Instant Expert: A Brief History of iPod
As the pace and importance of iPod announcements have accelerated in recent days, iLounge has taken this opportunity to assemble an “instant expert” guide to the history of Apple’s popular device. For an updated version of this article, please Download the iLounge 2007 iPod Buyers’ Guide.
Key Milestones in the Life of the iPod
- January 9, 2001
Apple introduces iTunes for the Macintosh, a program that converts audio CDs into compressed digital audio files, organizes digital music collections, and plays Internet radio.
|October 23, 2001 Apple unexpectedly announces the first iPod (codename Dulcimer) at a price of $399. Unlike most (but not all) competing digital audio players available at the time, Apple relies on a hard disk for storage instead of flash memory or interchangeable CD-ROMs, and uniquely focuses on promoting the small size, power, and ease of use of its device. The first iPod has a 5 GB storage capacity - enough for over 1,000 songs - and works only on Macs, using iTunes as a music organization and CD-to-iPod conversion tool. Did Apple release iTunes with the iPod in mind? According to an official Apple timeline, development of the iPod began only six months earlier. November 10, 2001 Apple ships the first iPod. Mid-November, 2001 Third-party developers begin to write workaround software that lets the iPod work with PCs. While first demo versions of the software are available in January of 2002, final versions won’t emerge until June of 2002. December 31, 2001 By the end of 2001, Apple has sold a total of 125,000 iPods.|
- March 20, 2002
Apple announces a 10GB / 2,000 song update to the iPod for $499. Taking a cue from crafty third-party developers, Apple ships new iPods with the ability to display business card-like contact information, a feature that makes some wonder about future PDA-like expansion of the iPod’s abilities. As of this date, the iPod is still a Mac-only product, though workaround programs for PCs are circulating and largely functional.
- March, 2003
Microsoft announces Media2Go portable video and audio players, originally targeted for a holiday 2003 release. The players will eventually be renamed Windows Portable Media Centers, deemed Microsoft’s “iPod killer,” and delayed until late 2004.
Dell, which has been offering aggressive discounts on the iPod, temporarily stops selling the device after failing to renew its reseller agreement with Apple, but then renews.
Obvious differences in size, thickness, and materials aside, the iPod has gone through a number of changes since its debut in 2001. While the first-generation (1G) and second-generation (2G) iPods featured a FireWire data port up top next to the headphone port and hold switch, this data port was removed from the top of third-generation (3G) iPods, fourth-generation (4G) iPods, iPod minis and iPod photos in favor of a bottom-mounted Dock Connector port.
Placement of the four Menu/Play/Forward/Reverse buttons also changed; the original collection of four curved buttons surrounded the 1G and 2G iPods’ Scroll Wheels, but were transformed into circular buttons above the Scroll Wheel for the 3G iPod, and then integrated into the Click Wheel of the iPod mini, 4G iPod, and iPod photo, beginning with the iPod mini.
Finally, the wheel mechanism itself has changed: while the 1G iPod used a wheel that physically moved, each subsequent iPod has used a touch-sensitive circle that emulates the movement of a wheel - a subtle, yet unquestionably superior design.
iPod Boxes and Pack-ins
Though the prices and capacities of iPods are their most often touted differences, each generation of iPods has featured different pack-ins that can add extra value for the dollar. On the hardware side, Apple’s decision to include remote controls, carrying cases, and eventually Docks with premium-priced iPods initially offset those higher prices, though changes to the iPod line-up in mid-2004 muddied this equation somewhat. On the software side, the replacement of PC-ready MusicMatch with the Windows version of iTunes makes newer iPods even easier to enjoy.
(left to right, boxes for the 1G iPod, 2G iPod, 3G iPod, and iPod Mini)
Original (1G) iPod
Included headphones, FireWire cable, iTunes software, AC adapter.
Second-Generation (2G) iPod
5GB Mac Version
Same as above. PC Version included 4-pin to 6-pin FireWire adapter, MusicMatch software instead of iTunes.
Same as above plus iPod Remote control and iPod Carrying Case. PC versions included 4-pin to 6-pin FireWire adapter, MusicMatch software instead of iTunes.
Third-Generation (3G) iPod
10GB ($299) Version
Slightly new headphones, AC adapter, Dock Connector to FireWire cable, 4-pin to 6-pin FireWire adapter, iTunes software for Mac and MusicMatch software for PC*.
Initial 15GB ($399)/30GB ($499) Versions
Same as above plus Dock, new Remote control, and new Carrying Case.
* Refreshed 15GB / 20GB / 40GB iPods include iTunes for both Mac and PC users, refreshed 15GB ($299, M9460LL/A) iPod does not include Dock, Remote control or Carrying Case.
