10 Years Ago Today: Apple Introduces the iPod, Changes Everything


iPod 1GiPod 1G

The first-generation iPod (photo via Wikimedia Commons).

There are some historical moments whose significance is obvious at the moment, where you know it will be remembered and commemorated in years to come. But I suspect most people wouldn’t be able to recall the events in their lives on October 23, 2001, because you would have to have been able to see the future to recognize the day’s significance.

When Steve Jobs made the announcement that Apple would be coming out with an MP3 player, it really didn’t seem that earth-shattering. It was only going to be the size of a deck of cards, which was good, and it could store about 1000 songs, which was a lot more than existing players. It also was going to have longer battery life than most, and with its FireWire connection could transfer songs between it and a computer quickly. What most people commented on, though, was that it was going to cost $399 and only work with Macs — critics said those would prevent it from gaining a foothold in the market.

What those critics didn’t count on, though, was the importance of usability. While it wasn’t yet fully refined, Apple had developed what they called a “scroll wheel,” which allowed users to operate the iPod very intuitively and with only one hand — and it was this innovation that would truly make the device a game-changer. It was also, with the use of iTunes — software that had come out as part of the Mac operating system earlier in 2001 — as easy as simply plugging the iPod into your Mac to get it to sync your music. Since a lot of MP3 players at the time required a little technical skill or at least getting accustomed to an unfamiliar process, this made the iPod more appealing to people who weren’t comfortable doing much beyond web browsing and word processing on their computers.

Of course the iPod still had a long way to go. Apple didn’t come out with a version that worked with Windows PCs until the following year, or a version with USB connectivity until the year after that, and the interface changed a lot, including transforming the scroll wheel into a “click wheel” They came out with the iPod Mini in early 2004, the first of several alternative, smaller models of the device. By the time the iPhone hit the market in 2007, the iPod was the undisputed king of portable music (and video) players.

It’s unfortunate that Jobs couldn’t live quite long enough to see this anniversary come about. But it would be impossible to argue that the events of this day, ten years ago, didn’t change the future of handheld technology forever. For more on the subject, The Telegraph has a lot of good detail in their article about the anniversary, and you can still read the original press release from October 23, 2001 on Apple’s website.

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