The iPod started with a modest goal: let’s create a music product that will get people to buy more Macintosh computers. Within a few years, it would change the consumer electronics and music industries and lead to Apple becoming the most valuable company in the world.
First arrival in October 2001, the pocket-sized rectangle with a white face and a polished steel frame weighed 6.5 ounces. It came with white earbuds in a custom color, moon gray, and contained 1,000 songs.
It exploded in popularity in the years that followed, creating what came to be known as the iPod generation. For much of the 2000s, people roamed the world, headphones dangling from their ears. The iPod was ubiquitous.
Apple officially said goodbye to that on Tuesday. The company announced that it is producing its iPod touchthus ending a two-decade run of a product line that inspired the creation of the iPhone and led Silicon Valley to become the epicenter of global capitalism.
Since the introduction of the iPod in 2001, Apple has sold an estimated 450 million of them, according to Loup Ventures, a venture capital firm specializing in technical research. Last year it sold an estimated three million iPods, a fraction of the estimated 250 million iPhones it sold.
Apple assured customers that the music would live on, largely through the iPhone, which it introduced in 2007, and Apple Music, a seven-year-old service that reflects the modern preferences of customers. The days of buying and owning 99 cent songs on an iPod largely gave way to monthly subscriptions that provide access to broader music catalogs.
The iPod has been a blueprint for Apple for decades, packaging unparalleled industrial design, hardware engineering, software development and services. It also showed how the company rarely came out first with a new product, but often triumphed.
In the late 1990s, the first digital music players began to appear. The earliest versions could contain a few dozen songs, allowing people in the early days of copying CDs to their computers to put those songs in their pockets.
Steve Jobs, who returned to Apple in 1997 after being fired more than a decade earlier, saw the emerging category as an opportunity to give Apple’s old computer company a modern look. Jobs, a die-hard music fan who named the Beatles and Bob Dylan as his favorite artists, thought tapping into people’s love of music would help them move to Microsoft-powered Macintoshes, which have more than 90 percent market share.
“You didn’t have to do market research,” said Jon Rubinstein, who led Apple’s engineering at the time. “Everyone loved music.”
Mr. Rubinstein helped start the development of the product by discovering a new hard drive made by Toshiba during a trip to Japan. The 1.8-inch drive had the capacity to store 1,000 songs. In essence, it enabled a Sony Walkman-sized digital player with a capacity far greater than anything on the market.
The development of the iPod coincided with Apple’s acquisition of an MP3 software company that would become the basis for iTunes, a digital jukebox that organized people’s music libraries so they could quickly create playlists and transfer songs. It fueled the vision of Mr. Jobs on how people would buy music in the digital age.
“We think people want to buy their music on the Internet by buying downloads, just like they bought LPs, just like they bought cassettes, just like they bought CDs,” he said. said in a 2003 interview†
At the time, a service called Napster tormented the music industry, allowing people to share any song with anyone around the world for free. Mr. Jobs addressed the problems of the music industry by marketing the ability of new Macs to copy CDs with the commercial slogan, “Rip. To blend. Burn.” The campaign put the music industry in the corner of Apple, said Albhy Galuten, an executive at Universal Music Group at the time.
Mr. Galuten said the labels eventually agreed to let Apple sell songs on iTunes for 99 cents. “We folded because we had no influence,” said Mr. galutes. “The easiest way to fight piracy was with ease.”
The $399 price tag of the first-generation iPod dampened demand, with the company selling fewer than 400,000 units in its first year. Three years later, Apple released the iPod Mini, a 3.6-ounce aluminum case in silver, gold, pink, blue, and green. It cost $249 and carried 1,000 songs. Sales exploded. By the end of its fiscal year, in September 2005, it had sold 22.5 million iPods.
Apple bolstered the power of the iPod Mini by making iTunes available for Windows computers, allowing Apple to introduce its brand to millions of new customers. Although the maneuver would later be heralded as a brilliant business success, Mr. Jobs opposed it at the time, former executives said.
Soon iPods were everywhere. “It took off like a rocket,” said Mr. Rubinstein.
Still, Mr. Jobs insisted that Apple make the iPod smaller and more powerful. Rubinstein said the company was halting production of its most popular product yet — the iPod Mini — to replace it with a slimmer version, the Nano, which started at $200. The Nano helped the company nearly boost unit sales the following year. double to 40 million.
Perhaps the most important contribution of the iPod was its role as a catalyst for the creation of the iPhone. When cell phone manufacturers started introducing devices that could play music, Apple executives worried about a leap forward from better technology. mr. Jobs decided that if that happened, Apple should be the one to do it.
The iPhone continued to draw on the combination of software and services that made the iPod a success. The success with iTunes, which allowed customers to back up their iPhone and put music on the device, was reflected in the development of the App Store, which allowed people to download and pay for software and services.
In 2007, the company shed its old company name – Apple Computer Inc. — occasionally it just became Apple, an electronics juggernaut six years in the making.
“They showed the world they had an atomic bomb, and five years later they had a nuclear arsenal,” said Talal Shamoon, the chief executive of Intertrust Technologies, a digital rights management company that partnered with the music industry at the time. “After that, there was no shadow of a doubt that Apple would own everyone.”