Apple's iconic iPod has been around a full decade, but it definitely hasn't always looked the same. Join us for a nostalgic photo retrospective.
Over the years, Apple has refined its designs, so that now they are part of the common visual lexicon. The white-rectangle-with-a-smaller-rectangle image, as well as Apple's marketing campaign that involved a silhouetted dancer on a brightly coloured background, are now instantly recognisable.
A 5GB hard drive; 10 hours of battery life; a 160x128-pixel, LED-backlit black-and-white screen; 20 minutes of anti-skip protection. Back when Apple first debuted the iPod on 23 October 2001, those specs seemed pretty good, although US$399 was pricey indeed compared with the Nomad and other MP3 jukeboxes. Also, this new iPod only worked with FireWire, and needed a Mac to pair with its software program, iTunes. I bought one because I thought carrying 1000 songs in my pocket was exciting, at least more so than lugging my portable CD player around. If you were bored, spinning the physical scroll wheel around never ceased to be hypnotising. It's a shame that giant FireWire port sat exposed on the top, though.
The iPod was originally a Mac-only affair, but that was quickly fixed: in 2002 the second-generation iPod worked with both Windows and Mac, a breakthrough concession by Apple. This made the iPod a true consumer product that broke outside of the Mac computer bubble, and paved the way for its worldwide acceptance.
Before the Music Store, iTunes was simply a way of ripping and organising MP3 files. The genius of Apple's store was its large repository of 99-cent songs, which could be downloaded independently without requiring a whole-album purchase. The idea revolutionised and threatened the music industry, and was the first step in Apple's massive move toward selling content.
The third-gen iPod was the first redesign of Apple's music player since its 2001 debut, unveiled along with the iTunes Music Store. The new iPod was eagerly awaited, but a failure of design. Positives: the introduction of capacitive touch instead of a physical wheel. Negatives: everything was touch-controlled, with no moving parts or clickable buttons, and Play/Pause was relegated to an awkward set of LED-backlit touch panels. The case was thinner and capacities were boosted up to 20GB. Yes, I owned one of these, and yes, I thought it was cool ... but it was also annoying and impossible to control from a pocket.
Some might see the iPod Mini as an important step for the iPod because it was the first time the product line split into more than one device. While it was small for its time, the bulky Mini still had a spinning hard drive. Its real innovation was the click wheel, an ingenious marriage of capacitive touch-and-click controls that became the backbone of every iPod to follow, until the rise of the iPod Touch. The click wheel is still on the iPod Classic today.
Apple used to release iPods throughout the calendar year, occasionally at multiple times. The year 2004 saw the Shuffle in January, new mainstream iPods mid-year and the iPod Photo in October. This was the first iPod with a colour screen, but it could only display photos, not video — and the thicker body and higher US$499 price made it only a novelty for most.
Shaped like a stick of gum and lacking a screen, the Shuffle was a bold but necessary move for Apple, finally moving an iPod product into the sub-US$100 zone. Some complained that the Shuffle could basically only play tracks in a set order or on shuffle, but this device has evolved, survived and gotten even cheaper. Today, it's the size of a tie clip and costs AU$55.
The idea of a smaller iPod was carried even further with the unveiling of the Nano, the first iPod with a screen to use flash memory. It followed in the footsteps of the Shuffle that was released in January, and marked a move toward far more easily portable iPods, as well as relatively more affordable models. For many people, the Nano began to become the go-everywhere iPod of choice. I loved mine because I could fit it in the change pocket of my jeans.
This was a big step for the iPod: bucking claims that video wasn't on Apple's radar, the fifth-generation iPod added video playback and the iTunes Store gained a TV category. The device also got a larger screen, a thinner body and a smaller click wheel. Lost and several other US ABC shows along with video podcasts were among the early meagre offerings, but this iPod laid the foundation for what was to come next.
The iPhone marked a massive change of phase, to a new operating system (then called iPhone OS), a large multi-touch screen, and the birth of a true multifunction device with web browsing and email. The iPod Touch was a bit of a hobbled iPhone at first, but it's become a device for which playing music is only one of many features. To many, it's a modern PDA. The iPod Touch was the first iPod to have on-board iTunes Store access, and the rise of the App Store turned the device into a handheld game system.
Even great companies have mishaps, and the quickly forgotten 2009 Shuffle is certainly one of them. Apple went too far with the miniaturisation, removing the tiny click controls completely in favour of an awkward voice-control interface and in-line headphone controls. CNET's Donald Bell admitted in his review that the idea felt like a "practical joke". The idea was dropped the following year, and the tiny clip-on Shuffle with buttons returned.
The iPod Nano started transforming into several new shapes over the next few years. The fifth-gen Nano was the most advanced, adding a video camera to compete with mini cameras like the Flip.
The iPod Touch changed the game, but the original iPod stuck around and earned a "classic" moniker. The sixth-gen iPod was clad in aluminium and added increased hard-drive storage capacities. The Classic survives today, despite all rumours of its demise.
Apple boldly reduced the Nano to a size barely larger than a Shuffle, adding a touchscreen but dropping the camera, the video playback functions and the iconic click wheel. Many griped, but there was a side benefit to the smaller size: watch bands emerged to turn the Nano into the first iPod wristwatch. The 2011 iPod Nano software update has, not surprisingly, added more digital watch faces.
The 2011 iPod Touch is the same as the 2010 iPod Touch. Front- and rear-facing video cameras and an improved processor have made the Touch into virtually the same device as the iPhone 4. FaceTime video chat and iMessage continue to transform today's iPod into more of a communication device than ever before.