The digital revolution

Stuart Fuller

It’s hard to believe that today marks the iPod’s 15th birthday. On 24th October 2001 at a press conference in Cupertino California, Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled a small device (at least small in comparison to what was already on the market) that would “put 1,000 songs in your pocket”.

“Listening to music will never be the same again,” Jobs said, and whilst the price tag of $399 would be too high for many potential customers at first, his words certainly came true. Today, whilst the iPod is still in the Apple product range, the vast majority of us use our smartphone to store songs in our pockets. The digital music industry is worth $6.7 billion today, with nearly 60% of all music sales in the US now being digitalized, with a growth of more than 600% in the past ten years. Apple’s iTunes platform is still the market leader in terms of paid digital downloads, with around 64% of the market share[1].

If you were one of the lucky owners of an iPod 1st generation device from 2001 then you could be sitting on a valuable item, with used models selling for over $400 on eBay. However, the iPod wasn’t the first digital music player to hit the market. Back in 1998, Audible.com launched their Audible Player specifically for their spoken book market. A few months later the Diamond Rio was launched, probably the first brand that many of us remember, whilst the Creative Nomad Jukebox and the Archos Jukebox launched in 2000 meaning that when Apple hit the market with the iPod, it wasn’t initially seen as revolutionary; the catalyst for that was the launch of the iTunes Store in 2003.

Back in 2001 the digital music industry was in disarray. The MP3 (MPEG-1 Audio Layer III for those who want to know) had been created back in 1991 as a way by which large data files, like music, could be compressed without losing quality. It would be another six years before the first commercial service launched, MP3.com (although the website was later found liable by a US court for copyright infringement). The tipping point for the industry was seen as the creation of Napster - the first large-scale P2P network founded in 1999 by Boston student Shawn Fanning - although just two years later, and a few months before the launch of the iPod, the US Circuit Court of Appeal ordered the website to be shut down for infringing copyright.

It could be argued that the success of the iPod set Apple on its course to be the world’s biggest technology company, which has consistently raised the bar in terms of aesthetics and usability.  However, the story of the brand name and the associated domain make for very interesting reading. Some of the original rumors can still be found on websites such as Macrumours.com, where you can read comments such as:-

“Yeah right. Lame name.”

“Apple refuses to enter the PDA market because it is a low profit commodity market. Why would Apple even think about entering some portable mp3 storage market? That would be even less lucrative.”

“So to summarize: a home recording gizmo is hardly revolutionary, it's too expensive, and it's too niche for Apple.”

Back in 2001 the domain name iPod.com wasn’t even owned by Apple, but by an organisation called Ipod Inc, whilst computer chip maker Intel had a product on the market called Internet Phone Over Data, or IPOD. The domain looks as if it was registered by Apple the day before the release of the iPod, with the first website appearing in November 2001. Today it is highly unlikely that a major brand holder would plan a release without having all of their digital assets in place long before the scheduled release date.

So whatever you are doing today, raise a glass or a mug to the humble iPod and wish it a happy birthday.



[1] https://www.statista.com/topics/1386/digital-music/