Ten Years Ago, Apple Was Developing the iPod

The iPod approaches its ten birthday. Some five billion songs and 270,000 iPods later, a look back

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Way back in the antiquity that was 2001, a man with a long track record of visionary ideas named Steve Jobs launched another, destined to be his biggest yet: the iPod. As Johnny Davis points out in The Guardian, the iPod turns ten this year. Davis presents a lengthy account of the product's genesis, from German scientists creating MP3s to Apple project P-68, codenamed "Dulcimer," which eventually became the iPod. He even goes so far as to argue that the iPod is the "iconic form" of the twenty-first century--much as the cathedral was the "iconic form" of medieval society, according to literary theorist Roland Barthes--though he also adds that the iPhone now "has effectively replaced the iPod."

Between the iPod's release in September 2001, though, and it's current state against the encroaching iPhone, there were a lot of changes. As a complement to Davis's piece, and to assuage our own nostalgia, we decided to go back adn pick out the highlights. Here's a quick look at the evolution of the iPod, a decade after it started to take shape as project "Dulcimer."

Day One Remember the first iPod? Did you own one, or did you try to originally fight the oncoming digital tide represented by the strange and alien device? (And how long did you last?) Launched in October 2001, the original iPod has a mechanical scroll wheel on only 5 gigabytes of storage--the 1,000 or so odd songs that were believed to sufficiently constitute a proper digital music library. It was available for $399. Davis notes that  it didn't immediately catch on:

"Apple's MP3 player was neither the first nor the cheapest nor the largest capacity device on the market. At that point it was only compatible with Macs – the majority of people used PCs. What's more, it had a silly name. Technology bloggers soon decided iPod must stand for "Idiots Price Our Devices", "I Pretend It's An Original Device" or "I'd Prefer Owning Disks".

The frightening thing is that it doesn't look that different from the iPod of today. The first generation goes on to be enshrined in MoMA's Collection. iTunes is launched in 2001 as well.

Honing the Design in 2003 The third generation iPod is slimmed down; it's now lighter than two CDs and holds up to 7,500 songs. It now includes a "touch wheel," as part of its design. FireWire is done away with in favor of a USB connection. The devices are available with up to 40 gigs of memory. The one-millionth iPod is sold. iTunes downloads surpass 10 million songs.

The Mini Arrives The iPod mini arrives on the scene in 2004 in five colors. iTunes downloads top 100,000 million in July of the year as well. The battery life of iPod's increases to around 12 hours. The iPod comes in one version with a color screen--for photos and video.

The Nano Takes Over The iPod nano debuts in 2005 goes on to become one of the best selling music players ever. The fifth generation 'iPod Classic's' are unveiled with both photo and video capability in addition to music. iTunes downloads are around half a billion.

Into Outer Space The sixth generation iPod classic is released in 2007 with over 30 hours of battery life and 160 GB of memory. The 100 millionth iPod is sold. NASA certifies the MP3 players for space flights in 2006, and an astronaut brings Gwen Stefani to the stratospher. The iPhone is introduced in 2007 as well.

iPhone Starts the Takeover The iTunes store passes Wal-Mart to becoming the number one selling music store in the United States in 2008. The iPod touch debuts in 2009. By the middle of 2010 almost 270 million iPods have sold. As Davis explains: "Today, the iPhone has effectively replaced the iPod. The day it launched Apple quietly dropped "Computer" from its corporate moniker."

Where Now? The iPod's peak moment may have passed as mobile devices like iPhone are now specifically created to merge various technological capacities--including MP3 storing and listening--into one device. Despite fears about Steve Jobs's health, Apple is on the way to an important milestone in terms of global dominance: "in 2011, Apple is set to become the world's most valuable company full stop, overtaking the current leader, oil multinational ExxonMobil," says Davis.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.