The End of the iPod

One minute you are the Shiny Object that everyone is clamoring for. Then the next minute you are Yesterday's News, thrown onto the trash heap of history, in favor of the next Shiny Object. Alas, the iPod.

When it debuted in October, 2001, the iPod (with its click wheel) was an instant hit. Portable music players were already available, but this was the first music player that had Apple's coolness and corporate muscle behind it. The clamor was deafening, the media hype intense. Your humble correspondent even appeared on NBC Nightly News with Tom Brokaw with a seemingly profound endorsement. Probably largely because of my 5-second TV appearance, the iPod instantly became a technological and cultural hit that revolutionized the way music was sold and consumed. You're welcome.

Now, Apple has announced that it will pull the plug on the sole remaining iPod model, the Touch. Once the current supply of the Touch runs out, that will be it. The reasons for the iPod's demise are numerous. For starters, almost everyone carries a phone, and today's phones encompass all the functionality of a dedicated music player. In addition, stored music has given way to streamed music. In short, the iPod is both redundant and obsolete. In the same way that phones killed off many kinds of cameras, they largely killed off dedicated music players.

On one hand, that's a shame. In the fantasy world I live in, dedicated music players provide superior sound quality to any phone. That's because, in my fantasy, their file formats are better, their words are longer, their sampling frequencies are higher, and their D/A converters are cleaner. While in some sense that may be true, in the real world, playback from ordinary phones is exceptionally good. Factor in real-world conditions such as ambient noise and the sonic limitations of most earbuds, and the rationale for a dedicated music player is unconvincing for most people.

Still, the iPod will take its rightful place in the Valhalla of audio gear. It was one of the most exciting audio products ever, and absolutely blew away the previously most exciting product — the portable CD player. From a business standpoint, the iPod allowed Apple to expand beyond computers and into personal devices, which in turn led to the iPhone. In addition, the iPod was the perfect gateway drug; for many people, it was their first Apple product and their first step to the more expensive iPhone.

Of course, the iPod also made Apple a player in the music business — the 99 cent song download was revolutionary. Moreover, Apple worked tirelessly to keep the iPod fresh with generations of the Mini, Nano, Shuffle, and Touch. Over its 21-year lifespan, one generation begat another; the iPod's memory grew, its size shrank, its sound quality improved, it gained video, and its color palette expanded. As a result, it stayed relevant for far longer than most technology products.

But, all good things must come to an end. And so it is with the iPod. Apple says that iPads and iPhones will carry the portable music torch. But they will never equal the absolute coolness and freshness of the iPod.

Those other Apple products will also never equal the iPod's value. If someone simply wants to listen to music, instead of buying a low-cost iPod, they will probably buy a higher-cost iPhone instead. In other words, the end of the iPod means a stealth price increase. You're welcome.

jeff-henning's picture

What ever you have going on in your head is your business.

For listening on my iPhone10S, I use Audeze Isine 20's. Since they have a DAC in the lightning cable, they circumvent what ever nasties may be made by the iPhone's DAC. Whether that's a real issue is up for debate.

Most of my earphone listening is done in transit so having the purest sound is not really going to be audible when on a commuter train.

If I'm doing "serious" listening, I'm in my home theater.

The iPod had it's time. Loved it when it was around and even got mugged for one in Philly. The idiot that bashed me over the head couldn't find a way to sell it and dropped it outside the center city Philly Apple Store (I'm assuming that was their last ditch attempt to sell it).

An employee called me after finding it. I'd already bought a replacement and sold the old one to a friend.

So, all being said, I'm not really understanding the need for stand-alone music players.