The iPod was certainly a gamechanger when it was released in 2001. It was seen as an innovative, developed device to listen to music; superior to mp3 and mp4 players. The first iPod was a classic in terms of design. The scroll wheel was a stroke of genius that, for the tactile delight of skimming from Abba to Zappa, outperforms a touchscreen in many ways. When you add in the iTunes Store, you’ve got yourself a whole new method to listen to music. After then, Apple began iterating. Smaller and more slender. There are more buttons. There are no buttons. The iPod became a toy, and even a U2 special edition couldn’t stop it from being ubiquitous. Other devices faded into obscurity until the iPhone appeared, instantly rendering every iPod obsolete.
So, on days like this, there’s only one thing left for us to do: doff our hats and compile the definitive list of the best iPods of all time…
iPod, 1st Generation (2001)
The original iPod included a scroll wheel that actually rotated, as well as four buttons surrounding the wheel that clicked when pressed. Apple’s initial iPod, while having a substantial 5GB of capacity and (unlike its competitors) an interface that didn’t make you want to punch your own face off, was panned by many who didn’t see its potential – including some skeptics in the Stuff office. They had no idea how much consumers value usability — and how much they are ready to pay for it.
iPod Nano (2005)
After only 18 months, the iPod mini was dead, and Apple’s obsession with miniaturisation began in earnest. The iPod Nano was the result. Out went hard drives and in came SSD. Out went capacity, too, with the high-end version packing 4GB and the low end a measly 1GB. Still, that was more than enough for our gym playlists, and the Nano was a brilliant running companion (particularly when combined with the Nike & iPod kit that arrived the next year). This meant the Nano stuck around and rapidly became a playground for Apple’s hardware designers, the device getting a radical overhaul almost annually.
iPod, 3rd Generation (2003)
The third-generation iPod’s glowing buttons and touch wheel made you feel like you were in the future. And it was a future to which Windows users were now officially welcomed. Unlike the second-generation iPod, which had Windows compatibility thanks to Musicmatch, iTunes now has a Windows version, allowing the 95 percent or so of folks who aren’t Mac users to enjoy its charms.
And what a list of charms it had: that wonderful, rounded case, a throne-like dock, and an extra five minutes of skip protection (up to 25 minutes), a little miracle for those still using CD Walkmans.
iPod Shuffle, 2nd Generation (2006)
The first iPod shuffle resembled a USB memory stick with built-in playback controls. And that’s most likely because that’s exactly what it was. By auto-filling and randomly playing back songs, that screen-less iPod was also supposed to help you rediscover your music. The tiny second-generation ‘clip’ model, which was great for listening to music while at the gym, was when it really came of age. We were too enamored with its diminutive stature to notice its proprietary dock, which was actually unpleasant. After a brief period of insanity (see below), Apple returned to this model’s setup for the fourth generation, which lasted until the line was discontinued entirely.
iPod Classic (2007)
In 2007, the original iPod was upgraded to the iPod Classic, which only received the most basic of incremental updates after that. It had a 160GB hard drive by 2009, and it appeared a little dated in comparison to touchscreen-based upstarts. Nonetheless, it remained popular among hardcore music listeners, serving as a sort of badge of honor for those who despised low-bit-rate streaming services. Due to a lack of alternatives, nostalgic streaming refuseniks will continue to pay a hefty price for a second-hand Classic. This is due in part to its distinctive look, but it’s also due to the promise of a distraction-free listening experience, which we still want for (until our fingers start jabbing away at Twitter again).
iPod Nano, 6th Generation (2010)
Apple chose square for the sixth iteration of iPod nano. It was a strange device, part iPod shuffle, part iOS device, with an interface that looked like (but wasn’t actually related to) the iPhone’s. Its shape, on the other hand, allowed it to be transformed into something that looked vaguely like a watch. Think about it: an Apple Watch! When the limits of the technology became evident — the requirement for the gadget to boot after inactivity; demands for constant syncing; and charging concerns — most people’s enthusiasm for such an idea quickly waned. Limitations that Apple, it’s fair to argue, hasn’t fully overcome with the real Apple Watch.
iPod Nano, 5th Generation (2009)
Between 2005 and 2008, the iPod Nano went from being a brightly colored device to a squat credit-card-sized device before becoming ultra-streamlined. The fifth-casing generation’s was comparable to its immediate predecessor’s, but the technology within was far more fascinating. The updated iPod included radio and iPod tagging, VoiceOver, Nike+ integration, and a video camera for the first time in an iPod. The device was hard to record with, and the output was only VGA (640×480), but it would be another year before the iPod touch line blazed by with its fancy HD video recording.