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How the iPod changed the world of music

Kirk McElhearn | Oct. 24, 2011
Back around 1979, I was an early adopter.

Back around 1979, I was an early adopter. Before the first Sony Walkman was available for sale in the United States, I had bought a Sony Pressman, a brick-sized and -weight device that could both play and record cassette tapes. I was initially interested in this device to record music that I played with friends; it had a built-in stereo microphone, as it was designed for recording interviews. But I quickly realized, as I carried it to and from my friends' homes, that I could also listen to music on it.

In those days, the bands I listened to were The Cure, Joy Division, Theater of Hate, The Durutti Column, Talking Heads, and other postpunk bands. I would walk through the streets of suburban Queens, New York, the Pressman wedged in the back pocket of my blue jeans--or, in winter, in a coat pocket--with a pair of headphones on my ears. Back then, you didn't really see people wearing headphones. The Walkman wasn't introduced until June 1980, and even then, it didn't catch on very quickly. You would occasionally see people in the streets of Manhattan with headphones on, but it took a few years before it became common.

When I think back to those days, when I think back even 10 years ago, I realize how far we've come since the introduction of the first iPod. While the Sony Walkman slimmed down a great deal after the earliest versions, its size was still constrained by the size of the cassette tapes that it played. The original iPod, introduced exactly a decade ago, was roughly the size of one of those tapes. Yet unlike many other MP3 players at the time, which used flash memory, and held only a handful of songs, the original iPod had 5GB of storage. Apple touted the original iPod as holding "up to 1000 CD-quality songs on its super-thin 5GB hard drive." Apple also emphasized how quick FireWire syncing was: it let you download an entire CD into iPod in less than 10 seconds, and 1000 songs in less than 10 minutes--30 times faster than USB-based players.

In Apple's press release from October 23, 2001, former CEO Steve Jobs said, "With iPod, Apple has invented a whole new category of digital music player that lets you put your entire music collection in your pocket and listen to it wherever you go. With iPod, listening to music will never be the same again."

The real advantage of the iPod was its integration with iTunes. Unlike other MP3 players, which required users to drag music files into folders, iTunes allowed you to sync your music automatically to an iPod. Apple's integration of hardware and software made the user experience much easier than what other devices of the time offered.


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