Today in Apple history: iPod gets a new Click Wheel

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The fourth-generation iPod brought key improvements like the Click Wheel, but still left some people disappointed.
The fourth-generation iPod brought key improvements, but still left some people disappointed.
Photo: National Museum of American History Smithsonian Institution/Flickr CC

July 19: Today in Apple history: Fourth-generation iPod gets Click Wheel interface July 19, 2004: The fourth-generation iPod brings neat innovations to the popular audio device, including the Click Wheel interface recently introduced on the iPod mini.

“The best digital music player just got better,” says Steve Jobs on the day the product launches. And yet some people feel disappointed.

iPod Click Wheel reinvents the device (kind of)

Apple was flying high when it launched the fourth-gen iPod. Earlier that month, the iTunes Music Store sold its 100 millionth song. The iPod had moved well past its early adopter status to become a mainstream product with a massive impact — on Apple and pop culture at large.

Meanwhile, the rumor mill pumped out ceaseless reports that the fourth-gen iPod would deliver a top-to-bottom rethink of the device. Predicted improvements included a color display, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi support, a new body style and up to 60GB of storage.

Many people found themselves a bit disappointed when the device turned out to be a relatively straightforward upgrade. It lacked many of the eye-catching features that rumormongers previously speculated about.

Fourth-gen iPod brings a Click Wheel

The biggest addition was the same Click Wheel that Apple introduced with the iPod mini earlier in 2004. Rather than featuring a physical scroll wheel with separate buttons surrounding it, the iPod Click Wheel combined all the device’s controls. The new solid-state, touch-sensitive scroll wheel sat flush with the face of the iPod.

The fourth-gen iPod brought other small improvements, too. For instance, it was the first full-size iPod that could be charged via USB 2.0. This signaled Apple’s move away from the award-winning FireWire technology that had been a key part of the company’s “digital hub” strategy of the late 1990s.

Finally, the fourth-gen iPod delivered improved battery life, allowing it to run up to 12 hours on a single charge.

All of this came at cheaper price points. The 20GB version cost just $299; the 40GB version ran $399. Apple later launched a special-edition U2 iPod 4G in October 2004. A special Harry Potter Edition, preloaded with all J.K. Rowling’s wizarding audio books, followed in September 2005.

Did the fourth-gen iPod click with you? Leave your recollections of this rockin’ device in the comments below.