My first iPod was a gen-2 model, May of 2002. I had brass in pocket, and was tempted beyond belief, but reluctantly conceded that I should spend the cash on my first new pair of eyeglasses in eleven years. Whereupon my girlfriend reached into her bag when we got back to her apartment and presented me with the iPod I had been coveting. (Reader, I married her.)
My favorite iPod was the gold iPod mini, which was handed to me on my first day as an Apple contractor as an indefinite loan by my then-lead. It was the capper on an amazing day – it went along with my 12″ PowerBook G4 issued as a work system (and newer than the laptop I would be issued on my first day at NASA three years later), so I had an Imperial crap-ton of migration to do from my TiBook and second iPod (my wife resold my first one and put the proceeds on a gen-3 model for Christmas 2003). I took that gold Mini everywhere – including on the honeymoon – and it was a constant companion in constant use until the heating and hard drive issues did for it.
My other notable iPods were a borrowed iPod Nano, which resided in my VW Rabbit’s glovebox as the permanent jukebox, and a PVT iPod video model that was close to the size of an iPhone, in my estimation, which I carried for several months to try to get used to the idea. There was also the second-gen iPod Shuffle, a freebie from work, which I lost within 48 hours. It’s possible to make technology too small, honestly.
My last iPod was a Project RED shuffle, bought at a time when I was trying to ensure my iPhone 3G would last through the day at work. I updated podcasts on the phone and listened to them there, but kept the current music (and classic podcast episodes) on the Shuffle in an attempt to offload some of the listening to a different device. But by and by, the iPhone got better, and I stopped flying (and thus needing to save the battery for 4 or 5 hours at a go), and eventually I quit carrying plug-in headphones altogether by 2017. And to be honest, I’m not entirely sure where that iPod is.
It changed the world, honestly. MP3 players were either small flash memory things the size of a cigarette pack that would hold maybe 16 to 20 songs, depending on length and bitrate, or else hard drive things bigger than a Discman that were heavy and complex and unfriendly to anyone but severe nerds. Thus Slashdot’s famous dismissal: “no wireless. Less space than a Nomad. Lame.” And then the iPod basically destroyed the rest of the market, and rightly so. After fourteen years of carrying some kind of cassette Walkman most everywhere, and another year of fumbling with the primitive MP3 players of the turn of the millennium, the iPod was huge storage, simple interface, and utter elegance.
And Apple was smart about it, honestly. They always self-cannibalized. As soon as flash memory let you replace the tiny hard drive, they killed the mini for the nano. They replaced monochrome with color, audio with video, physical controls with touch controls with actual touch screens. No one ever came close, and most people gave up and just went straight to imitating the iPhone. Which even Apple did – the last iPod was the iPod Touch, the 4-inch super-thin Wi-Fi only model that was the perfect My Very First Personal iOS Device. Sadly, with its demise, the entry level price for iOS has jumped from $199 to $329.
But the iPod was that thing Steve coveted most: a dent in the universe. It was what shifted Apple’s focus away from desktops and laptops toward truly personal computing. And it’s an icon, the first great technological achievement of the 21st century.
Ave atque vale, iPod. Thanks for the ride.