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Silence Of The IPods: Reflecting On The Ever-Shifting Landscape Of Personal Media Consumption



On October twenty third of 2001, the primary Apple iPod was launched. It wasn’t the primary Private Media Participant (PMP), however as with many issues Apple the iPod would go on to supply the benchmark for what a PMP ought to do, in addition to what they need to appear to be. Whereas few at this time bear in mind the PMP trailblazers like Diamond’s Rio devices, it’s onerous to seek out anybody who doesn’t know what an ‘iPod’ is.

At the same time as Microsoft, Sony and others tried to steal the PMP crown, the iPod remained the irrefutable market chief, all of the whereas gaining increasingly options akin to video playback and a contact show. But regardless of this success, in 2017 Apple discontinued its audio-only iPods (Nano and Shuffle), and as of Could tenth, 2022, the Apple iPod Contact was discontinued. This marks the top of Apple’s foray into the PMP market, and makes one wonder if the PMP market of the late 90s is gone, or possibly simply has remodeled into one thing else.

In any case, with everybody and their pet hamster having a smartphone these days, what want is there for a transportable system that may ‘solely’ play again audio and maybe video?

Setting The Scene

Original Sony Walkman TPS-L2 from 1979.
Authentic Sony Walkman TPS-L2 from 1979.

The idea of transportable media gamers isn’t a brand new one by any stretch of the creativeness. From transportable document gamers within the Fifties alongside the rise of compact, transistor-based radios within the Sixties and naturally ever extra handy media codecs just like the 8-track tape,  Philips Compact Cassette and the Compact Disc (CD) that made media extra transportable.

When Sony launched its first Walkman in July of 1979, it might kickstart a complete new market of transportable media gadgets. With over an hour of music on a single cassette, anybody may take heed to their favourite music (and mix- tapes) whereas touring, understanding on the gymnasium, or jogging by way of the park or alongside the seashore in a typical Nineteen Eighties style. Even when one’s private use of a Walkman – or one in all its many clones – was much less glamorous, it’s onerous to disclaim the cultural change that got here with the provision of those gadgets.

Naturally, technological progress is inevitable. That’s why ultimately cassette-based transportable audio gamers gave option to CD-based ones. After particulars like anti-shock buffering had been discovered to (largely) stop audio skipping, everybody wanted to have private CD-quality audio of their lives. But for all their advantages, optical media like CDs are much less sturdy and extra susceptible to technical points than tape-based media, to not point out that CD-based Walkman gamers and clones are far much less pocketable than their tape-based siblings. This meant that the tape-based Walkman and kin remained round till the early 2000s.

Issues obtained attention-grabbing through the Nineteen Nineties, as in 1992, Sony had already launched its MiniDisc format. Regardless of this nonetheless being optical media (magneto-optical to be exact), MD media is way extra compact than a CD, shops no less than as a lot audio as a CD and is available in a protecting cartridge. Though MD grew to become inexpensive sufficient for the typical shoppers by the top of the Nineteen Nineties, it noticed its industrial success hampered by plenty of issues, not the least was Sony’s proprietary ATRAC audio format that was required for MD audio.

The opposite main impediment for MD was a newfangled audio format that was doing the rounds on the Web’s Digital Info Tremendous-Freeway, called MP3, which obtained pounced upon by then multimedia big Diamond with the discharge of the Diamond Rio PMP300 Flash-based MP3 participant in 1998 (additionally reviewed by LGR and Ars Technica in 2016). Whereas not precisely a multimedia star by 2022 requirements with its clunky, parallel port-based PC connection, for one thing that was meant for use alongside Home windows 98, it has primarily the identical options as the primary Apple iPod that might be launched three years later, together with inside storage, media controls, an accompanying software program utility and (ultimately) a web-based music retailer.

Enter The Pod

The Creative Nomad Jukebox, with its roomy 2.5" HDD.
The Artistic Nomad Jukebox, with its roomy 2.5″ HDD.

The primary objective of Apple when it created the iPod was to use its sense of favor and user-interaction to it, as lined in an article by Wired from 2006 that includes interviews with individuals who had been concerned with the event of iPod and the accompanying iTunes software program. The latter was initially known as SoundJam when Apple purchased it together with hiring its major programmer: Jeff Robbin. Initially iTunes was meant to supply a stable music participant for MacOS to match the digital music revolution that erupted through the late 90s, however would finish being the administration software program for the iPod as effectively.

