Wow my 401(k) really fails. Glad I invested all that money in Bitcoin! Uhhhh…
A few weeks after the presentation of the iPhone in January 2007, Steve Jobs visited New York to show his creation to the leading editors of several publications. I invited him to dinner at Newsweek, and my bosses were stunned by a hands-on demonstration of the new device months before it was released. During a conversation with Jobs before he left, I shared a thought with him: Wouldn’t it be great to have an iPhone without a phone? I mentioned this because in several places in his presentation he explained why some features are limited by the security and connectivity needs of the mobile operator.
It won’t work, he told me rather dismissively.
However, later that year we saw the iPod Touch — an iPhone without a phone, complete with iOS, a touchscreen, and of course, a music player among many other apps available. It was one of countless 180-degree turns that Jobs performed during his years at Apple, and the skill freed him from preconceptions. Or was it in progress when we were talking and he was, uh, misleading me? Whatever. However, no one knew at the time that this SIM-free wonder would one day be the last remaining device to claim the iconic iPod name. And this week they are not. On Tuesday, Apple announced that it was ending production of the iPod. (You can still get one while supplies last.) The company took the rare step of releasing Press release looking back on the legacy of the iPod that has captivated an entire generation of fanatical users.
Including me. I did not intend to ignore this event – I wrote a book aboutn ipod! So even though last week I wrote about Apple loses his soulthis week I’m forced to say that Apple is literally losing Touch.
What does Apple and the world lose if they no longer have an iPod? The question is disappointing, because naming the Touch iPod was originally a stretch. His iPodness came from his iPhone ancestry, and as all Apple fans know, Jobs presented the iPhone as three devices in one—a phone, an Internet communicator, and an iPod. But really, the iPhone’s secret weapon was how its operating system worked with sensors and connectivity to deliver new kinds of apps. In the iPod Touch, like its own phone, music was just one of a million other features. In the days since Apple’s announcement this week, experts have been speculating about the ontology of iPodness. Jobs himself once approached me with this question when I asked him why we should consider the newly announced iPod Shuffle, without a wheel or display, as an iPod. What is an ipod? I wanted to know. “iPod,” he told me, “is just a great digital music player.”
Nice try, Steve. Now that we no longer have an iPod, we can step back and finally see them for what they were. Apple is right in its press release when it calls music the backbone of the iPod phenomenon. Greg Joswiak, senior vice president of worldwide marketing, continues to brag about how current Apple products represent music. But while the products he cites—watches, iPhones, HomePod minis, and Apple Music—are competitive, they don’t come close to the dominance of the music world that the iPod had in its prime. Usually it occupied more than eighty percent of the market.
The iPod was a phenomenon of design, fashion and functionality. Equally impressive was the company’s willingness to cannibalize its current offering to create compelling new versions. The visual catalog of various iPods shows the Cambrian explosion of diversity. Between 2001 and 2012, there were six generations of the original iPod, seven generations of the Nano, and four generations of the Shuffle. Displays went from monochrome to color, and in the case of the Shuffle, there were none at all. The vault exploded. And almost all variations were cheaper, and sometimes significantly cheaper than the original, which cost $400. On the contrary, look at the iPhone, the design of which has practically stabilized, while the price continues to rise. The iPod had a glorious and unrivaled run.
The death of the iPod made me realize something else. The first surprise came when Jobs pulled the device out of the jeans pocket and found that there were 1000 songs inside. Having a record collection in our pocket changed the way we listened to music. Jobs also realized that the best way to fill those iPods was through digital sales. “As if the internet was built to deliver music,” he told me in 2003, when the iTunes store debuted. But Jobs was adamant for a while that people always wanted its their music. It was the apotheosis of the iPod, the device you owned and cherished that played your carefully curated collection of songs.
This was followed by constant connections to the cloud and the transition to streaming services. Personal storage of things like songs and music became unnecessary. Instead of a thousand songs in your pocket, we have access to millions songs over the air. Our devices are no longer autonomous universes, but portals to a global repository of knowledge and AI learning kits. We ourselves are becoming more and more appendages to this seething digital mass.
In the post-iPod era, we don’t own the songs—we access them. I really can’t tell you what happened to all the songs I bought digitally or ripped from CDs to fill my various iPods. (Here Apple’s most recent, not-so-clear explanation.) Of course, I love the idea of listening to anything at any time, but Jobs was right when he said that people like to feel connected to the music they love. These days, I’m clinging to one island of confidence – a still-working iPod Classic (circa 2007) with about 14,000 songs, all of which I recorded personally. I’m afraid to use it too much, because if it breaks, it’s gone. When thinking about whether to take the gadget on a trip, I like Elaine in “sponge” episode SeinfeldIs this walk worthy of an iPod? In the meantime, I’ve dug up my old record player and am revisiting my ancient vinyl collection.
We will remember the iPod as the totemic contraption that took us from our historical borders of scarcity to dizzying abundance. It’s also the engine that took Apple out of the computer age and into the mainstream. Ultimately, every person swaying down the boulevard with their kidneys hugging their skull, playing tunes from a deep library or even a podcast, is indebted to a gadget that I called “The Perfect Thing.” iPod lives.
By 2004, three years after the iPod debuted, I was documenting its rise as a cultural phenomenon in Newsweek cover story titled iPod Nation. This coincided with the release of the legendary fourth generation iPod, marking the pinnacle of the device’s history.
All of this pleases Steve Jobs, the computer pioneer and CEO of the studio, who turns 50 next February. “I have a very simple life,” he says without a hint of irony. “I have a family, Apple and Pixar. I don’t do anything else.” But the night before our interview, Jobs and his kids sat down for their first family screening of the 2004 Pixar movie The Incredibles. After that, he tracked the countdown to the 100 millionth song sold on the iTunes store. At about 10:15 a.m., 20-year-old Kevin Britten of Hayes, Kansas, bought a song by electronic group Zero 7, and Jobs himself called him to let him know that he had won. Jobs then asked a potentially embarrassing question: “Do you have a Mac or a PC?”
“I have a Macintosh… oh!” Britten said.
Jobs laughs as he talks about it. Even though Macintosh sales have picked up lately, he knows that the likelihood of someone owning a Mac is slim, unlike the competition. He doesn’t want this to happen to his company’s music player. “There are a lot of examples where not the best product wins,” he says. “One of them is Windows, but there are examples where the best product wins. And the iPod is a great example of that.” As you can see from all those white cords hanging from people’s ears.
Paul asks, “Did you keep up with the early MIT hackers? What is their long-term impact on the world of computing?”
I haven’t been in contact lately with the amazing early hackers from my first book, hackers, published in 1984. But fortunately, many of them, now in their eighties, are apparently still working, mostly on personal projects. As far as their impact, I’m constantly amazed at how a small consort who worked at MIT’s Model Railroad Club and later at its AI Lab created a hacker culture and naturally modeled what we now call the open source movement. code – they believed that all software should be collaborative and shared. Not to mention they opened the dawn video games. When I started writing hackersI didn’t intend to pay much attention to the MIT hackers, but my research constantly pointed me to the significance of these unusual people. When I finally decided to study this unique tribe in detail, I realized that I had stumbled upon the Mesopotamia of computer culture, and I felt lucky to be able to tell this story.
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