Since its debut five years ago, the iPod has become one of the most recognizable products in the world. It has transformed Apple’s business and public image, and its halo effect has likely improved the Mac’s image and fortunes as well. Whether or not you’re a convert, it’s hard to dispute the iPod’s impact.
Glimpse into history
I was in the Town Hall Auditorium at Apple’s Cupertino, California, campus on October 23, 2001, when Steve Jobs introduced the iPod. (Go to YouTube, search for “Apple iPod Introduction,” and watch the video; my coworkers and I are in one of the audience cutaways.) We had a pretty good idea we were going to see an Apple music player, but none of us knew we were witnessing the arrival of the first iconic product of the 21st century.
I still have my notes from that event on my Mac: overview of the “digital hub” concept; iDVD 2’s ship date slipping a second time, to early November; demonstrations of iMovie, iTunes, and Mac OS X’s Image Capture utility; and then, at last, the main event—a music product.
“It’s a very large target market,” Jobs said then. “It knows no boundaries. No one has really found the recipe yet for digital music. Not only can we find a recipe, but we think the Apple brand is going to be fantastic [for this].” His breathless and excited pronouncements are often derided. But on this particular October day in 2001, Jobs couldn’t have been more right.
Holding one of those first-generation iPods today, I’m struck by just how much the iPod hasn’t changed in five years. It’s still a white block with a stainless steel back. Sure, details have evolved: the edges were sharp then, but are now smooth; the screen is now colorful and capable of displaying photos and videos; the scroll wheel doesn’t physically move anymore. But that original iPod—with its 5GB hard drive, full-size FireWire port, and $399 price tag—got a remarkable number of details right the very first time.
Strange new thing
At the end of the event, we all received prerelease versions of the iPod, already loaded with music. (To make the point that the iPod wasn’t a vehicle for music piracy, Apple also gave us the source CDs for that music.) We were also given a beta version of iTunes that let you drag music from your iPod into iTunes—but Apple told us that the feature would be shut off in the final version. “Don’t steal music” was suddenly one of Steve Jobs’s favorite catchphrases.
What did Macworld think of the iPod back then? Most of us understood the product’s niche immediately: two Macworld editors already had more than 5GB of MP3s on their Macs; I had a bit less, so I could fit my entire digital music collection onto that tiny iPod.
But we were hung up on the price. “At $399, the iPod does not come cheaply,” we wrote the next day. But the $399 price tag didn’t slow buyers down. The product was simply too good.
Are iPods still that good? To find out, see our reviews of the latest iPods (see page 42) and iPod nanos (see page 40), as well as our tip-laden look at the new iTunes update, iTunes 7, on page 74. And for more about that introduction five years ago, check out former Macworld columnist (and current Newsweek contributor) Steven Levy’s most recent book, The Perfect Thing: How the iPod Shuffles Commerce, Culture, and Coolness (Simon & Schuster, 2006).
Memories of 2001
I’ve spent a lot of my professional time covering the iPod and its offshoots in the years since it was introduced; however, it’s also one of those products that has changed my life personally.
Five years ago, my wife and I were expecting our first child. When I came home with that sample iPod, I suggested to her that, rather than burning a CD of soothing music to play in the delivery room, she could build a playlist that we would load on the iPod. Over the next few weeks, she built a playlist called “Baby,” which I synced to the iPod. I brought the iPod, a cassette adapter, and a boom box to the hospital, and we played her playlist during labor. My daughter—born three days before the iPod started shipping—was probably one of the first of thousands of kids who’ve since arrived in the world to the sound of the iPod.
So forgive me if I get a little sentimental when I talk about the iPod and its anniversary. Yes, it’s a great product that has changed Apple’s course. But I admit that I have an emotional attachment to it, too. It’s become a part of my everyday life and personal history. So I say, “Happy Birthday.”
Where were you on October 23, 2001? How many iPods have you owned since then? Come over to the Macworld Forums and let me know.