20 years of the iPod: One device revolutionized the music world

Status: 23.10.2021 02:46 a.m.

20 years ago today, Apple boss Jobs presented a portable music player under the name “iPod” that could store around 1000 songs. The device revolutionized the music industry and was the beginning of Apple’s rise.

By Marcus Schuler, ARD Studio Los Angeles

When Steve Jobs introduced the iPod, the company was doing badly. It moved from quarterly result to quarterly result and mostly only barely managed to be in the black. Above all else, Apple was one thing: a company that made computers. At that time – 2001 – its market share was just two percent.

Still, Steve Jobs was, as always, optimistic. And he knew how to get to the heart of the great advantage of the mp3 player when he presented it 20 years ago.

The coolest thing about the iPod is that you always have your entire music collection with you – a quantum leap in listening to music.

iPod wasn’t an instant hit

But the success story of the iPod was not a sure-fire success even after its market launch. The first sales figures were anything but great, recalls his co-inventor, Tony Fadell:

In fact, it was another two and a half years before we saw success with the iPod. So, even after the first iPod, we still had a lot of work to do to make it a real phenomenon, which is only becoming clear to you today.

At that time, Fadell had been brought to Apple as a freelance consultant. With his start-up Fuse he had tried unsuccessfully to bring out an mp3 player. The Japanese Sony group dominated the then relatively new and young world of digital music.

Apple was under pressure in 2001

Apple was under tremendous pressure in 2001. The computer business was bad, so the Silicon Valley company was looking for new sources of income. Fadell was supposed to present his ideas for a mobile music player to Apple boss Steve Jobs. The then head of marketing at Apple Stan Ng was at his side with advice beforehand, recalls Fadell on the CNet podcast.

He advised me to present my worst model first and my favorite model at the end. I had built it as a styrofoam model and made it heavier with my grandfather’s fishing weights. Steve Jobs picked it up and said, ‘We’re building this and you’re going to build with us now’.

At the time, Fadell was reluctant to hire Apple. The company’s reputation was bad, and hardly anyone in Silicon Valley still believed in the company’s success. In the end he was convinced by Steve Jobs. The early days were difficult, remembers Fadell, who after his time at Apple founded the thermostat company Nest and sold it to Google in 2014 for more than three billion dollars.

Jobs was right

In the end, the iPod was a success. Steve Stobs was right: A device with thousands of songs in his pants or jacket pocket was the breakthrough. For Apple it was the chance to become more independent from the computer business.

Everything has its origins in iTunes and the iPod. Everything was incredibly seamless and easy to use. Every year we have added new features to the device. We didn’t want to overwhelm users, we started with music, ads, photos, podcasts and videos and then games and so on. So we always offered new functions. Plus, we were never sure that we would win. So we always made a leap in development.

The music industry, which at that time lived like a king, from the sale of records that were pressed on CD or vinyl, fell into a serious crisis as a result of the popularity of the iPod. The business model that had been rehearsed for decades suddenly stopped working and collapsed.

Warner, BMG, EMI, Universal and Sony were suddenly forced to reinvent themselves when a company from a side valley in California suddenly set the tone. For Apple, the digital music player was the big turning point, not the iPhone. The iPod was the beginning of the smart phone as we know it today. Nevertheless, it took another six years until Steve Jobs on June 29, 2007 “the next big thing”Could imagine.


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