BitDepth 548 - October 31

On the fifth anniversary of the iPod, a celebration of a venerable ancestor...
The iPod at five

Last hurrah. The second generation iPod, identical to the original model save for a bigger hard drive, gets the star treatment on Apple's fifth anniversary of the product. Long since eclipsed by the slimmer, curvier models that replaced it, the original iPod was the device, along with the fruit coloured iMac, that set Apple back on the road to success. Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

Five years ago, the idea of carrying your entire music library, television shows you missed and a couple of movies in a small white box in the palm of your hand would have sounded very Jetsons.
But that's exactly what you can do with a current model iPod, the music player that Apple introduced to the world half a decade ago.

Back in 2001, most people listened to their music using a portable CD player, perhaps the popular Discman from Sony, a plastic box the size of two tea saucers stuck together that allowed music lovers to listen to an hour or so of music at a time.
You couldn't run with a portable CD player, though you could walk gingerly with one. MP3 players existed, but they were still on the outer edge of geekiness, and hooking them up to transfer music to them was very much a hit or miss operation.
Right from the start, Apple brought the efficiency of its closed loop system to the iPod, tying its device to its new music software, iTunes, first on the Mac and a year later, on the PC.

The iPod of today is clearly the progeny of the original iPod that Steve Jobs introduced. There is still a white model with a big wheel on the front of it and a screen that displays information about the tracks you are listening to, but calling them the same device is like saying that a Porsche is a Model-T Ford because they're both cars.
The iPod has kept pace with the rapid evolution of handheld music players by first sticking to its original premise; a hard disk based player with a big memory buffer to eliminate skipping and extend battery life with an easily navigated interface. Then Apple took advantage of cheaper flash memory to create smaller iPods and built more smarts into the player, extending it through software and Internet support.

At least part of the iPod success story is linked to the remarkable success of the company's iTunes store, which first established the first successful online method of buying legal music from record companies.
Most Trinis won't be able to buy music from the iTunes store, which requires a credit card drawn on a US bank, but the iTunes software allows users to transfer music they already own on CD to their iPod as MP3 files. With a little inventiveness and a few freeware software tools, it's possible to transfer video from your DVDs to the device as well.
My own experience with the iPod has been refreshingly positive. I own the second generation model, a big clunky bruiser of a music player that looks like a grandfather clock next to the sleek Cartierness of today's iPods, which are almost half the size of the original model.

With the exception of that gorgeous full colour screen, and the attendant potential to playback video files, there's very little that I'm missing using a four-year-old iPod.
It synchronises with the latest version of iTunes, mounts on my computer's desktop to act as an external hard disk for backup, plays encrypted Audible audiobook files and sometimes gets a little bit smarter when Apple issues a software update for its music players.
More than 67 million iPods have been sold since its introduction, the iTunes store sells songs by the billions and that surge in popularity has bouyed public confidence in Apple stock, giving the company a foothold in the consumer market.

The iPod and music
The popularity of the iPod and the concept of a personal music player that holds all your music has led to some interesting changes in the way music has evolved. Traditionally, music has driven quality increases; scratchy vinyl albums were replaced with the pristine playback of CDs. But the big idea of portable music has required a tradeoff in pure audio quality, compressed music files having discarded some of their fidelity to shrink their file size.

Two audio formats, DVD-Audio and Super Audio Compact Disc (SACD) were introduced to the market at the same time that MP3 files were taking off. Both high-quality technologies failed in the marketplace, replaced in the public mind by the convenience of lower quality MP3 files, encrypted AAC files used by the iTunes store and the similarly compressed and protected WMA files used by Microsoft and other competitors.

Interestingly, the same closed loop that marginalised the Macintosh, software and hardware that only worked with each other, has been key to the success of the iTunes-iPod marketshare success. The Apple software and hardware solutions work with nothing else in the market, but they don't have to, with 70 percent of the business the ecosystem is thriving.
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