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Ode to the Apple iPod: The golden era of portable music
“Bye bye bye.”
Press play and NSYNC’s legendary track pops up on the screen. Apt. I’ve got a bit of an iPod collection on hand, and to make the day a little extra memorable, I pulled out the iPod I toted around in high school.
After 20 years, the Apple iPod is finally dead. Late last week, Apple pulled the plug on the last in the series — the iPod Touch. The original iPod has been buried for a while longer. Even so, for me and hundreds of millions of users, the iPod will forever be associated with dancing silhouettes, click wheels, a thousand songs in the pocket, and a rose-tinted time in technology that’ll never really come back again.
Apple's iPod was a music player like no other.
The iPod was an MP3 music player like no other. There were those before it. But nothing really challenged the cultural status quo quite like it. While other music players could store a hundred tracks at best, the iPod could carry your entire library. From a thousand tracks, to eventually tens of thousands. It opened horizons for young music listeners like me. The huge storage capacity and in-box white earpods were just as much of a status symbol then as carrying the latest iPhone is today. But more importantly, it created a sense of being part of a tribe. All too often I got a nod from other silhouettes walking down the street, toting their own iPods, plugged into their own earpods, and immersed in a whole new world of music.
The iPod also changed Apple’s fortunes. With sales crossing hundreds of millions of units, it was the catalyst that Apple needed to truly come back from the brink of bankruptcy. But I digress.
The iPod shaped my lifelong interest in the intersection of art, design, and technology.
Sure, I had NSYNC’s killer third album on my iPod, but it also opened up the world of a hundred new genres to me. Music has always been a part of my life, but I was no longer hamstrung by the limits of cassettes or CDs. Feeling some teenage angst? Time to blast some Evanescence or The Rasmus. Dark and brooding weather called for some Scandinavian Black Metal. A playlist of classic hip-hop and rap mixtapes was always ready for a party.
A decade and a half of reviewing phones and technology later, I can’t think of any other piece of plastic and silicon that has changed my life the way the iPod did.
The click wheel interface was simplistic in design but effortless in navigation. Looking at the iPods on my desk right now brings back a rush of memories of idly shuffling through or switching between tracks while on train journeys across Europe or backpacking across Asia. The iPod did everything I needed it to do, and nothing else. It was beautiful.
The iPod did everything I needed it to do, and nothing else. It was beautiful.
Apple’s current line-up of products carries forward much of that design and simplicity-oriented ethos that the iPod pioneered, but the iPod has never been equaled. In fact, it can’t be. The iPod existed at a unique connected, yet disconnected phase in time. Mobile internet was popular, yet not prevalent. Apps existed but weren’t quite good enough yet. Spotify was on the horizon, but Napster and iTunes were where the music was. No wonder the iPod Touch could never really crack the cultural zeitgeist the way the classic iPod did. It did too much.
Look, I’m no saint. Growing up in India, the high seas were the common way to get music. But the iPod’s tight integration with iTunes deserves credit for more reasons than one. The multi-million song library made discovering fresh music as easy as a single click. Little did I know that the walled garden of media would become the future, but that’s a discussion for another day.
My iPod sitting on its dock, a thousand new tracks copying over while I browsed the latest selection of music on iTunes was a ritual. It opened a window to a whole new world of media — media that was virtually unattainable sitting here in India. After all, who was going to stock the latest release from the Finnish melodeath legends, Norther?
The ritual of loading up music on the iPod and curating a collection helped inculcate a habit of meticulous organization.
The ritualistic approach of loading music on the iPod also inculcated a lifelong habit of curation and meticulous organization. Metadata tags, cover art, making sure compilation albums were marked as such — there was an order to the chaos, and I know I wasn’t the only one who spent thousands of hours bringing some sanity to their music library. Of course, that’s a moot point in today’s streaming world where you simply consume.
Also check out: 10 best music apps and music streaming services for Android
For most, the iPod has become a relic of the past. I’ve hung on to mine and added more to my collection. It reminds me of a simpler time in life when music was all that mattered and the little music player that could was a constant companion. It had character. My iPod was uniquely mine. It let me be immersed in the sound of silence or rage against the machine without distractions. It never interrupted me with ads or suggestions. It just enabled me and millions of other users to do what we wanted to do — immerse ourselves in music.
Goodbye, sweet prince. Your legacy will never die.