Headphones, plastic Belt Clip, AC adapter, Dock Connector to FireWire cable, Dock Connector to USB cable, iTunes software for Mac and PC users.
Fourth-Generation (4G) iPod
Headphones, AC adapter, Dock Connector to FireWire cable, Dock Connector to USB cable, iTunes software for Mac and PC users. 40GB iPod includes a Dock, but neither iPod includes a Remote or Carrying Case, or the older FireWire adapter.
Headphones, AC adapter, Dock Connector to FireWire cable, Dock Connector to USB cable, iPod photo Dock, AV cable, Carrying Case, iTunes software for Mac and PC users, Apple stickers.
iPod U2 Special Edition
Headphones, AC adapter, Dock Connector to FireWire cable, Dock Connector to USB cable, iTunes software for Mac and PC users, $50 Coupon for The Complete U2 digital box set.
- iPod Sales
iPod sales were good but not fantastic until around the May 2003 release of the third-generation iPod, which marked a turning point in the sales history of the device. Prior to that release, Apple’s sales were directed initially towards a relatively small audience of Macintosh users, and even when a PC version of the iPod was released, its FireWire-only design limited its appeal to mainstream PC users.
It took over a year and a half for Apple to hit the one million mark for iPods sold, but then the third-generation iPod was unveiled in Tokyo. Only six months later, the company had sold its second million iPods. Four months later, aided by the release of the iPod mini, they’d sold another million units of iPod hardware. By late October, aided by the release of the fourth-generation iPod, Apple was up to almost 6 million total units, and an additional 2-4 million units were predicted to be sold by the end of 2004.
Importantly, Apple’s sales milestones were achieved despite the continued introduction of cheaper alternatives by Creative, Dell, and iRiver, amongst others. None of these companies’ products appears to have significantly impacted the iPod’s sales growth or undermined its perception as king of the digital music hill.
iTunes Music Store Sales
Though the history of the iTunes Music Store dates back only a year, there have been two important positive changes in its sales trends. The first was in October of 2003, starting with the release of the PC version of the Music Store. In December 2003, following a flurry of holiday season iPod purchases and media mentions, the second upward tilt began, dramatically accelerating the pace of iTunes Music sales. Apple hit the 100 million song mark in July, 2004, ahead of some expectations (but later than initial Apple predictions), and 150 million by October, 2004, a dramatically increased pace.
Available worldwide from Apple, Apple authorized retailers, and unauthorized retailers.
Nearly worldwide. As of July, 2004, Apple released the product into almost every geographic region of the world. While several countries have not received the product officially, supplies may be available from importers.
iTunes Music Store
The service was first available (2003) within the United States, then expanded in June 2004 to the United Kingdom, France and Germany, and then on October 26, 2004 added Austria, Belgium, Finland, Greece, Italy, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Portugal and Spain. On December 1, 2004, Canada was added to the list. Negotiations for Australia, New Zealand, Japan and other countries remain underway.
- Q: What’s the most expensive official iPod Apple has ever sold to consumers?
A: Prior to the release of the iPod photo, the answer was limited edition iPods laser-engraved with the buyer’s choice of four alternatives: the signatures of musicians Beck or Madonna, the logo of band No Doubt, or the signature of pro skateboarder Tony Hawk. Asking price: $49 over the retail price of each iPod, or $548 for the then top-priced 20 GB iPod. The new premium iPod is the 60GB iPod photo, sold for $599.
Q: Has the iPod ever sparked a legal controversy outside of the United States?
A: Yes, at least three times. The iPod was briefly taken off the market in France in September 2002 when French authorities notified Apple that the device violated a law limiting the sound output of portable devices to 100 decibels. Apple quickly updated the iPod’s software to remedy the problem, and subsequently implemented a volume cap on all iPods shipped to Europe, much to the consternation of users in other countries. In December 2003, the iPod became a lightning rod for controversy after Canadian authorities imposed an additional governmental levy (charge) of CDN$25 per player to compensate artists whose copyrights were being infringed. The $25 charge was substantially lower than earlier proposals of $21 per GB, which would have equaled a $315-$840 additional charge per 15-40 GB iPod - more in some cases than the cost of the iPod itself. Finally, Apple Computer has been sued in the United Kingdom by Apple Corps, holder of The Beatles rights, allegedly for violating an earlier trademark-related agreement whereby Apple Computer agreed not to enter the music business.
Q: What’s the most unusual iPod ever sold on eBay?
