In 2001, Steve Jobs introduced “an amazing little device” that “holds a thousand songs” to rapturous applause. He called it the iPod, and just about every available testimonial since suggests he knew it would be a winner. He wasn’t wrong. Few gadgets have changed the game more and virtually every subsequent innovation from both Apple and the consumer goods market in general can probably credit at least some part of its existence to the iPod. Although the iPhone far outstrips the iPod in sales now, it’s hard to imagine the former could exist without the latter. And now, 21 years later, Apple is discontinuing its sale.
When it debuted, the iPod was more than just a portable digital music device. With its slick spinning dial and instantly trendy earbuds, it was a way to soundtrack your life on the fly. Without your iPod, you were just doing chores, running errands, studying or going for a run. With it, you were the star of your own movie, regulating the world around you to set dressing. Modern iPhones are remote controls for our modern lives. The iPod made our modern lives melt away. You could disappear into your own world — any one of a thousand of them. Your own little multiverse of madness.
By 2003, Apple’s ubiquitous black silhouettes over neon backgrounds drove the point home even further. Anyone could own one of these. Anyone could be the star of their own private party. Jet’s “you look so fine and I really want to make you mine” may not have been the most subtle line in marketing history, but it worked like gangbusters. Although, truthfully, it hardly needed so slick a campaign. The iPod sold itself. Apple sold 22.5 million in 2005.
More developments would follow, like the Nano in 2005 and the iPod Touch in 2007 and then, of course, the iPhone, for which the limitless music options was just one of many features. But music will always feel like it’s part of Apple’s spiritual foundation and, for many people, it was their first real brush with Apple products. It remains one of their coolest. The iPhone has proven to be troubling, a source of addiction and and distancing from community. The iPad is stodgy and square. MacBooks are too ubiquitous now to really have any cool factor. But the iPod is a reminder of a time when Apple really was on the cutting edge of rethinking certain parts of the human experience — in particular, the way that we listen to our music.