It’s finally official: After almost 13 years on the market, and four years without changes, Apple has quietly discontinued its iconic iPod classic, removing it from the online store. The first model, introduced on Oct. 23, 2001, was a revelation when it launched, albeit an expensive one ($399!). It was super easy to use and gave you access to a then-unheard-of 5GB of music.
Later editions were less expensive and offered more storage. The iPod line eventually spelled doom for not just the millions of cassette and CD-based portable music players that proceeded it, but pretty much all other MP3 players available on the market as well, including the six that were available before the iPod launched. (Anyone remember the Diamond Rio?)
This isn’t an obituary for the entire line, since you can still buy iPods. The app-supporting iPod touch will likely be available for some time to come, and the familiar, clip-on iPod Shuffle and larger iPod nano both ride on for now. But in a world where the smartphone does more and more of what used to require separate devices—rendering entire categories of products like camcorders, point-and-shoot cameras, voice recorders, personal digital assistants, and others, obsolete—it’s only natural that there eventually wouldn’t be enough demand for a dedicated, high-end MP3 player.
A Music Lover’s Dream
That said, the iPod classic has been a darling of audiophiles for years, thanks to its expansive 160GB of internal storage—something you still can’t get on a flash-based iPod touch without spending considerably more money. That’s overkill for most people, but just right for anyone who listens to Apple Lossless or other uncompressed recordings for the best possible sound quality. You can bet many of those audiophiles will be none too pleased to find out the maximum available capacity for an iPod touch remains at 64GB. And not everyone will want to drop $400 on a new 128GB iPhone 6 with a cell phone plan.
The iPod classic line has also been great for more casual listeners. It’s very simple to use; once you learn how the Click Wheel works, chances are you’ll never have a problem with it, at least for listening to music. And it works with plenty of third-party docks and speakers.
But the iPod classic, and other players with internal 1.8-inch mechanical hard drives, was slower to cue up music and prone to eventually failing early, thanks to the moving parts inside. And the iPod classic could skip on occasion, although its look-ahead memory buffer typically prevented that from happening.
Ushering In a New Era
It’s tough to understate the iPod’s impact. Keep in mind that when the iPod first launched, the iTunes Music Store didn’t exist yet—that didn’t arrive until 2003. Before that, iTunes was a software music player. And you had to rip your own MP3 or AAC files from CDs, and transfer them between your computer and MP3 player with a USB cable, to bring your music with you. Eventually, the world moved on to buying songs and albums digitally, and now increasingly, streaming them all from the cloud.
Apple also refined the iPod’s interface over the years—first moving from a wheel of buttons to a center-mounted wheel with four buttons above it, and then finally, to the Click Wheel itself, with buttons embedded in the disc. 2004 and 2005 saw the introduction of photo and video playback capability, along with an expanded lineup of iPod mini, iPod nano, and iPod shuffle models. By this point, it was already obvious Sony basically handed the Walkman market to Apple. 2007 brought us both the first iPhone and the iPod touch; as soon as it became clear how popular these products would be, it began to become obvious that the iPod as a standalone music player wouldn’t live forever.
Today, Apple has also unveiled its first entirely new product in four and a half years: the $349 Apple Watch. Not everything Apple introduces catches on: The Power Mac G4 Cube and iPod Hi-Fi are two examples that didn’t last very long. But four of the biggest and most revolutionary tech products of the past 20 years—the iMac, the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad—all came from Apple.
Whether the Apple Watch will do the same thing for watches that the original iPod did for portable music players remains to be seen. But despite all the naysayers about smartwatches, one can look at Apple’s incredibly successful run and only wonder if it cracked that category, too.
So while some iPod models still live on, and the iPod classic’s demise was long expected, it’s a bit sad to see it finally go. Now Apple’s mobile device lineup is now almost entirely touch-based, with the exception of the iPod shuffle. And the music player that anchored the iPod lineup and sparked a revolution in consumer electronics is no more.