A: A German seller auctioned an iPod that had been 24-karat gold-plated after purchase. Additionally, eBay sellers have auctioned off “pink” iPod minis that Apple accidentally delivered in a shade closer to magenta.
Q: Is it true that Oprah spent almost $140,000 on iPods and gave them away?
A: In Spring 2003, Oprah named the iPod one of “Oprah’s Favorite Things” as part of her series of product giveaway shows, and gave 15GB ($399) iPods to each member of her 350-person studio audience. If you’re worried that billionaire Oprah had to drop nearly $140,000 of her own cash for the iPods, don’t be: Apple donated them, and Oprah didn’t even know how to use one when it was featured on the show. (When you’re a billionaire, you can afford to hire someone else to program your playlists.)
Q: What are the biggest iPod-related giveaways to date?
A: The biggest iPod and iTunes giveaways to date have been offered by Pepsi, which offered a two-month “100 million free songs” giveaway (where only 5 million songs were actually given away), and an Australia-only “Win an iPod every hour” campaign with 1,018 15GB iPods available to be won.
Q: What musicians have been associated with the iPod?
A: Too many to count. After releasing the 10GB iPod, Apple briefly introduced a series of iPod boxes featuring the images of famous musicians: Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis were featured on 10GB iPod boxes, while Bob Marley and Billie Holiday appeared on 5GB iPod boxes. The company has also included the previously mentioned musicians Beck, Madonna and No Doubt in a limited edition engraved iPod campaign, and has included performers such as Alicia Keys in product and service unveilings. Most notably, U2 released a special edition black version of the iPod in partnership with Apple in November, 2004 (announced in late October, 2004). The company plans partnerships with other musicians in the near future.
Q: Do the British really love the iPod more than Americans?
A: It’s possible. Two early 2004 news stories suggested that British judges, law enforcement officials, and criminals are taking more than a passive interest in Apple’s music players. In February, the Beatles versus Apple case (Apple Corps versus Apple Computer) came before a High Court judge in London, who wondered aloud whether he would need to be disqualified from the bench because he was an iPod owner. In March, England’s second largest police force, the West Midlands Police, warned iPod users to hide their iPods and stop wearing Apple’s packed-in white headphones because of muggings by iPod-hungry street thieves. In both cases, representatives of Apple Computer publicly expressed delight at the iPod’s growing popularity.
Q: Can the iPod run anything other than Apple’s own operating system?
A: Yes, but not that well. Apple has intentionally prevented outside developers from experimenting with or changing the device’s operating system. In an effort to expand the iPod’s support for music formats other than MP3, AAC, WAV and unprotected WMA, several hackers have used reverse engineering to make the iPod run a stripped down version of Linux, which features limited functionality and as yet no ability to properly play back audio in other formats. Their most visible achievement has been getting the iPod’s title screen to display the face of Tux the Linux penguin.
Q: How much media exposure has the iPod received since launch?
A: An incredible amount. The iPod has been prominently featured in music videos, television shows, and massive product giveaways, say nothing of thousands of newspaper and magazine articles, and a number of books. Apple’s partnership with the rock band U2 increased both the band’s and the iPod’s profile almost exponentially around the world.
Q: How have PC hardware and software competitors responded to Apple’s success with the iPod?
A: The responses have been surprisingly mixed, and not entirely negative. Though Creative Labs, Dell, and iRiver have continued to develop and sell competing devices, industry heavyweight Hewlett-Packard in January 2004 halted development of an iPod alternative and opted to license and resell Apple’s product itself. In March 2004, the CEO of RealNetworks (developer of RealAudio and RealVideo standards) made an awkward public plea that Apple introduce iPod support for Real’s standards and competing Music Store, combined with a threat to join Microsoft if Apple didn’t act. Apple declined. Real responded in late July by releasing Harmony, software technology to permit songs sold by Real to play on the iPod. Apple threatened to block Harmony songs from playing on iPods, and accomplished the feat in mid-November, 2004.
Q: What’s Apple’s iPod track record with automobile manufacturers?
A: To date, Apple has publicly partnered with two European car manufacturers to cross-promote iPods and vehicles. In July of 2003, Volkswagen announced a “Pods Unite” campaign for the 2003 New Beetle, whereby New Beetle purchasers received a custom-engraved (VW logo) iPod and a “VW Connectivity Kit” with free music, an Audible audio book, a coupon, a window sticker, a “VW Music-zine” and what later became known as Belkin’s TuneDok cupholder iPod mount. In June of 2004, BMW announced the “iPod Your BMW” campaign, whereby owners of select BMW vehicles can add a $149 iPod control and power charging system called the BMW iPod Adapter to their cars. Apple promises further vehicle-related announcements in the near future.
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