Sunday, May 19, 2024

History Of The iPod

When talking about the history of the iPod, gadget freaks usually take you to their trophy room and start telling stories about each of the Apple items there. I know it may sound crazy, but I am sure there are plenty of collectors having the entire iPod line in their secret(or not) storage rooms, and usually using the latest one… or the one that holds the most pleasant memories. Speaking for myself, I only got to know one such guy until now, but his collection was absolutely amazing!

Obviously, after seeing his collection (that was happening a few years ago), I started having dreams. Tech dreams, to be more accurate. No, I am not talking about nightmares… I was simply dreaming about the perfect music player, the one that would combine features from most notorious ones on the market, and a few that I always had in my mind, but never saw in a real device. Anyway, I won’t tell you anything else about my perfect media player – one day I may become rich with my ideas, so let’s leave all this aside and move to our target – the history of the iPod – shall we?

Until the creation of the iPod, it was the idea, of course. The idea of a small hard drive-based player that was linked with a content delivery system, unlike the bulky flash-memory based players of the late 1990s belonged to Tony Fadell, former General Magic and Philips employee, and now Senior Vice President of the iPod Division at Apple.

Fadell had the idea, but no support to make it reality, so he tried to find a company interested in taking the portable media player concept one step further. RealNetworks and Philips refused, but Apple took the challenge seriously. Looking back, that was a brilliant move for Apple, and a very bad one for the others, especially for Real, caught off guard when the iTunes Music Store was opened…

Once Fadell got inside the Apple camp, Steve Jobs took a very active role in the project, and it took less than a year to finish the first iPod, the beauty you can enjoy in the image above. Now, let’s see what was hidden inside that white case, shall we?

The original iPod, announced on October 23, 2001, used 5 GB Toshiba hard drives as large as a quarter, the same ARM processor as the one used in the Newton, an operating system from Pixo, a large high resolution display(for those days, of course), a lithium polymer battery, and the feature that’s going to make it stand out of the crowd most of all – the scroll wheel.

Even more, instead of using skip buttons, like other MP3 players of those days, the iPod allowed its users to navigate through the playlist using the scroll wheel, making this much easier than the competitors from Compaq or Creative.

Despite all the above, the public reacted negatively to the device, despite being shocked by its features, most critics pointing their finger at the $400 price tag and lack of Windows compatibility.

Europe received the iPod one year later with enthusiasm, and it all started to roll – accessories and software products for the iPod slowly appeared, then the 10 GB version of the 1st generation iPod was introduced…

…followed by Apple’s decision to make the iPod compatible with Windows through Musicmatch, and the smart move that came as a surprise to many – engraving iPods with text and graphics, just in time to license logos of bands and companies for Apple to create “special” iPods ready for the 2002 Christmas shopping spree. These iPods had Madonna’s, Tony Hawk’s, or Beck’s signature, as well as No Doubt’s band logo engraved.

Of course we could talk about iPod engraving, cases and other cool accessories for ages, but let’s stick to the history of the iPod, and not the history of iPod accessories, since first complete redesign of the iPod happened in early 2003…

… with the all-touch interface, dock connector, and slimmer case, while on the software side, and the drop of Musicmatch support, which got replaced by iTunes 4.1 for Windows. Capacities ranged between 10 GB and 40 GB, while audio autonomy went down from a previous 10 hours to only 8 hours. Probably the best part about the new version for PC users was the support for USB 2.0, making it much easier for them to connect the Apple iPod, since only a few Windows PCs had FireWire ports back then.

A bit earlier, I mentioned the iTunes Music Store, but it was only in the summer of 2003 when this became reality. Its purpose was obvious – help Apple cut the price of the iPod without feeling it, since the iTunes Music Store started to bring some serious revenue pretty soon.

Since 2003, the iPod got three new generations, but – if you ask me – none of them came up with something really new. Obviously, the screen got bigger, video and picture viewing were added to the feature list, the storage capacity went sky high, with 120 GB models being currently available, and the battery life was improved. As you can imagine, this is something that the competition has done, too, so let’s leave the iPod aside and move to the smaller iPod mini!

The iPod Mini was a mid range model that came before the Nano. With only two generations, released in 2004 and 2005, and capacities of 4 GB and 6 GB available, it didn’t quite turn the world upside down. In fact, I can say the Mini was a “Beta version” of Nano released to the public, and nothing more.

When we talk about the iPod Nano, things are looking more interesting. In the image that you can see above, the progress made by the design of this gadget from the first to the third generation becomes obvious, and the Nano became instantly a hit, with over a million units sold in the first 3 weeks since its release.

The first generation started at 1 GB in size, and a screen with a resolution of 176 x 132 pixels, and went up to 8 GB and 320X240 when the third generation arrived. While the 4th gen Nano looks great and added an accelerometer for some cool features, the capacities currently available for it range between 4 GB and 16 GB, while the screen size remained the same, as well as the battery life(even shorter than that of the 3G Nano, when talking about video autonomy – 4 hours, instead of 5).

The thing that should not be, the iPod Shuffle, arrived in January 2005, with sizes of 512 MB and 1 GB available, followed by a refresh in 2006, and one in 2008. This is a low end iPod, with poor sound quality when compared to the “serious” iPods, and no display. Apart from being for a while the smallest MP3 player in the world, I don’t think this iPod deserves to have a place in the history of the iPod, but here it is, for your viewing enjoyment!

At last, let’s talk a little about the “ultimate iPod,” the iPod Touch. Basically, the iPod Touch is iPhone’s child – you only get the music and video capabilities of the iPhone, without the phone and camera. The iPod Touch runs OS X, comes with 802.11n WiFi capability, and is only a bit smaller than its parent.

Since its release, on the 13th of September, 2007, the iPod Touch got a refresh already, featuring external volume control, an external speaker, a contoured back, as well as built-in Nike+ support. Currently, the first and second generation iPod Touches are both available only in Black, with 8 GB, 16 GB and 32 GB versions. The first generation has a rated battery life of 24 hours for audio, and 7 for video, while the second boosts these values to 36/6. Impressive!

Now, we’re done here, but the history of the iPod is far from being over. I know I may have skipped a few minor models, various lawsuits involving iPods, and other less important facts, but be sure of this: we’ll get back to the history of the iPod pretty soon, and that’s a promise!