A lucky set of circumstances led to the iPod dominating the digital audio player market: bold marketing, a smaller HDD form factor, high-speed FireWire connection, and a great integration story on Macs.
The Windows world at the time was a big mess of nonstandard cabling, messy drivers, sketchy quasi-shareware applications vying for presence on your desktop, while the Apple world was plug-and-play over a high-speed bus that came standard, and the music management experience was top-notch. And while there was some good hardware coming out of Korea to give the iPod a run for its money, the integrated Apple experience was without match.
For Windows, Apple bundled MusicMatch Jukebox at first, but then made iTunes available on Windows, which became their foothold that would later set up the iPhone for success.
By the time Microsoft caught up with WinXP and Windows Media Player, Apple had already stolen the higher end of the market, leaving WMP largely in the domain of cheap flash-based USB sticks that could only fit a subset of your songs. Then everyone pivoted to a DRM-laden storefront, making switching costs high. A later effort to refocus their first-party efforts with Zune resulted in an incompatible DRM ecosystem, and fizzled on the market.
The iPod, in many ways, foreshadowed the Apple tactic that would become famous from the later iPhone: take the state-of-the-art in a particular market, pare it down a bit, endow it with tasteful industrial design, make sure it has a strong, ideally "frustration-free" integrated environment to take part in, give it an upmarket but justifiable price, and market the heck out of it with aspirational brand advertising.
For all its flaws, I can't remember a more intimate relationship I had with a technology product than the one I had with my first iPod.
I'm hugely disappointed that they discontinued the shuffle. It's the best music player for workouts period. No fussing with the bluetooth pairing, just plug in headphones, clip and go.
I personally use mine for swimming. You can buy waterproofed shuffles such as this one: http://a.co/f64p74y and they work extremely well for swimming. In fact when the shuffle was discontinued I immediately bought another one as backup to my trusty waterproof shuffle that I've used for 3 years.
The iPod is the closest thing to an electronic device I wouldn't change that I've ever owned . It wasn't perfect, but it almost was for me. I bought an extra iPod classic and shuffle when they were discontinued.
: I'll qualify that I mean something with a screen and a user interface, because I once had a toaster oven that was pretty great
Here's a question: will the iPod have a retro comeback moment, as electro-mechanical media like vinyl records and even cassettes have had?
Or maybe once you cross into the digital divide, does the experience and associated nostalgia perhaps not work the same way?
I still use my click wheel ipod. The UI makes finding my songs much quicker than on my phone, and it can create on-the-go playlists just by holding down the button, which Apple still hasn't figured out how to do on their phones. And finally it has a high quality DAC so music sounds better than from my phone.
The greatest innovation of the iPod was the bold move to make the earbuds white. This made the music player - usually tucked away in the pocket - a visible symbol of status and coolness. Together with a brilliant marketing campaign which made it into a must-have fashion item, and special content contracts, it made the iPod a huge success.
Technical aspects really aren't what made the iPod successful. Sure, the clickwheel was a really great idea, and it was an overall well-polished product. But other players were good too. Without the marketing, and without the breakthrough pricing of music on the iTunes Music Store (complete with iPod-ecosystem lockin via DRM), it would have gone nowhere.
In some ways the iPhone is a similar story IMO, but I guess that's even more controversial...
I bought my first (of many) iPods immediately after it was announced. Watched the keynote and got it. I can't remember any other device getting more use in my life for several years. I still have the original 5GB iPod.
Another perspective: I gave my 5 year old an old iPod Nano + some over-ear headphones, and she uses them to listen to music and kid podcasts. I much prefer this over an iPod touch, iPhone, or iPad. We're just not ready for her to have that kind of screen time.
I have always been jealous of how Apple always managed to brand its product in a way that made them common names for their product category.
When iPods were around everyone referred to any MP3 player as an iPod and most people still say iPad to refer to tablets.
I think there would be still quite a market for an up-to date incarnation of the iPod. Roughly in the size of the last iPod nano. There are times and activities where you can or don't want to use your iPhone and traditionally use an iPod. Especially if it came with a bit more storage and of course good Apple Music integration (e.g. be able to automatically sync your playlists to your iPod).
The Apple Watch might one day take that role, but for now it doesn't offer enough storage and its interaction is a bit more difficult due to the small size.
The Apple Watch is the new iPod Nano (with additional functionality)
I bought a black iPod Shuffle from a physical Apple Store the day they announced its discontinuation. It’s still in its box. I don’t know what it is about the demented functionality of the thing, but they’re adorable, dependable, and tough as rocks. I’ve got probably half a dozen iPods of various kinds in working condition strewn around the place, even though I don’t use them regularly (including an iPod Video with an aftermarket SSD and fresh battery, a first generation iPod Touch from 2007, an elongated iPod Shuffle with a mirror finish, and a few incarnations of iPod Nano). I’ve got a friend that has a strip of different coloured iPod Shuffles assembled on a nylon strap (in chromatic order, no less) all linked simultaneously to a audio jack muxer, so she can select an iPod shuffle based on her mood.
There’s a lot of nostalgia involved in these things. They’re not bad devices. They could have gone on selling them for almost forever.
I think this is kind of unfortunate. I wish I could still get my hands on a huge iPod that just does music. Maybe anachronistic but for the car and other activities, I would have loved to have the massive iPods.
I understand the deprecation of the iPod classic  but i don't for the life of me know why Apple still hasen't increased the iPod touch storage space to 256gb.
Isn't it a bit late for this eulogy?
I miss my iPod Mini. I had it running RockBox (a uclinux distribution aimed at MP3 players), and replaced the 1.8” HDD with a compact flash card (32GB, I think?). Got a decade of use out of it.
I kind of want to go see if it’s in my cupboard still.
Then I successfully went the entire lifespan of the iPod without ever owning one. There was a time I would have been proud of that, now I don't care enough to engage in Kool-Aid references.
heh, Coincidentally I just get my iPod Classic 20GB out of the drawer. I'm going to use it instead of my iPhone to listen some music when I commute.