On October 23, 2001, Steve Jobs walked onto a stage with a strange little box in his hands that would change the world and how it perceived music, and by extension content, forever. It was the day that the world was introduced to the iPod.
Over the years, the iPod has become one the most influential pieces of technology to have ever been made. There have been many media players out there, and some were technically better than the iPod. However, no other media player came to rule the zeitgeist in how the iPod did.
When Apple finally decided to stop making the iPod touch, thereby killing off the iPod lineup, fans of Apple and people who have owned an iPod must have become a little nostalgic. It truly is the end of an era.
The iPod has been monumental in changing how people consume music and content in general. We look at how exactly Apple and the iPod changed the way we think of music and content in general.
Your whole music collection inside your pocket
Before the iPod, people had the Sony Walkman as their go-to personal music player. Please make no mistake; it was a great piece of tech and was influential in the revolution of music. However, the Walkman was rendered practically an antique the day Apple introduced the iPod. With the Walkman, you could carry a few cassette tapes and were limited to the number of songs on those tapes. Even if you were taking 5-10 cassettes, the maximum number of songs you could carry would be around 250.
The iPod quadrupled that number. It was as if Apple gave you the ability to carry your entire music collection wherever you went. Although Apple boasted that the first iPod could have over 1000 songs, people were able to download as many as 1500 songs onto the device. The ones with the higher storage capacity could store four times that. What this did was give people the power of choice.
The power of choice
With this newfound ability to pick one song out of a possible thousand, people’s thoughts about content and media consumption changed. Now, with the ability to carry your whole music library in the palm of your hands, you have access to anything that you want to listen to immediately. The immediacy with which you could skip from one track to the other gave people the sense that they had limitless options. Furthermore, with most cassettes, you would generally have that one song that you liked, but to buy that one song, you had to buy that entire cassette and browse through the cassette to find that one song.
With the iPod, you had the option of only listening to the music that you wanted to. Here you have a device that lets you rewrite the cassette rules, pick only the songs that you like, and provide better audio quality than most Walkmans. This, in turn, had a trickle-down effect on how music and content were produced and the economies around it.
The economies of producing and selling music
The 1980s and the 1990s were when music producers would sell entire cassettes to make money. This meant that usually, every “album” release would generally have one great piece of music, accompanied by some not-so-great works of the artist. With the iPod and digital music introduction, producers had to ensure that every song on the album they were producing had to be good. Gone were the days when they could mint out cassettes with one or two decent pieces and expect audiences to pay for 10-15 mediocre songs.
And with the proliferation of the internet, and the ability to download individual songs, music labels had to come up with a new way to make money. This was when the concept of paid per download came into play, followed by paid per stream. And because the number associated with downloads and streams was digital and could be accessed by artists, recording labels had to share their revenue with the artists honestly.
Controlling your media
People who have had cassette players or even CD players at some point would know just how difficult it was to maintain them. With cassettes, it was even more difficult. Even in the best cassette players, the magnetic tapes would often get scratched up or straight up mangled. Just because you bought a cassette once did not mean that you perpetually owned the music on it. You would often have to buy the same cassette twice because the cassettes wouldn’t last you long. And the more you played, the more the magnetic tape deteriorated. Digital libraries such as the iPod never had any such issues.
Additionally, with cassettes, you could never change tracks or skip to a different song as efficiently as you could with an iPod. Furthermore, the ability to shuffle songs and play any music out of your collection randomly was a game-changer.
Content streaming today
The effects of the changes to media consumption brought in can be seen even today. The iPod may not have been the first mobile device that allowed users to stream content directly from the web, but the business model that most streaming giants like Spotify or Netflix follow can be traced back to the iPod and how music production labels reacted to the changing scenario that it brought. Starting from the economics to the interface of streaming media players, a lot can be attributed to the iPod.
In the two decades that it was a part of our cultural zeitgeist, the iPod has been among the most influential pieces of technology. It truly shaped the most pivotal cultural revolution of our generation.