The evolution of the iPod

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The evolution of the iPod

Earlier today, Apple announced that it’s finally discontinuing the iPod nano and shuffle once and for all, making the touch the last iPod standing. Four years after the end of the iPod classic, it’s no surprise that the company would sunset its contemporaries, but it’s still a bittersweet moment nonetheless.

The death of the two products marks the end of an era that began in 2001, with the introduction of the first iPod. The line has, naturally, evolved quite a bit through the years, and ultimately the shuffle and nano simply didn’t make a lot of sense in the world of the iPhone and Apple Music.

Instead of simply mourning the loss of the devices, let’s celebrate the rich and full existences they led before shuffling off this mortal coil into the cold, unforgiving world of eBay auctions.


BI: Before iPod

The iPod wasn’t the first MP3 player by any stretch, but it was the first one to really get things right. Plenty of companies took a swing at the space prior to Apple’s arrival — take Rio, one of the more popular brands, dating back to the ’90s. But the results were varying degrees of clunky, confusing and inconvenient. And things were often even worse on the software side. 

(Hulton Archive/Getty Images)


2001: The Original iPod

In 2001, the music industry was reeling from Napster. Apple CEO Steve Jobs arrived on the scene with the promise of a solution that would convince eager file sharers to pay for music again. The answer came in the form of an elegant piece of hardware with 5GB of storage that carried the jaw dropping promise of “1,000 songs in your pocket.”

(Photo by Apple via Getty Images)


2004: iPod Photo

The fourth-generation iPod brought a number of changes to the line, including a rethink of the click wheel that directly incorporated the device’s navigation buttons. The most notable addition, however, came on the premium version of the player, which was the first to incorporate a color screen. Users willing to shell out $500+ could use the 220 × 176 screen to look at album art and personal photos on the player — a seemingly reasonable solution in those dark days before the first iPhone.

(Photo by Apple via Getty Images)


2004: U2 Edition iPod

Ten years before U2 forced themselves onto iTunes everywhere with Songs of Innocence, the band had its very own, limited edition iPod. The player (which Bono can be seen giving bunny ears at left) was black with a red click wheel and came preloaded with the group’s new record, How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. It marks the first and last time Apple users weren’t annoyed at getting a free U2 record.

The next year, Apple would also bestow limited edition honors on J.K. Rowling, with a Harry Potter-branded device that came preloaded with audio book versions of the young wizard’s adventures.

(Photo by Tim Mosenfelder/Getty Images)


2004: iPod mini

In 2004, the iPod line also welcomed the addition of the midrange mini — a more compact and colorful take on the iPod. While the device maxed out at 6GB of storage, it was a massive success for the company, offering a more accessible version of its already popular product. Even so, the company only kept the name around for two generations, replacing it in 2005 with the nano line.

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)


2005: iPod nano

Three years before Steve Jobs stuffed a MacBook Air into a manila envelope, Apple’s CEO pulled a similar stunt with the nano, demonstrating how the slim new iPod fit neatly into the change pocket of his jeans. Over the years, the nano has had seven distinct form factors, with the final significant upgrade to the line arriving in 2012.

(Photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)


2005: iPod shuffle

The shuffle holds the distinction of being the first iPod to ditch a spinning hard drive for flash memory — making it much more compact and less prone to skipping while working out. The first shuffle was long and lean and could be worn on a lanyard around the neck, since it was “smaller and lighter than a pack of gum.” At $99, it was also far and away the cheapest iPod, thanks in no small part to the fact that Apple ditched the screen, in favor of random music playback.

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)


2006: A smaller shuffle

A year later, things got even smaller. The second-generation shuffle was less than half the size of its predecessor and weighed in at just over half an ounce. The device moved to a clip-on model that would remain a staple of the line moving forward.

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)


2007: iPod classic

In 2007, the plain old iPod became the classic. The line swapped the familiar black and white plastic design  for an aluminum casing, increased battery life significantly and offered storage up to 160GB. The “classic” designation led many to speculate that the device was nearing its end of life. But while Apple didn’t do much to update it after 2007, the company continued selling the product for another seven years.

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)


2007: iPod touch

Released the same year as the first iPhone, the touch is really an iPod in name alone. The iOS-powered device is more of an iPhone without the cellular plan. Even so, the touch-based device is keeping the torch alive as the last remaining product to sport the iPod name. And while Apple hasn’t upgraded the product in over two years, the touch’s interface means it’s capable of running Apple Music, so it just may keep it around for a while, after all.

(Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)


2007: The iPhone

In 2007, Steve Jobs told a captive MacWorld audience that he was about to unveil three products “an iPod, a phone and an internet device.” Spoiler: He was actually talking about a single product that embodied all of the above. In many ways the iPod was the successor to the iPhone — and like a Greek myth, it was the iPhone that killed the iPod in the end.