Today in Apple history: Revolutionary MP3 format gets its name

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iPod
The MP3 made the iPod possible.
Photo: Jim Merithew/Cult of Mac

July 14: Today in Apple history: Revolutionary MP3 format gets its name July 14, 1995: The MP3 file format receives its official name as the new .bit file extension gets changed to .mp3. The technology allows compression of a standard CD .wav file to one-tenth its original size, courtesy of some smart algorithms.

The format will revolutionize the music industry — and put Apple on the road to world-conquering dominance.

The MP3 enables easy sharing of music tracks online and makes music more portable than ever. Apple’s iPod will become the world’s best-known MP3 player, quickly capitalizing on the new format.

A thousand songs in your pocket

The MP3 gave people the ability to, as Apple would later phrase it, “put a thousand songs in your pocket.”

MP3 represented a significant advance — and it all came down to file sizes. While it might not sound like much in today’s world of broadband connectivity, reducing song file sizes from 32MB to 3MB proved massive in the mid-1990s.

At the time, the bitrate of a typical modem was just 28.8k or 56k. That meant that a 32MB file would take literally hours to download. Significantly smaller hard drives than today also meant you’d struggle to hold much more than an album or two on a typical computer. (For example, the Power Mac 7100, which many Apple owners would be using in 1995, came with a hard drive ranging from 250MB to 700MB in size.)

How MP3 made file sizes smaller

The genius of MP3 was finding a way to encode data to reduce the file size of an audio track, without sounding noticeably worse than uncompressed audio. The format used inexact approximations and partial data discarding to work its

The Fraunhofer Institute for Integrated Circuits created the first MP3 encoder, called I3enc. (The institute held onto ownership of the MP3 format until 2017.)

It didn’t take long before portable MP3 players started popping up. However, it wasn’t until October 2001, after Steve Jobs returned to Apple and took over as CEO, that the iPod arrived on the scene. With more capacity for holding MP3s than rival products, and iTunes for easy media management, the device put Apple on the path to its current status as a technological powerhouse.

And none of it would have happened without the MP3.

Your first MP3 download

Do you remember the first MP3 you ever downloaded? Leave your comments below.