20 Years of the iPod

My original iPod (left), alongside the iPod 5.5 and the Apple Watch, in many ways its successor.

It’s been 10 years since I wrote about it being 10 years since the iPod. That means of course that it’s now been 20 years since Steve Jobs first graced our 1024×768 screens announcing the iPod. I won’t rehash what I wrote 10 years ago, instead I thought it would be interesting delve into what the technology scene was like 20 years ago. 

In 2001, I was 16 years old. I had left school in May and started college on September 10th 2001. I will always remember starting college the day before the 9/11 attacks. We had started on the Monday, and our tutor gave us the Tuesday off, telling us to come back on Wednesday. Nobody quite expected the world to have changed so much in the space of little over 24 hours. The gap between leaving school and the attacks was only a few short months. I mention this only to say that no matter the topic, it’s impossible to consider the world in 2001 without remembering that day.  

My computer in 2001 was a G3 iMac of the Snow variety. I had bought this in the summer with some money my grandparents had given me. Back then, and still now, buying a new computer was not something I did often. The difference now is that I have many devices that could be considered a computer: a phone, tablet, laptop and even my Apple Watch. At the turn of the century a computer was something you kept on or under a desk.  Macs were not particularly cool, especially within tech circles. The arrival of Mac OS X, with its UNIX underpinnings gave it some street cred amongst geeks like me. I could justify buying one promising I’d be able to learn the Unix command line, while also running user friendly GUI software such as Microsoft Word, and connecting to printers and scanners – a task that was not easy on Linux at the time.

 

I bought the iMac from John Lewis (there was no Apple Store in the UK at the time) and still vividly remember the excitement of going to collect it, and how unexpectedly heavy the box was (it had a full CRT screen of course).  Initially Mac OS X was far too slow to actually use, and so my dreams of using the iMac to learn the Unix had to be put on hold. Around this time, my phone would have been a Motorola T191. A basic phone that had only one thing going for: it looked cool. To really satisfy my inner geek, I had managed to save up to buy a Palm m100. In 2001, if you wanted a PDA, you wanted a Palm.  For a cool one-hundred pounds, or £170 in today’s money, I had a device that could store phone numbers, take notes and play two-play pong over infrared. It supported email, but only when synchronised over from the Mac. There was no web browser to be seen, and certainly no music. The only audio the Palm m100 was capable of was a Casio watch style “beep”. Instead, my portable music needs were taken care of thanks to a £50 Panasonic portable CD player. It was capable of playing not only audio CDs, but also MP3 CDs. These were CDs stuffed with MP3 files. This meant you could fit more than the usual 10 or so songs that would fit onto a CD. It was portable, but with caveats. It’s bulk meant unless I was wearing a hoodie or fleece with large pockets, it had nowhere to go. It was also difficult to control the music while walking. Still, for 2001 it was great.

Then the iPod happened. I watched the Steve Jobs keynote on my iMac after reading about it in the news.  There was something about it being Mac exclusive ,and me being a Mac user that made it stand out to me. I was lucky enough to get one for Christmas that year. £300 Christmas presents were certainly not a regular thing for me – I don’t know what my parents were thinking!  Initially, my friends laughed at the white earbuds, it would take years for them to be normalised by Apple’s marketing campaigns. The original iPod was extremely easy to scratch, and so I sought a case to protect it. Unlike today where they are a myriad of case options available for every device under the sun, at the time of the iPod’s first release there was no such thing. I ended up buying a case from a specialist photography shop – it was designed to hold a camera flash.  From then on, my experience of music, along with millions others was that of buying the CD, feeding it into my computer, and then synchronise it with my iPod. The CD then went back on the shelf. A new generation of music lovers was born. To this day, when I think about playing a song I start with the artist, locate the album, and press play. One time, I was browsing CDs in HMV and frustrated at the thought of having to wait until I got home before I could listen to my new CD, I had the killer idea – what if the HMV (a bricks and mortar music retailer for anyone who doesn’t know) had some kind of machine that would let you scan the barcode of the CD and plug in your iPod so you could listen to your purchase there and then? Of course this became somewhat of a reality 6 years later when the Apple introduced iPod touch and the iTunes music store. Now of course we have steaming services and music is easier to access than ever. We can now ask Siri (other assistants are available) to play virtually any song on demand. Where next for recorded music consumption? I have no idea, but I certainly look back fondly on the days of the iPod.

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