I got my first Apple device in March 2006 – a 4GB second-gen iPod Nano,1 in a striking shade of green. iPods were the thing to have at my high school back then, and I’d spent enough time listening to CDs with one of my parents’ Walkman to know I’d get a lot of use out of a compact device that’d let me listen to music on the go. I saved my allowance of $30 a week – I even started walking to and from school instead of taking the bus, to save the $15 a week that would otherwise have gone to fares – until I finally had the $300 I needed, and walked on in to my local Dick Smith(external link) to purchase one in cash. I was absolutely enraptured with my new device, and in fact I still have it today, somewhere. Last I checked, it even still worked.

I got an iPod Touch in 2010, which I also remember fondly because in a time before I had a smartphone, that thing was my smartphone, at least when I had a wifi connection (which I did at home and on my uni campus). I eventually lost that in a robbery and replaced it with an iPod Classic in 2014, since I had a smartphone by that time and didn’t need iOS apps on my iPod. I still have that, too, although it lives permanently on an old iPod speaker.

The iPod and the associated online music store, iTunes, heralded a massive shift for the music industry. Previously music was mostly bought on CDs, and if you acquired it in digital format it was probably because you pirated it from somewhere (hey, no judgement). iTunes’ impact was that it made it easy to buy music legally online and load it onto your listening device. This distribution method – now expanded to games, ebooks, film and TV shows, and oftentimes as subscription services rather than actual purchases of items – has obviously caught on massively since. You can definitely make the argument, though, that many of these services don’t benefit creators nearly as much as they benefit the juggernaut tech companies that own them.

Of course, it’s now been a long time since iPods’ heyday. In 2006 iPod sales accounted for 40% of Apple’s revenue; by 2014 that was down to just 1%, and after that Apple stopped bothering to report iPod sales as a distinct line item, but threw it in with a bunch of other low-demand products as “Other” (source)(external link). In 2017, they discontinued the remaining non-Touch lines (the Nano and the Shuffle), but kept the Touch a while longer as, basically, a low-powered iPhone that couldn’t connect to a mobile network. In May 2022, Apple finally discontinued the iPod for good.

I still feel an enormous amount of nostalgia for the old, clickwheel-oriented iPods. They’re probably not the most practical design in an era where we have excellent touchscreens but damn, they looked good and for me they represent those teenage years spent listening to awesome music every chance that I could get. And for Apple, clearly, the iPod kick-started their existence as one of the most profitable tech companies in the world. They’re surely one of the most iconic products of the 2000s.

  1. In the aftermath of iPods’ eventual discontinuation, I have read that the second-generation iPod Nano wasn’t released until September 2006. I’m genuinely bewildered, because my memories are very clear on this point. I guess I must’ve got it the following March but that really does not accord with my memories at all. Perhaps we must go with the most realistic explanation: localised time warp. ↩︎