The device pushed the Walkman and MP3 players out of business, revolutionised music consumption, and set new design standards.
It’s the early 2000s. You’re travelling in a suburban train. At the next stop, a guy walks in. He is wearing faded Levi’s jeans and a blue shirt. There is a white wire coming out of his jeans’ pocket, going into his ears. His head is bobbing up and down. Nearly everyone in the train is staring at him. The wire is clearly the bait. Everyone’s like, “He’s using an iPod.”
Apple launched the iPod on October 23, 2001. Yesterday (May 11, 2022), 21 years later, the California-based tech giant announced it is discontinuing its popular music player. Naturally, a global outpouring of grief and nostalgia, ensued.
“It was one of the first Apple products that had a mass appeal. It became something everyone wanted to own. Twenty years later, it is still one of the most cherished products one can ever own,” says Anchit Chauhan, AVP, planning, Wunderman Thompson, talking about why people are feeling nostalgic about the iPod.
He adds that it is one of the few successful product lines Apple will discontinue.
“Apple made its biggest selling product an icon on the iPhone,” remarks Rajdeepak Das, chief creative officer, Leo Burnett, praising the company’s boldness. He says this happens “when you know what the future will be.”
Das says that the iPod “wasn't just a product, it was a musical revolution.” If you love music, you had to have an iPod… “the white wire coming out of your pocket, it's the stripe you wear, saying, I love music.”
The ability of Apple and its products to remain an object of desire after all these years, is an incredible achievement. People line outside stores, some take loans and save money for years, to own an Apple device.
“Apple has created a brand which is much bigger than the product... you like to flaunt it,” remarks Amit Wadhwa, chief executive officer, Dentsu Creative India. The other reason, he feels, is the minimalistic and sleek design that makes owning an Apple device, a treat.
He also remarks that Apple isn’t scared of improving on its previous products and gives a nod to the company inserting the iPod into the iPhone. “Apple knew iPod would be redundant someday, but it did it because finally, that’s where the world is moving.”
Speaking on the brand’s innovative ability, he feels the “innovation halo around Apple is so strong because of the strong brand that it has created. Design innovation and brand make Apple the Apple it is today.”
One of Apple’s (and the iPod’s) strongest success pillar is the design. “No matter how complex the inner system and technology may be, iPod was the most meaningful and simplified device, ever. It subtracted the unnecessary and added what made sense to creators and listeners. Its interface was intuitive and even delightful,” says Ashwini Deshpande, co-founder and director, Elephant Design.
She goes on to say that there were other MP3 players back then (2001), “but an iPod, designed by a team of product designers, hardware and software engineers, was Apple’s entry into packet-sized devices and, perhaps, carved a path for the hugely successful iPhones (launched in 2007) too.”
The iPod's demise also brings to question the relevance of physical music players in the age of streaming apps. Dinkar Pathak, co-founder, Tarbull, a lifestyle electronics brand, likes to stay ahead of the curve. His company makes ear bands and earphones that come preloaded with thousands of songs, and also offers all the usual features of a regular listening aid.
“We're moving towards the integration of a normal functional product that gives you the ease and convenience of uninterrupted listening,” says Pathak, adding, “an iPod or Walkman doesn't do that because they have one function: playing music which has been taken over by smartphones and streaming apps.”
He says his brand caters to casual music listeners, and not music enthusiasts. The difference is that the latter discover new music through streaming apps.
Will we see a device that disrupts our lives in such a manner, in future? Well, only time will tell.