By today’s standards, the product that Apple began selling 8 years ago today—model number M8513LL/A—is a tubby, underpowered brick. But compared with the other portable music players of the time, the iPod was a revelation. Its 5-gigabyte hard drive could hold up to 1,000 songs, weighed “only” 6 1/2 oz., and had an idiot-proof user interface that made it easy to find and manage your songs. It was the best MP3 gadget you could buy back then – provided you were a Mac user and could stomach the $399 price tag. 220 million units later, iPods have come in all sorts of shapes and sizes. Some were beauties (e.g. the 3rd-gen stubby Nano), some not so much (let’s all forget the 3rd-gen iPod with the four ugly orange-lighted buttons). You can still buy one for $399—the 64 gb iPod Touch—but it’s a radically different iPod than its ancestor, one that packs in an astounding amount of features that no one in 2001 (okay, no one except Steve Jobs) would’ve believed was possible.
You can make a case that the standalone iPod is in its decline. Now that the iPhone exists, it’s is no longer the prom queen at Apple. Earlier this week, the Mothership announced iPod sales slid 8 percent last quarter. Yet it continues to be an essential device for millions of people that, according to NPD, is living large with a nearly 75 percent share of the music player market. Companies large and small have had eight years to make something better than the iPod and nothing has come close. Its most serious competitor, Microsoft’s Zune HD, is a slick device, but the crude software you need to run it is barely better than the 2001 version of iTunes.
Even though my favorite iPod is typically my newest iPod (I’m currently using both a 5th generation Nano and a 3rd generation Touch), I’ll always have a soft spot for my first one, a second generation model that has been out of commission since I dropped a 55 lb. barbell on it. What about you PopWatchers? Do you harbor any warm fuzzy feelings your first iPod? Unlike mine, is it still in service?