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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.

And now, think about what we have: the iPod classic with 160GB of storage, or 32 times that of the original iPod. The iPod touch, with up to 64 B storage; even though this uses flash memory, it's much faster than flash memory that was used 10 years ago. And, of course, the iPod has morphed into the iPhone and iPad, both devices that can play not only music, as the original iPod did, but also all the other types of media that we use in digital form today--not to mention the many apps that we use to work and play on these devices.

The iPod changed the world of music, in several ways. While the Sony Walkman democratized music listening in the streets, or during your commute, you still needed to carry around cassette tapes. These took up space, and were especially susceptible to dust and lint from your pockets. With the iPod, you can carry your entire music collection in your pocket (unless your music collection is as big as mine, that is). No longer do you have to decide before you go out of the house or on a trip what music you might want to listen to and remember to bring those tapes. And, with the ability to now download music from the cloud, you may never even have to worry about what you have synced to your iPod; you may be able to download the music you want when you want to listen to it. The importance of the iPod is therefore not only the device, but the entire ecosystem that it depends on. From iTunes on your computer to iCloud, the iPod is one link in a chain that brings music to your ears.

And the iPod changed the world of music in another way: it brought the idea of "shuffle" to listeners. With the iPod, and iTunes, you can listen to music at random. Instead of making choices, you can let fate choose what you listen to. In some ways, this approach to listening to songs devoid of their context in albums--not that different from radio, just without the DJ's grating voice and the loud commercials--has helped speed the erosion of music sales. No longer approaching music as albums, listeners have taken to buying individual songs, from the iTunes Store,, and other places.

I used to listen to CDs; actually listen to them on a CD player. I buy a lot of CDs, and I review classical CDs, so I get a lot of plastic discs. Five years ago, when hard drives and iPods held less than they do now, I didn't rip every CD I received; I would choose the ones that I would want to listen to on a portable device, and listen to others on the CD player. Now, I rip every CD I get, put all my music in my iTunes library, and choose what to sync. Naturally, my iTunes library is for more than just syncing to my iPods: my Mac is connected to my stereo so I can listen to music as I work and when I'm relaxing; I stream my music to an Apple TV connected to a stereo in my living room; and my music library is the interface between me and my music collection.


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