vaya con Dios, little buddy.

Introduced in 2001, the iPod set music free, from desktops, from albums and from labels. The iPod revolutionized the music player and turned the music industry upside down. It introduced us to iTunes, which has influenced the Apple and Android app stores of today. It also introduced to a whole new way of interfacing with our media content: when and where we wanted and in the order (shuffle) we wanted. The first add follows a man who sits up from his desk and takes his music out the door with him. This was revolutionary, kiddos. It introduced the concept that hardware and artist(ry) could be so closely tied. It served as a testing ground for interface innovations, from scroll wheels to click wheels to Multi-Touch. It may have represented a high point in Cupertino’s marketing campaigns too. It made Earbuds and then EarPods ubiquitous–functional, fashionable, flexible. It gave us color screens to play photos and video from iTunes, then it gave us cameras on the go! It introduced us to podcasts and, before the release of iOS 6 in 2012, it was really the only place to find them.

Oh, and one more thing: by adding features and functions, it gave us the architecture and UI for the smart phone as we know it today.

The iPod was small, light, bomb-proof hardware. Storage capacity was solid, from 1, 2, 4 GB nano models to the behemoth 160 GB iPod Classic. Battery life was never an issue, except for the last Shuffle I owned, which ended up with a glitch that rendered the on/off button useless, therefore draining the battery every 24 hours.

I owned three iPods: a Shuffle (1st generation), a nano (1st generation), and a nano 6th generation. Ironically, the one that still works is the Shuffle, 512 MB of musical bliss. The genius of the Shuffle was making the world believe a USB stick with no display was a slick piece of hardware. It was! It lacked the clip of subsequent models, but it was super easy to use studying, working out, traveling. Need to charge it or add a new album? Just pop off the end cap and insert the whole stick into the USB port. The sight of this would confuse kids today, and “USB-C or death” engineers, I am sure it cringeworthy. Still, it worked. 

The genius of the Shuffle was making the world believe a USB stick with no display was a slick piece of hardware. It was!

The iPod I connect with most is the 1st gen nano. It had a Click Wheel and color screen, kids. It had flash memory instead of the hard drive the bigger iPods had, eschewing storage space for a thinner, lighter style. I crammed it full of classic rock, 80s and 90s jams, old-school rap and just enough alternative to keep my college-me content. When that one died, my wife gave me the nano (6th gen) which I rode until the power button glitched.

I was not the only one buying in and buying again. Other mp3 players were certainly available, but the hardware was uninspired and the libraries were underwhelming. Apple had something with the iPod. Per Apple’s numbers, in the quarters representing December 2006 to December 2009, Apple shipped 20 million units. For millions, the iPod–specifically the Shuffle–was their first Apple device. The hope was that this enticed many to purchase a Mac, iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch down the line. Even if they didn’t, users were invested in the ecosystem via iTunes purchases. It is worth noting that the iPod represented a second life for Apple–and Steve Jobs–allowing them to build a customer base for, engineer, test, launch the iPhone.

So here we are, halfway through 2017 and the iPod is headed into the ether. Despite commercial success and engineering advancements, a stand alone music player apparently can’t compete in a world dominated by the 3 S’s: smartphones, speakers and streaming.

What killed the iPod? There were many factors in the last decade. File management was kind of a bear. There was no wireless capability. They couldn’t run iOS apps or connect to the internet. They have not been strategically important or even received major updates in years. The iPhone cannibalized sales of stand-alone music players, iPods included. Ultimately, it was streaming that sealed the deal. Why pay for content and mage files when I can create and follow artists/playlists/stations on the go? In 2017, why be tethered to a computer and tangled up in wires?

In 2017, why be tethered to a computer and tangled up in wires?

So much of the outpouring of love is nostalgia, for a time when devices themselves and our relationships with them were different. Truth is, my iPods are in the desk drawer and I image others would report the same. Still, the device line represented a step forward, and a significant one. It represented a different way of purchasing, storing, mixing and listening to music. It represented a different way of working with artists, labels and third party partners. For instance, the way Starbucks worked together with iTunes to make some tracks free represented a unique partnership. For me, the iPod represented a dynamic way of exploring and curating your catalog. In, in fact, it was a way of looking into the hearts and minds of people. There is the self we present in public and then there is the self that “Shuffle” betrays.

For me, the iPod represented a dynamic way of exploring and curating your catalog. In, in fact, it was a way of looking into the hearts and minds of people. There is the self we present in public and then there is the self that “Shuffle” betrays.

There are still times when an iPod comes in handy: workouts, parties, study sessions, travel, and commutes. For instance, I wished I had had mine on recent bus trip back from Vermont. Yes, I could have downloaded a playlist in Pandora (Plus feature, though) or tried to work with spotty wifi connections to Spotify, but I didn’t. I wished I could grab and go, sneak out and shuffle.

The iPod was great at what it did and it was always ready to do it again…1, 2, 3, 4 times. Or more.

 

 

 

 

 

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