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3 August 2017

An ode to the iPod: the enduring impact of the world’s most successful music player

Looking back on the iPod's place in musical history, Apple's decision to stop making the device will leave a hole in the hearts of many.

By Natalia Bus

Last Thursday, Apple quietly announced that it was discontinuing the iPod shuffle and nano, the only “real iPods” left in the company’s catalogue. The iPod touch, with its more marketable internet capabilities, is still available and was made more appealing with the release of two new versions that have double the storage capacity, but the announcement marked the end of the line for the most influential dedicated music player of the 21st Century.

The tragedy with which iPod lovers are now faced has been on the horizon for several years. Apple’s discontinuation of the iPod classic in 2014 was an early sign the device was falling out of favour. A lack of any significant updates for the shuffle and nano since 2010 and 2012 respectively only increased the sense of foreboding.

Last week’s confirmation of the iPod’s demise comes just weeks after the device played a starring role in Edgar Wright’s crtically lauded film Baby Driver. In the course of the film, the appropriately dreamy lead Ansel Elgort whips out at least 12 different iPods. It may not have a place in ourpockets for much longer, but the iPod’s place in popular culture is assured.

When it was first introduced by Steve Jobs in 2001, the iPod was known as the “Walkman of the twenty-first century” that “put 1,000 songs in your pocket”. Soon after, the device started to make waves in its own name. In 2007, 48 per cent of Apple’s $7.1 billion record quarterly revenue came from the iPod and the line has dominated digital player sales in the US since 2004.

As well as well as being a hugely successful product, the iPod changed the way that we listen to music in a more fundamental way than the earlier Walkman or the first MP3 players. Large storage combined with sleek design made it revolutionary for music fans. The addition of a screen injected new life into artists designing cover art. I remember spending hours scouring Google images for the official artwork of the various albums I had imported from my CD collection.

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The development of the iPod also brought with it the end of the Album Era, a period in English music roughly between the mid 1960s and mid 2000s when the album was the dominant form of recorded expression. The ability to create playlists was also available on iTunes and the iPod long before Spotify used it as a selling point, creating what many now consider an art form in itself. 

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Its enduring impact was clear in the memes and pictures mourning its loss on Twitter.

There was nostalgia: 


And shock:

As the iPod moves from cutting edge to obsolete its revolutionary mantle has passed to streaming services such as Spotify and Tidal, but its influence on music, culture and the many who wouldn’t leave home without it will endure.