The iPod was developed because of a seek for new devices that may match within the quickly growing multimedia ecosystem of that point. As Greg Joswiak – Apple’s vice chairman of iPod product advertising – put it, whereas they discovered that merchandise like digital cameras and camcorders had been fairly respectable, the person interfaces and dealing with of PMPs of the time ‘stank’. They had been both massive and clunky or small and somewhat ineffective, with usually small 32 MB or 64 MB built-in reminiscence because of the limitations of Flash reminiscence.

First-generation iPod 'Classic'.
First-generation iPod ‘Basic’.

Who precisely pitched the thought of making a music participant isn’t recognized, however when the thought got here throughout CEO Steve Jobs, he instantly jumped on it, resulting in the event of the first prototypes. The following query thus grew to become what this ‘iPod’ – because it later grew to become recognized – would have when it comes to options that might make it higher than the competitors. Storage was a major one, and like a number of the competing PMPs, the iPod would characteristic a tough disk drive (HDD), however not the somewhat giant 2.5″ HDDs others had been utilizing.

The primary-generation iPod used a then newly developed 1.8″ HDD by Toshiba. This gave it a roomy 5 GB – 10 GB of storage, and as a substitute of the sluggish USB 1.1 connections of competing PMPs, it was outfitted with FireWire. At 400 Mb/s (half-duplex), it was a a lot better match for the interior storage relative to the 12 Mb/s of USB 1.1. This benefit would stay till USB 2.0 and past grew to become commonplace.

The iPod’s identify was pitched by Vinnie Chieco – a part of a staff tasked with advertising the brand new system – as an allusion to 2001: A House Odyssey and the illustrious “Open the pod bay door, Hal!” scene, with pods being the small vessels for missions outdoors of the spaceship.

Maybe the one factor that the primary era iPod may very well be dinged on was the shortage of Home windows compatibility. You wanted a FireWire-capable Mac system with iTunes on it to handle the contents of the system.

They Develop Up So Quick

The success of the iPod – or iPod Basic because it’d be renamed by its sixth iteration – would result in one other 5 revisions of the unique mannequin. Most notable change with the primary revision (iPod Basic 2nd era) included Home windows compatibility, with the iPod’s HDD formatted with the HFS+ filesystem to be used with Macs and FAT32 for Home windows. As an alternative of iTunes, Home windows customers used Musicmatch Jukebox to handle the iPod.

With the third era iPod from 2003, USB assist was added, with a capacitive management ring somewhat than the previous mechanical scroll wheel and buttons. This launch additionally dropped Musicmatch assist and unleashed the fun of iTunes onto a Home windows viewers. With the fifth era FireWire assist was only for charging, whereas USB took over content material synchronization responsibility, whereas a colour show and video playback was an ordinary characteristic.

The timeline of iPod models. (Source: Wikipedia)
The timeline of iPod fashions. (Supply: Wikipedia)

Alongside the ‘Basic’ vary was a veritable flurry of recent iPod models, together with the Mini (primarily based across the 1″ Microdrive), Nano (Mini-replacement, makes use of Flash storage), the display-less Shuffle, and at last in 2007 the first-generation iPod Contact. Whereas the previous all had been devoted PMPs, the Contact may in all probability greatest be thought to be a phone-less iPhone. That includes a lot of the similar {hardware} because the iPhone, the iPod Contact runs iOS and may use the Apple App Retailer through WiFi.

Finish Of An Period?

If we regard the rise of the Walkman and comparable gadgets as a response to the will to take heed to music that was bought (as bodily media, or digitally), then the shift to streaming music from subscription companies over the previous years would appear to be the driving pressure behind the purported demise of PMPs and the driving pressure behind Apple discontinuing the iPod. Whereas for years it made sense to have an ‘MP3 participant’ to repeat tracks to which had been both bought digitally, or ripped from bought/borrowed CDs, there’s an ongoing shift in the direction of paying for a subscription somewhat than buying music outright.

This transformation might be seen not simply with Apple’s vary of iPod gamers, but additionally with its refocusing from the iTunes Store to its streaming music enterprise. The thought isn’t dissimilar to companies akin to Netflix and different streaming video companies, with on-demand streaming of any content material that’s out there on this service, somewhat than shopping for or borrowing albums, movies and collection.

