Sean Sweany | Wednesday, September 20, 2006
They are everywhere. From college campuses to city streets to airports around America, the distinctive white earbud cords of the iPod dangle from ears spanning nearly every age and background. Whether connected to a Mini, Nano, Shuffle, Video or just an old-school, first generation iPod, these little white cords show that Apple’s mp3 player has taken over the world.
The quest for portable, personal music has consumed society since the days of Sony’s Walkman and Discman. The spread of these portable tape and CD players in the 1970s and 1980s revolutionized the music industry and made entertainment as attainable a commodity as magazines or radio.
The advent of digital technology led to the creation of the first mp3 players in the late 1990s. These were downright bulky and unattractive by today’s standards. Thanks to further technological advances, the market was ripe for the taking if a player with the right look and advertising came along.
Enter Apple’s iPod. The iPod began as a project intended to integrate Apple into the market of digital consumer devices. It was developed and designed by Tony Fadell as a portable hard drive capable of playing mp3 music files. He sold his idea to Apple in February 2001 and the first 5 GB, 1000 song iPods became available to the public in October 2001.
From the start, Apple made its mp3 players compatible with its media player, iTunes. In doing this, the company guaranteed a large consumer base for iTunes, which it hoped to develop into a major portal for legally downloading music for iPod play.
By the end of 2002, the second generation of iPods was in stores and featured dramatic improvements over the previous version. Not only was capacity doubled, but also the look and interactivity of the player had been streamlined. In 2004, Apple revolutionized what had become its own market with the introduction of the iPod mini.
An even smaller version of the already tiny iPod, the iPod mini featured a sleeker design, custom colors, longer battery life and cheaper prices. Further miniaturizations led to the iPod nano and the iPod shuffle, even smaller players intended to reach niche markets.
Apple’s designers at the same time refused to let their flagship, the regular iPod, be outdone. Utilization of flash memory in 2004 gave the iPod no moving parts, meaning that the player can be shaken or dropped to a certain extent without causing serious damage.
Also in 2004, Apple redefined the market yet again by including a video screen on all iPods. Thanks to a storage size of 60 GB, this meant that full length movies or television shows could be downloaded and viewed on the go. The unveiling this fall of the fifth generation, 80 GB iPod represents the latest improvement in technology and promises to bring a change to how the world watches entertainment.
The iPod’s success is due in large part to the clever advertising developed by Apple. The “silhouette commercials,” which depict black silhouettes of people dancing with their white iPods and earbuds, have been a staple since the player’s launch. Additionally, they gave Apple the opportunity to promote artists on downloadable on iTunes such as Eminem, The Gorillaz and U2. This smart advertising led to the distinctive white earbuds becoming a symbol of status in many countries around the world.
Even though the iPod controls 80 percent of the mp3 player market, competitors do exist. Many companies including Sony, Dell, Samsung and Rio have all tried emulations of the iPod with varying degrees of success. Microsoft recently announced its own mp3 player, Zune, in an attempt to break Apple’s stranglehold on the market, but only time will tell whether Microsoft can compete with Apple.
Until then, Apple stands at the forefront of the mp3 player market with its wildly popular and successful iPod. Over the course of several years, the iPod has improved a great deal and branched out into other realms with the Nano and the Shuffle. The iPod has revolutionized the way our culture entertains itself. With technology becoming more sophisticated and improving almost daily, one can only wonder what new and exciting revolutions the iPod will bring next.