A moment of silence for the iPod

With all this month’s hoo-hah about U2 albums and phones the size of your head, it’s easy to miss a silent void in the gadget world. The iPod, Apple’s breakthrough device, passed away quietly, in its sleep, on 9th September 2014.

It’s the iPod we have to thank for our entire modern ecosystem of pervasive audio and video content, for the rise of the single, the death of the album, and for those iconic white earbuds that have come to signify a whole generation.

2nd Generation iPod

I got my first iPod in Christmas 2002.1 It replaced a much-loved Sony CD Walkman. The magical feeling of a shiny silver disk whirling around in my palm was replaced with the even more magical feeling of a tiny hard drive, clicking and whirring, beneath a seamless shell of chrome and acrylic.

The radial touchwheel was at one and the same time the most alien and most intuitive device I think I’ve ever used. I spent a few confused moments beside the Christmas tree, swiping upwards and sideways on the wheel, as if it were my iBook’s trackpad, until the radial nature—well—clicked. Apple had somehow made the trackpad even simpler: clockwise, anti-clockwise, that’s it.

Long before the direct manipulation of “pictures under glass,” the iPod clickwheel physically connected you with your music, turned the iPod into an extension of your arm, and your music into an extension of your mind. It was physically, technologically, and conceptually magic. Unlike anything before, and anything since.2

I spent hours looking at the hairline crack between the chrome backing and the transparent acrylic front, wondering how the thing held together. In a world of gaudy plastic CD players, the iPod was like a piece of alien technology, delivered, from the future, in a divinely symmetrical cuboid box.

And the sound it made when the disk spun up! I will never forget that sound.

Even the two iPods I eventually replaced it with—an iPod Photo in 2004 and a matte black iPod Classic in 2007—were little more than minor tweaks to the original design. Apple hit the mark first time round. How can you improve on perfection?

iPod, 2001–2014. You will be remembered.

  1. A 2nd Generation iPod. You could tell the 2nd Gen from the 1st by the captive plastic cover on the FireWire port, and the touch-sensitive wheel. The 1st Gen had an actual piece of plastic that rotated.

  2. Yes, even now. There was a playfulness to the iPod clickwheel – a dialogue, between content, device, and operator – that you just don’t get with an iPhone touchscreen. You spun through your music with centrifugal force, the iPod clicking maniacally, like you were tickling its sensitive bits.