Saying farewell to the iPod

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By Tripp Mickle, The New York Times Company

The iPod began with a modest goal: Let’s create a music product that makes people want to buy more Macintosh computers. Within a few years, it would change consumer electronics and the music industry and lead to Apple becoming the most valuable company in the world.

First arriving in October 2001, the pocket-size rectangle with a white face and polished steel frame weighed 6.5 ounces. It came packaged with white earbuds in a custom color, moon gray, and held 1,000 songs.

It exploded in popularity in the years that followed, creating what became known as the iPod generation. Throughout much of the 2000s, people wandered the world, headphones dangling from their ears. The iPod was ubiquitous.

On Tuesday, Apple officially said goodbye to all that. The company announced it had phased out production of its iPod Touch, bringing an end to a two-decade run of a product line that inspired the creation of the iPhone and helped turn Silicon Valley into the epicenter of global capitalism.

Since introducing the iPod in 2001, Apple has sold an estimated 450 million of them, according to Loup Ventures, a venture capital firm specializing in tech research. Last year it sold an estimated 3 million iPods, a fraction of the estimated 250 million iPhones it sold.

Apple assured customers that the music would live on, largely through the iPhone, which it introduced in 2007, and Apple Music, a 7-year-old service that testifies to customers’ modern preferences. The days of buying and owning 99-cent songs on an iPod largely gave way to monthly subscription offerings that provide access to broader catalogs of music.

The iPod provided a blueprint for Apple for decades by packaging unrivaled industrial design, hardware engineering, software development and services. It also demonstrated how the company was seldom first to market with a new product but often triumphed.

In the late 1990s, the first digital music players were beginning to appear. The earliest versions could hold a couple of dozen songs, allowing people who were in the early days of copying CDs onto their computers to transfer those songs into their pockets.

Steve Jobs, who returned to Apple in 1997 after being pushed out more than a decade earlier, viewed the emerging category as an opportunity for giving Apple’s legacy computer business modern appeal. A die-hard music fan, who ranked the Beatles and Bob Dylan among his favorite artists, Jobs thought tapping into people’s love of music would help persuade them to switch to Macintoshes from Microsoft-powered personal computers, which had a more than 90% market share.

“You didn’t have to do any market research,” said Jon Rubinstein, who led Apple’s engineering at the time. “Everyone loved music.”

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