Today in Apple history: Apple puts 1,000 songs in your pocket with first-gen iPod

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Today in Apple history: Apple puts 1,000 songs in your pocket with first-gen iPod
Introduced on this day in 2001, the iPod quickly became a cultural phenomenon.
Photo: Newsweek

October 23: Today in Apple history: Apple puts 1,000 songs in your pocket with first-gen iPod launch October 23, 2001: Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduces the first iPod, a device capable of holding an entire music library in a highly portable package.

The first-generation device boasts a 5GB hard drive capable of storing “1,000 songs in your pocket.” That may not sound too dazzling in a world in which people can stream the massive Apple Music library from their iPhones. But it was a game-changer at the time!

iPod changes the course of Apple history

Much as the iPhone was Apple’s attempt to reinvent mobile phones, the iPod was the company’s attempt at creating an MP3 player that wasn’t horrible to use. It took advantage of a brand-new 1.8-inch hard drive under development by Toshiba. Jon Rubinstein, Apple’s senior VP of hardware engineering, took the new storage device to Steve Jobs and convinced him that the technology existed to build an amazing portable music player.

As CEO of Apple, Jobs got a lot of the credit for the iPod at the time. But creation of the revolutionary device was truly a collaborative effort. In addition to Rubinstein, Apple engineer Tony Fadell oversaw development of the hardware. Phil Schiller, Apple’s marketing director, came up with the idea of a scroll wheel to navigate users’ song lists.

The name “iPod” came from a freelance copywriter, Vinnie Chieco, who recalled the famous 2001: A Space Odyssey line, “Open the pod bay doors, Hal.”

Watch the iPod launch

Jobs unveiled the first-gen iPod a little over a month after the 9/11 terror attacks, referring to it as a “breakthrough digital device.”

He wasn’t wrong, and the iPod launch became an important milestone in Apple history. “Music is a part of everyone’s life,” Jobs said at the time. “And because it’s a part of everyone’s life, it’s a very large target market all around the world.”

The small white iPod cost $399. Compared to pricey devices like the iPhone 11 Pro Max, that seems decidedly cheap for Apple, circa 2019. (Adjusted for inflation, it’s the equivalent of $578 today.) However, some skeptics lambasted the device nonetheless.

“All that hype for an MP3 player? Break-thru digital device?” wrote one infamous online commenter with an apparent typo fetish. “The Reality Distiortion Field™ is starting to warp Steve’s mind if he thinks for one second that this thing is gonna take off.”

iPod launch paves way for Apple’s bigger focus on music

In the end, the iPod became a massive hit for Apple. By 2007, Cupertino sold its 100 millionth iPod. That made it Apple’s most popular product until the iPhone. The device helped drive the success of the iTunes Music Store, which became America’s top music retailer.

Nearly two decades after the iPod launch, the iPod touch is the only dedicated music player Apple still sells. The most recent iteration, released in May 2019, comes with up to 256GB of storage. That’s more than 50 times the storage of the first-gen device.

While Apple may have moved beyond the iPod, the MP3 player remains baked into Apple’s DNA. The company’s focus on music led to Apple Music, which today is the second-most-popular music streaming service. The white earbuds, which became synonymous with the iPod, evolved into the ultra-successful AirPods.

What was the first iPod you owned? Let’s hear your memories in the comments below.

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