This month marks the 20th anniversary of the iPod; the first model launched on October 23, 2001. MP3 players existed before the iPod; tech website Slashdot unfavorably compared the iPod to the Nomad, an MP3 player now only remembered because of said Slashdot post. However, it’s the iPod that really launched the modern age of the MP3 player.
That said, iPod sales only dominated in the aughts; iPod sales peaked in 2008, and rapidly declined after that. In 2007, Apple launched the iPhone, which quickly popularized an even more revolutionary device, the smartphone. iPod sales soon declined; by 2014, sales fell to 1% of Apple’s revenue. After 2014, Apple stopped reporting iPod sales as their own category. See the infographic below for more details.
You will find more infographics at Statista
Over the 2010s, Apple ended production of various iPod models; the most iconic model, the iPod Classic, was dropped in 2014. The iPod Nano and Shuffle were discontinued in 2017. As of 2021, the only iPod model still sold is the iPod Touch, which is basically the iPhone without the cellular parts.
I only owned one iPod model, the third generation “fat” iPod Nano. My last MP3 player was a Sandisk MP3 player; I bought it to use at my previous job, which didn’t allow smartphones at our desks for security reasons. A few coworkers brought in their old iPods, including the Classic, to use. Otherwise, I use my iPhone for portable music listening these days.
The iPod in popular culture
Bill Amend’s comic strip “FoxTrot” has a few strips mentioning or parodying the iPod:
- A 2004 storyline features Jason trying to one-up the iPod with his own creation, the “jPod.”
- A 2007 strip has Jason criticize the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) for not allowing one to rip a DVD and copy its video to an iPod (or Zune; remember those?).
Below’s one of the entries in the famous series of “silhouette” TV ads Apple ran in the 2000s.
The iPod’s future?
As of the iPod’s 20th anniversary, the iPod Touch is the only model Apple still sells; however, it’s clearly not a high seller or promoted much. Apple’s main page only links to it in the footer (buried alongside links to their privacy notices, their refurbished devices store, etc.), versus the iPad and iPod having their own prominent links in the main navigation bar.
At this point, the Touch is mainly useful for:
- A portable device with a screen for young children (versus a smartphone).
- Those that want in on the iOS ecosystem without paying for an iPhone (say, app developers).
- Someone that doesn’t want a smartphone, but does want a portable music/video player that supports apps. (Or “a pocket-sized iPad.”)
- Those unable to use a smartphone at their workplace. That said, the Touch still has a camera, thus making it unusable if such an office bans personal devices with cameras.
That said, those are pretty niche categories at this point. At $200 for a 32GB iPod Touch, someone wanting an iOS device would be better off saving up for an iPad (starting at $330, or less if refurbished/on sale). As such, I wouldn’t be surprised if by 2026 (the iPod’s 25th anniversary), Apple discontinues the iPod Touch.
However, in its favor, the Touch does allow inexpensive access to Apple’s lucrative App Store ecosystem. Apple also can sell subscriptions to Apple Music for iPod Touch users.