20 years ago Apple launched the Ipod – the world’s best-selling mp3 player

Believe it or not, but on Saturday it has actually been 20 years since Apple launched the Ipod.

Admittedly, there was room for as many as a thousand songs on the 5 gigabytes that the iPod then held, but few analysts thought that a music player that cost 399 dollars would sell in some large quantities. Some even chose to interpret the Ipod as “Idiots Price Our Devices”.

This is what it looked like on October 23, 2001, when Steve Jobs introduced the company’s very first music player:

Apple was definitely not the first to release a portable digital music player. There were already several on the market, including from Creative and Rio. The problem was that they were large. How big? Big enough to make Hasse and Tage’s classic “What do you have in your pocket Jan?” highly relevant! Not only were they large, there was also no standard program to fill them with music.

The shock of Napster

The music industry was extremely vigilant after Napster and sued every other company that dared to convert CDs to mp3 format. On January 9, 2001, a first warning came of what was to come: Apple released iTunes. A program that let you rip CDs, sort and categorize your music and then transfer it to your mp3 player. Just over eight months later, Apple detonated its bomb.

The secret from Toshiba

Steve Jobs introduced the Ipod in October 2001 with the words “1,000 songs in his pocket”. It may sound silly today, but 20 years ago it was absolutely amazing. What made the Ipod so attractive as a music player was partly its size and partly the smooth interface.

The secret behind the size was the hard drive. Instead of using 2.5-inch hard drives, Apple had secured 1.8-inch hard drives with a capacity of five gigabytes from Toshiba.

The look had been borrowed by Ipod from Braun’s T3 radio from 1958. The interface was dominated by a large scroll wheel where it was easy to navigate the menus. What was even more impressive was that it only took 10 months from the time they started working with the Ipod until it was available in stores.

Brauns T3
It’s easy to see where the inspiration for the design of the Ipod came from. Brauns T3 transistor radio came in 1958.

Released for Windows

At first, the Ipod was not a direct hit either. It would take until June 2003 before Apple could announce that it had sold one million copies. But in October 2003, the Windows version of the iTunes Music Store opened, and in no time, Apple took over most of the mp3 player market.

After that, it really took off and Apple basically took over the music world. Apple continued to update the Ipod and later came various models, including the Ipod Mini, Nano and Touch. The original Ipod was named Classic. The last model had a 160 gigabyte hard drive – 32 times more storage space than the original.

In total, between 400 and 500 million copies of the Ipod have been sold since 2001. The single best year was 2008 when Apple managed to sell 54.8 million copies, but now the segment makes up a vanishingly small part of the company’s sales.

On September 9, 2014, the Ipod Classic went to the grave. But its legacy lives on to a very high degree and can still be discovered in every other human being: the white headphones.