Somewhere buried in a closet, I'll bet you have a box of old audio cassette tapes, Rock of the 80's, maybe, some you recorded yourself from your vinyl records or CDs so you'd have music to jog by or play in the car instead of the radio, some of them maybe mix tapes glorified in Nick Hornby's High Fidelity, made for you by a former flame. Maybe there's even an old dusty Walkman in the box, too.
I'll bet the reason those cassettes and that Walkman were tossed into the closet is because you bought an iPod, unveiled by Steve Jobs 10 years ago yesterday, October 23, 2001.
I actually enjoyed the mix tape making process, but I don't have the free mix tape making time I used to have, and I now carry more than 10,000 songs in my pocket.
Building an ecosystem
That first iPod actually went on sale on November 10, so maybe that's the actual 10-year anniversary. But the whole iPod ecosystem was a work in progress and took more than two years to construct.
For one thing, iTunes – designed to find, manage and play MP3 tracks on a Mac – actually was unveiled 10 months before the iPod, on January 9, 2001. A Windows-compatible iPod took another nine months after the original. And the iTunes Store, which enabled everyone to buy legal music for 99 cents each, didn't open its virtual doors until April 28, 2003. Prior to that, you ripped your own CDs or, much to the chagrin of the record business, stole them from Napster and its file-sharing ilk.
iTunes, iPod and the iTunes Store were an instant "I get it" – the combination of player and store made perfect sense in an imperfect cassette tape world – and prompted any number of less well-designed copycats, few of which still exist.
How has iPod progressed through the decade? A U.K. Web site, VoucherCodes.co.uk, has constructed an entertaining and informative "infographic" timeline celebrating iPod's 10-year anniversary.
But nothing will give you a sense of what a breakthrough iPod was – and how far the iPod has improved in capacity, size, battery life, connectivity and price – then watching Steve Jobs introduce it 10 years ago.
This is Part 1:
This is Part 2:
Answer to a trivia question: first song played on an iPod in public: Sarah McLachlan's "Building A Mystery."
And here is Part 3:
Not invented here
Like many of its breakthrough products, Apple didn't actually invent the many technologies that enable the iPod. Jobs and Co. merely collected and perfected them, created a stupid-simple interface and wrapped them all in an easy-to-use, pretty package. It's what Apple is spectacularly adept at.
So, if Apple didn't invent the digital music player, who did?
Funny you should ask.
The story actually begins in Germany in the mid-1980s. Deutsche Telecom began deployment of ISDN – Integrated Services Digital Network, a pioneering data-to-home communications standard. The phone giant asked the Munich-based Fraunhofer Institute to research ways to shrink down large audio files – a song on a CD weighed in at a hefty 50 megabytes (MB), far to fat of a file to fit through existing telephone infrastructure.
A team led by Dr. Karlheinz Brandenburg was able to shrink music files down to 12 times their original size without appreciable loss of aural integrity. In 1992, this finished compression algorithm became known as MPEG 1 Audio Layer 3 – shortened to MP3.
From lab to consumers
In a few years, MP3 encoding and decoding made its way to music-loving computer geeks. In 1997, Tomislav Uzelac of Advanced Multimedia Products wrote the first PC-based software MP3 player, the AMP MP3 Playback Engine. A year later, two university students, Justin Frankel and Dmitry Boldyrev, created a Windows-version of AMP dubbed Winamp, which brought MP3 to the rest of us.
But who wants to carry a computer around with them to listen to music? It was obvious MP3 was a perfect portable music solution. In mid-1998, a four-man Korean company called SaeHan Information Systems started selling a $600 portable digital music player called MPMan.
MPMan was more an expensive prototype than a viable consumer product, and sold only around 500 units. But it attracted the attention of David Watkins, GM and VP of the audio group at Diamond Multimedia, who thought he could make and sell a more viable mainstream consumer version.
Watkins hired the four SaeHan engineers to design software, and Diamond's hardware team handled the design and construction on what became the Rio PMP300, the first commercially successful solid state digital music player. When the $200 PMP300 went on sale in November 1999, it could store up to a dozen tracks in its 32 MB of removable flash memory. Within a year, 400,000 PMP300s were sold.
But Watkins could not convince his bosses to combine the PMP300 with music management software and legal online music sales. Steve Jobs, of course, recognized the opportunity.
In late 2000, Apple bought the rights to another MP3 jukebox program, SoundJam MP, and hired its developers to re-design it and turn it into iTunes.
Meanwhile, Apple's company's hardware team led by Jonathan Ive, senior VP of industrial design, designed the player. Ive is now arguably the most powerful man at Apple.
Want to know more about iPod's development and the way it upended the music business? May I suggest Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs, which goes on sale – perhaps not coincidentally – today. Or, you can peruse the fine iPod decade overview at Cult of Mac here.
But the most ironic part of this iPod anniversary – with the iPhone and the wave of digital music playing smart phones that have followed, iPod has started on its downward path. But it is the product that made iPhone necessary, and gave everyone the chance to carry their music library in their pocket.
Happy birthday, iPod.