The iPod, the device that turned Apple into a key player in the music business, revolutionized the way we consume digital media and basically defined cool for a generation, is officially dead. But just because Apple has discontinued the iPod after 20 years of white earbuds and click wheels doesn’t mean we have to forget the iconic line.
Considering how far technology has evolved in the decades since the iPod made its debut, it’s not surprising to see Apple discontinue the iPod. Sales have flatlined and users have shifted from downloads and .99 cent song purchases to streaming music on Spotify and Apple Music.
Defunct technology or not, though, plenty of folks still love the iPod. It changed the way we perceived music itself, and for the first time ever, let us take a multitude of our favorite tunes wherever we wanted, whenever we wanted. There’s even a thriving ecosystem of digital media holdouts, trafficking in modified iPod models with beefed-up hard drives loaded with terabytes of digital media; no Wi-Fi or 5G connection required.
So as we make our last neon-colored, silhouetted dance moves to remember the iPod, let’s take a look back at its five best iterations and models.
The digital music companion that started it all. Announced by Steve Jobs in 2001, the first iPod paved the way for the digital music revolution. With its mechanical scroll-wheel and monochrome screen, the first iPod was basic but worked exactly as advertised — Mac users could load up a few gigabytes of their favorite tunes and take them on the road. It was one of the few things (at the time) to make Windows users jealous of the Mac line. Steve Jobs knew how to make a killer product, and the iPod was one of his biggest swings at getting Apple back on the map.
Though the iPod line evolved quite a bit over the years, it’s telling to see how clear Jobs and the design team nailed the concept and execution from the jump. From that first edition to the final one 20 years later, an iPod is still an iPod.
The final entry in the iPod line is arguably the best. It’s the iPod distilled to its core functions in a form and design that exemplifies the line’s unique features and design. The iPod Classic was the final evolution of the original iPod and iPod Video, featuring the iconic click wheel, excellent battery life and a color screen. The iPhone-esque iPod Touch model might’ve been the last version of the iPod to make it out of production, but there’s no doubt the iPod Classic was the last “true” iPod.
Though it’s long since been discontinued, the iPod Classic is still thriving in Frankenstein hacker form, with an entire ecosystem of tinkerers repairing, upgrading and reselling used iPod Classics to MP3-loving music fans to this day (and almost certainly for years to come).
Blink and you’ll miss the iPod Mini. The first, smaller edition of the iPod was introduced in 2004 and replaced just a year later by the iPod Nano line, but there’s no doubt the Mini was one of the best iterations of the iPod for its fleeting moment in the sun. The Mini line helped usher in the iconic click wheel input design on the front of iPod, which would go on to define the look and feel of the iPod for the next several years. The Mini was bright, colorful and the first iPod version to really make the device something that could comfortably fit in your pocket to the point you’d almost forget you had it.
Apple realized folks were jonesing for a smaller iPod with the Mini and doubled down on the concept with the iPod Nano, which had seven versions released from 2005 through 2017. It came in more than half-a-dozen colorful designs over the years (including the coveted Product Red variants that were all the rage back in the day). The Nano went through a few different redesigns along the way, but up until its final more screen-heavy looks (like tiny iPod Touches, essentially), it stayed largely true to the classic iPod vibe — just smaller. Fans went crazy for the Nano when it was released, with the shrunken iPod variant selling one million units in just a little over two weeks. The Nano’s launch also pushed Apple to then-record billion-dollar profits in 2005. Put simply, if you owned an iPod, decent odds you probably owned a Nano at some point.
For a company typically known for selling premium products, the iPod Shuffle made for an interesting — and incredibly handy — departure in 2005. Instead of the high-end iPods (namely the ones with screens) that users had become accustomed to seeing on shelves, Apple aimed the iPod Shuffle at the low-cost entry level market. It was about the size of a pack of gum or a box of matches, featured no screen and could be controlled with buttons on the face. It was dead simple to use and, most importantly, retailed for a cool $49. Cheap enough to snag and use at the gym or when you go running, or as an impulse buy for someone not entirely sold on a full-fledged MP3 player.
Apple really nailed the concept with the second generation of the Shuffle, which came in the form of a tiny metal rectangle with buttons on one side and a clip on the other. You could clip it onto your clothes, or pretty much anywhere, and have the buttons easily accessible. Thanks to the killer design and low entry price, the Shuffle proved hit — and for a hot minute — was a true status symbol to have clipped onto your pocket or shirt. Apple kept the line around all the way until they started phasing out the ancillary iPod categories in 2017.