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iPod revolution: Eras in the palm of your hand

The iPod could hold 1,000 songs, in high-quality sound. Alanis Morissette, Morcheeba, Kishore, Lata, Beatles, MJ, '60s, '70s, '80s. Entire eras could fit in the palm of your hand.

May 15, 2022 / 02:04 PM IST
While the iPod was celebrated for its looks, geeks gave it high marks for substance too. (Image: Brett Jordan via Unsplash)

While the iPod was celebrated for its looks, geeks gave it high marks for substance too. (Image: Brett Jordan via Unsplash)


“iPod iPod iPod,” my wife said.

“EMI EMI EMI,” I said.

“iPod!”

“EMI!”

And so it went for a while, till one day in 2005, on an office trip to Singapore, the deed was done. For a price we couldn’t really afford then, my wife purchased the iPod.

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It was ice blue and cream in colour and beautiful to touch. Not light, not heavy. Smooth at the corners. It became her companion while commuting to work, resting or waiting for meetings.

So when the news came the other day that the iPod was entering the big pod, its coffin, my wife’s eyes acquired a faraway look, like Nirupa Roy’s when talking about her past life in some tragedy.

For the next few minutes, she held forth on how revolutionary the product was, on its cool colours, its ease of operation and the statement it made.

My wife is not the type to want to make statements with fancy possessions. But with the iPod, she felt like it. That was one of the iPod’s achievements, as is also the case with most Apple products. The brand turned mechanical things into artistic objects, which even those not otherwise swayed by superficialities were tempted to acquire.

Also read: The iPod and my musical education

As for the legendary feel and touch of the iPod, launched in 2001, it came about thanks to materials explored by Sir Jonathan Ive, then the head of Apple’s design group, and his team.

“At the time the iPod was born, Ive, the head of Apple’s design group, had been overhauling the company’s hardware design with his team since 1997, using a new palette of materials characterized most prominently by translucent polycarbonate plastic. The iPod, a portable hard drive initially used exclusively as an MP3 player, introduced stainless steel into Apple’s material repertoire,” the MoMA writes on Ive and the iPod in its ‘Art and Artists’ section.

And then there was the most important thing: the iPod’s capacity to hold 1,000 songs, in high-quality sound. Alanis Morissette, Morcheeba, Rishi Kapoor (wife’s favourites), Kishore, Lata, Beatles, MJ, '60s, '70s, '80s. Entire eras in the palm of your hand. Honey, they shrunk the Hall of Fame and now it fits in your pocket.

Also read: Swansong of the iPod

Agreed, it was the Walkman that did this first. And Steve Jobs was a fan of Sony and many of its products. At the iPod launch, he even said, “This is the 21st century Walkman.”

After the Walkman there was the Discman. And there were six MP3 players in the market when the iPod came along. But the iPod was a next-level experience. The Walkman and the Discman, great as they were, needed batteries and a cassette or a CD. The iPod did away with the cumbersome elements. There was nothing to be inserted. Charging was all it needed.

As for the other MP3 players, they did not have the sound quality of the iPod.

The iPod also had the other Apple hallmark. It was intuitively easy to use. According to PC Mag, in the iPod’s first promo, musician Moby talked about owning three MP3 players but not being able to figure out how to use them. With the iPod, he said, "I held it, and 45 seconds later, I knew how to use it."

It is interesting to note that while the iPod was celebrated for its looks, geeks gave it high marks for substance too.

A Fortune magazine review from 2001 says, “If you took a ball-peen hammer to the hermetically sealed stainless-steel and polycarbonate case, the components you'd find inside the iPod wouldn't seem all that extraordinary, at least by computer industry standards.” But, the review, adds, “The big differences, however, are the high-speed connection and the software that makes it all go. Downloading 1,000 songs takes only about ten minutes. As Jobs puts it, "Plug it in. Whirrrrrr. Done."

Financially, too, the iPod proved a gamechanger for Apple. Besides, it paved the way for the iPhone. The iPod may technically be history, but in many ways it will always be a part of us.

Also read: iPod memories: How a handheld device changed my relationship with music



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Akshay Sawai
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