The inevitable has happened. The Apple iPod Touch is making a long, slow walk into the sunset. It not only means the iPod Touch itself is retiring, but that’s also drawing the curtain on the era of the iPod music players themselves. This was, after all, the last standing one. You may still get your hands on one, because Apple says it’ll be available while stocks last. That means, after 20 years of being available in various shapes, form factors and guises, the iPod era is coming to an end. That’s on paper. Logically, it already had, quite a while ago.
The iPods, back in 2001 (it was in October when the first iPod was announced), weren’t exactly the first music players. Sony’s Walkman series had been around for years, in cassette and later in CD formats. But it was Apple that added digital to the portable music player. A pocketable form factor, beautifully built, with the ability to hold 1000 songs in one go. the fact you could do the music transfers using a Windows PC (a dominant platform, makes sense to piggyback on that) helped with the spike in interest. Spike is perhaps an understatement. A serious spike.
Over the years, brand after brand tried and competed with Apple’s iPod line-up, which soon expanded to include different form factors such as the iPod Shuffle, iPod Nano, and the iPod Touch. Not many came close, reminiscent of what we are seeing with wireless earbuds now – everyone is trying to make them, but there are very few that sit at the top echelons of the hierarchy. Microsoft tried with Zune. Didn’t work out. Cowan, Creative, Rio, Sony, Samsung, iRiver and SanDisk, they all tried. It was a style statement to be carrying an iPod around. It was a matter of pride (and envy for many) to be seen with an iPod. It told your friends or anyone looking at you, that you know your music.
Yet at some point in the journey, user preferences changed. It was a slow burn, which caught pace eventually. Users began to prefer carrying just one device, instead of two. Usually, it was a combination of a phone and a music player. Phones weren’t very smart then. They are now. Complete with more power than your PC. Apple Music. Spotify. Latest Bluetooth standards for top-notch music listening. Lossless Audio formats. And so much space for offline downloads. And since a phone can do so much more (be a camera, a gaming device, extensive app variety, be a photo editor, be a messaging hub and oh, be a phone too), everything comes together seamlessly in one package. Even the more affordable smartphones aren’t slouches either.
The indications were there. Everything you needed on an iPod Touch were being rapidly handled better by smartphones. And subsequently, the tablets. The utility of a digital music player just waned away. Apple slowed the upgrades a while ago. The latest iPod Touch, which is ushering in the end of an era, was last updated in 2019. Amidst very little fanfare. In the same year, the iPhone 11 was released. It ran the then most powerful chip in smartphones, the A13 Bionic. The iPod Touch was still powered by the A10 chip, also seen in the iPhone 7 from a few years ago. Adding Apple Music was simply delaying the inevitable, and Apple seemed to have an inkling of the roadmap.
“Music has always been part of our core at Apple and bringing it to hundreds of millions of users in the way iPod did impacted more than just the music industry — it also redefined how music is discovered, listened to, and shared,” says Greg Joswiak, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing, in a statement. Apple’s pitch is now simple enough – the “spirit of the iPod lives on” in the iPhone, iPad, HomePod, Apple Watch, Mac and Apple TV.
The iPod Touch (as do the other iPods), we would believe, walk away leaving us feeling a generous dose of nostalgia. The focus is now on music streaming apps, spanning across devices – that’s your phone, tablet, smartwatch, smart speakers, TVs, gaming consoles and media players. Just the sign of the times we live in, with the demands for cross platform connectivity being paramount.