In a statement on Tuesday, the company said it will continue to sell the seventh generation iPod touch “until supplies run out” — a quiet confirmation that the life of the iPod has finally come to an end.
Although this move was bittersweet for technicians of a certain age, it wasn’t entirely surprising. Over the years, Apple slowly prepared its own line of portable media machines: the last iPod with the classic tap wheel was discontinued in 2014, and the once popular iPod nano followed three years later.
“Today, the iPod spirit continues,” said Greg Joswiak, Apple’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing. “We’ve integrated an amazing music experience across all of our products, from iPhone to Apple Watch to HomePod mini and across Mac, iPad and Apple TV.”
Right now, the idea of a single-purpose device like the iPod can feel hopelessly out of date. To some extent, Apple felt the same way. The original models only played, curated, and pirated the music we bought, but versions that played videos and, eventually, touchscreen models followed, followed through this week. But while the iPhones eventually (and completely) overshadowed them, it’s hard to underestimate their impact on the company — and the people who used them.
Apple these days is worth more than $2 trillion and turns its attention to everything from designing a computer processor to making Oscar-worthy movies. However, in the years before the original iPod was released, Apple had just come out of what iPod creator Tony Fadell called a “death spiral.” In his new book.
After a series of totally ill-fitting leaders, wayward CEO Steve Jobs returned to the company and updated its PC lineup with a slew of cheap, colorful iMacs in 1998. Then came the similarly cheerful iBooks a year later. But it was arguably the first iPod, unveiled in October 2001, that set the revived Apple on a different path—one that cemented its place in people’s pockets, not just their desks.
In the past, Apple dabbled in other portable gadgets, such as some ill-fated digital cameras and an early PDA whose lasting legacy was a joke in The Simpsons. But according to Leander Kahne, author of “The Cult of iPod,” the company’s first MP3 player was different.
“It was really a great tool,” he told The Washington Post. “Very easy to use and a source of a lot of joy – because of the music it contains, of course. And it was the product that completely changed Apple, laid the foundation for the iPhone and sparked massive growth.”
Over the next two decades, Apple collectively released more than two dozen iPod models, without including variants with varying amounts of storage space. And during the iPod’s lifetime, countless tech trends have come and gone — here we look at you, laptops and 3D TVs. This is how things work in an industry where the company is as good as its next product.
But even though the last iPods that Apple plans to make are on sale now, it seems unlikely that these devices will completely disappear from the cultural consciousness anytime soon.
“I didn’t have an iPod growing up,” said Bee Shipinski, a 19-year-old student in Boise, Idaho who was born after Apple’s first iPod announced. “It was really expensive.” But a penchant for tinkering—as well as frequent childhood exposure to ads for dancing silhouettes—helped turn Shipinski into a fan of custom music instruments.
With an iPod, it’s all Do you play music. Shipinski, who uses their pronouns/they, said he doesn’t care about being online, and he doesn’t care about licensing. “He’s looking for files, reading them, and he’s like, ‘Okay, that’s what we’re going to do. We’ll play your music, and we’ll really play it – okay. “
Rather than venturing into the calculated smoothness of the Apple Store, Shipinski bought her first iPods at the thrift store in 2019 and eventually decided to unlock the newer one for fun. With the help of a repair manual from YouTube user DankPods — who amassed over a million subscribers interested in iPods and other music players in the early 2000s — Shipinski made the first modifications, or “modifications.”
Shipinski is not alone. They are one of a growing swarm of people who are beginning to repair and, in some cases, upgrade old iPods to work better than they did before. Instead of old and relatively sensitive hard drives, these mods have been modified to read music from cheap and roomy SD cards. According to 17-year-old Irish Discord user Leek Soup, people often install larger batteries in the space their hard drives used to occupy.
“Other modifications include personalizing the outside of the iPod with different colored face panels, click wheels and rear cases,” Leek Soup said. “People have also installed tap engines from iPhones in [old iPods]to give a little tactile feedback.”
So yeah, Apple’s announcement officially marks the end of an era. But based on the many models for sale on eBay, it may be a while – if ever – before people finally have to move on from their prized iPods.