The iPod is dead. You may have thought it vanished long ago, and while the gadget that pops into your head when you think of an iPod —that rectangle with the wheel — hasn’t been sold for quite some time, Apple has continued quietly making an iPhone-style, touchscreen-operated iPod Touch for years. That device has been trundling along since its last update back in 2019. But as of today, the iPod Touch will only be available only “while supplies last,” the company announced.
My friend Phillip Tracy has a wonderful little bite-sized retrospective on the iPod over at Gizmodo, which you should absolutely read. But if you were there when the iPod hit the scene in the early 2000s, you surely know that Apple’s handsome MP3 player was a game-changer in terms of what you could listen to while driving.
I remember when my older brother bought his first iPod and showed it to me and our mom. It was the third-generation model that had the playback controls and Menu button separate from the touch-sensitive click wheel. The capacitive buttons glowed red when the iPod was on — very un-Apple by today’s standards, but absolutely mesmerizing at the time. It felt like a product from the future, save for the grayscale LCD screen with that familiar, old-school Classic Mac OS font.
I didn’t understand what it was. When my brother showed it off for the first time, he had it connected to an iTrip, which beamed tunes over FM to our kitchen radio. I thought it was a glorified remote; I didn’t realize the music was coming from that little white device. I was 10 years old, so there was plenty I didn’t understand. But I knew I wanted one.
As a kid, though, I had no use for an iPod. I already had an old stereo in my room, where I could listen to Goo Goo Dolls’ Dizzy Up The Girl, far too many Nickelback albums and that one self-titled Finger Eleven record (which I unironically admit I still adore). The iPod, then, became synonymous with the car. I experienced it only in the context of riding with my brother in his ’97 Dodge Ram that would later become mine. That truck had an aftermarket six-disc CD changer, but the iPod opened up a whole world of new possibilities. I remember a lot of Counting Crows and the Scrubs soundtrack, because this was 2003-ish.
I also remember the frustrations of using that damned iTrip. Its frequencies were loaded into the iPod as individual files, like music tracks, and the radio playback cratered the audio quality, especially if you turned the iPod’s volume up beyond 70 percent. The trusty cassette aux adapter was a much more consistent and reliable partner to the iPod. This is where Apple’s portable music player truly shined.
In time, my brother upgraded to a newer iPod, and sometime in 2005, his first iPod became mine. I inherited his whole music collection, but I remember loading The Von Bondies’ “C’mon C’mon” and Motion City Soundtrack’s “My Favorite Accident” onto the thing almost immediately, because Burnout 3: Takedown had recently come out and that game was a masterpiece.
As I got older, I went through a few iPods myself. I eventually got a fifth-gen model — the first one offered in either black or white, and the one that made the color display standard. I used it every day riding the bus, until it started splitting apart at the seam, at which point the sixth-gen Nano had been released. That was the one that looked like a proto-Apple Watch with a clip on the back, and I carried it everywhere. That iPod, too, became a staple in the Ram, which I now drove. It was kind of comical: The thing was so small and so light, it never stayed put while driving.
For me, that’s still the most ingenious iPod ever.
Thanks to the iPod, my high school friends and I could share our musical tastes on the way to and from the mall, because that’s where you hang out when you’re in high school in suburban New Jersey. I made playlists so my date would think my taste in music was so cool. Road trips were never silent, especially once Apple had introduced lower-priced models and most of my friends could afford an iPod of some sort. If we had the choice, we never listened to the radio.
These are all things we’ve taken for granted for the past 15 years. But remember what it was like before the iPod. I’d flip through my mom’s hard-shell CD binder for minutes on end, searching out whichever disc she was looking for. There were lots of compilations; we were never quite sure which song was on which disc. The iPod solved that, and gave us so much more. It wasn’t the first MP3 player, not by a long shot, but it was the one that made MP3 players mainstream. On a bus, on a train, or plugged into your car stereo, it changed the way we listen to music on the go.