12 Years Ago: 'Apple's iPod Spurs Mixed Reactions'

Hindsight, but little else, is 20/20.
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Steve Jobs introduces the iPod. (Reuters)

On October 23, 2001, Steve Jobs convened a group of tech reporters and Apple fans at the company's Cupertino headquarters to announce a new product: the iPod. It was a launch that would lead the company, six years later, to drop the "Computer" from "Apple Computer." It was a launch that would change "the destiny of Apple." It was a launch that would, as one slightly melodramatic analyst puts it, "reshape society completely." 

But on October 23, 2001, if you didn't happen to be Steve Jobs, you might not have seen the iPod's society-reshaping potential. You might have seen the iPod, instead, for the other thing it was: just another MP3 player. On the day of its release—when the iPod was simply a consumer electronics product in search of its consumers—reactions to it were decidedly ... mixed. ("Apple's iPod spurs mixed reactions," reads a CNET summary of the launch.) The iPod, after all, wasn't the first portable jukebox. Its software and FireWire ports made it available, in its first iteration, only to Macintosh users. (At the time, only about 7 million people owned iPod-compatible Macs.) The iPod, from that perspective, was a small step forward, not a leap. And, at $399, it was an expensive little step.  

"I question the company's ability to sell into a tight consumer market right now at the iPod's current price," one analyst put it. "It's a nice feature for Macintosh users,'' another noted. ''But to the rest of the Windows world, it doesn't make any difference.'' Plus: "Clearly Apple is following Sony's lead by integrating consumer electronics devices into its marketing strategy, but Apple lacks the richness of Sony's product offering." As David Pogue summed it up: "'Breakthrough digital device' might be pushing it."

Apple fans were similarly unimpressed. According to a MacRumors discussion of the iPod as it was being announced:

Great just what the world needs, another freaking MP3 player. Go Steve! Where's the Newton?!

And:

Sounds very revolutionary to me.  

hey - heres an idea Apple - rather than enter the world of gimmicks and toys, why dont you spend a little more time sorting out your pathetically expensive and crap server line up? 
or are you really aiming to become a glorified consumer gimmicks firm? 

And:

I still can't believe this! All this hype for something so ridiculous! Who cares about an MP3 player? I want something new! I want them to think differently!
Why oh why would they do this?! It's so wrong! It's so stupid!

And:

$400 for an Mp3 Player! 

I'd call it the Cube 2.0 as it wont sell, and be killed off in a short time...and it's not really functional.

Uuhh Steve, can I have a PDA now?

Of course, not everyone was unconvinced. As one MacRumors poster put it

Come on everyone, y'all are saying it sucks before you have even held it in your hand. I mean 5GB in a little tiny thing like that, it's amazing. I don't see anyone else making something like that. Do you?

Another person who saw the potential of Apple's portable computer? Bill Gates. At a dinner shortly after the iPod's launch, the journalist Steven Levy handed Microsoft's then-CEO one of the new Apple devices. Gates studied the machine, played with it, scrolled its wheel, pushed its buttons. His conclusion? "It looks like a great product."

Via @pourmecoffee

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Megan Garber is a staff writer at The Atlantic. She was formerly an assistant editor at the Nieman Journalism Lab, where she wrote about innovations in the media.

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