More than 275 million iPods have been sold. Given that the population of the United States is around 300 million, that’s nearly one iPod for every American. So it’s fairly safe to assume, we all know what an iPod is and most of us own one.
The impact on the music business of both the iPod and its iTunes store that provides much of the content has been seismic. Charlie Parker came up with a whole new approach to playing the saxophone; Jimi Hendrix rewrote the book on the electric guitar; Steve Jobs was similarly revolutionary by redefining how we listen to music.
It’s hard to imagine there were other digital music players before the iPod launched in October 2001. There were other music sites, too, but nobody had put the two together until then.
As anybody who has read the Walter Isaacson biography knows, this was always an obsession for Jobs, who liked to keep everything in-house, staying inside the Apple “orchard”.
He made the acquisition of new music incredibly simple. There were no pirate sites to contend with, and songs were just 99 cents. Jobs might even be credited with killing the compact disc!
It’s this seamlessness that worked in the iPod’s favor. Even the first model had a smooth, integrated look. The same goes for its interface. There are no screws – plug it into a Mac and it gets power magically down the same cable that uploads music.
However, Jobs can’t take all the credit. Computer engineer Tony Fadell was trying to get his concept off the ground, and Apple was the second company he approached after his own attempt failed to procure sufficient funding. Michael Dhuey at Apple stepped in to develop it further.
Actually, let’s rewind because 23 year-old British inventor Kane Kramer had a patent for a portable digital music player back in 1979. It could store one 3.5min song. However, the patent expired and Kramer couldn’t afford to renew it…
The man who coined “iPod” was freelance copywriter Vinnie Chieco, inspired (so the story goes) by a line from 2001: A Space Odyssey, “Open the pod bay door, Hal.”
The man responsible for the design was Jonathan “Jony” Ive. Born in a London suburb, he was behind most modern Apple products, starting with the funky iMac and evolving into the elegance of the current models.
It was Ive who decided to make it white. And the matching earphones became almost as iconic. He transformed what’s essentially an external hard drive into an object of desire and was subsequently knighted in 2012; it turns out Queen Elizabeth II also has an iPod.
Early models could store around 1000 songs, now they hold ten-times that amount, as well as video, photos, games, apps, etc. The device is so ingrained into our lives that car manufacturers include iPod integration. The Apple iPod is one of those rare devices that’s gone beyond an industry standard to something it would be difficult to live without.