Inside this courageous new world the place no person owns the music which they take heed to, it may very well be argued that the position of PMPs is over, as any supported internet-enabled system can acquire instantaneous entry to an enormous library of content material. All with out the necessity to construct up your personal, private media library. Merely get the app in your smartphone, sensible TV, sensible watch, or sensible fridge and join a subscription. Comfort at your very finger ideas.

But this notion isn’t totally supported by the statistics, with knowledge from the US displaying a rise in audio CD sales the previous years. At this level music streaming companies generate over half of the music trade’s income, with CD and vinyl gross sales making up round 11%. What this tells us is that the introduced loss of life of private media libraries could also be very a lot untimely.

Not Simply Nostalgia

As a lot because the music market has modified because the period of wax music cylinders, one fixed has all the time been that there are several types of folks, every with their very own preferences in the way in which they get pleasure from music. Primarily based on this notion alone it might appear outrageous to recommend that everybody will simply be streaming their media content material from on-line companies to their iPhones, Android telephones and gaggle of ‘sensible’ gadgets.

The benefits of bodily media ought to be apparent: you’re not restricted to the streaming service’s media library, you get no less than CD high quality audio, and there’s no month-to-month payment to maintain the media. It’s going to additionally by no means vanish out of your library on the whim of a writer and you’ll lug it freely alongside to that cabin within the mountains with completely zero cell reception. Copy it onto a PMP and also you get all that, however in a extra compact format. Ideally suited for these lengthy climbing journeys and to forestall blood-curdling roaming knowledge prices throughout holidays.

PCB of a generic MP3 player. (Credit: Raimond Spekking)
PCB of a generic MP3 participant. (Credit score: Raimond Spekking)

Utilizing a devoted PMP as a substitute of 1’s smartphone has the added benefit of saving battery cost, whereas including bodily management buttons that permit for tactile interplay. With at this time’s expertise, a modern-day PMP doesn’t require greater than a single processor chip along with an enormous NAND Flash chip (and/or SD card growth) storage, all of which takes up little house and may final a very long time on a single battery cost. Add to this not having to take out an costly, fragile smartphone to fiddle with media controls on its contact display screen and danger dropping it or having it stolen

Even so, splurging on the nonetheless existent modern-day PMPs (or ‘MP3 gamers’ as they’re nonetheless colloquially referred to) isn’t a necessity, when open supply initiatives like RockBox make it their mission to supply a variety of older and newer PMPs – including the iPod – with up to date firmware that even provides options absent from the unique firmware.

Now we have additionally lined modifying and repairing iPods (and different PMPs) earlier than, together with upgrading the storage on an iPod Video in addition to on an iPod Nano 3rd gen, and changing the battery and storage on a sixth era iPod. Not like a mean smartphone, these PMPs are pretty simple to restore and improve, including one other merchandise to the listing of potential advantages.

Good Vibes

Low-cost transportable tape gamers had been a staple of the the 90s, and like so many I ended up with a type of. Though that they had a budget tape mechanism which you wouldn’t need to waste something higher than a Sort I tape on, in addition to a budget headphones with the froth that was assured to disintegrate, it was nonetheless an superior system. With it I may take heed to music outdoors of the home, which was a rarity again then.

When the MP3-revolution got here round, it modified all of that. It felt as if inside plenty of years issues went from transportable CD gamers – that’d skip in case you a lot as bumped the desk it was rigorously positioned on – to Flash- and HDD-based gamers that might come every successive 12 months in fancier styling and with ever extra options packed in a smaller enclosures.

Even when I used to be by no means actually a fan of the iPod-style ‘slab of aluminium/plastic’ aesthetic, I have to admit to it being engaging gadgets when it comes to their dealing with and ecosystem, particularly with the iPod Nano and Shuffle. Having used one of many newer iPod Contact gadgets (as an iOS growth system), I can nonetheless see why it didn’t make sense for Apple to maintain promoting it.

Though Apple has stated its farewells to the PMP market, this doesn’t imply that this market is not. As we’ve seen, there are nonetheless stable causes to maintain utilizing one in all these devoted playback gadgets, and even ignoring the varied choices of brand-new ‘MP3 gamers’ at this time, repairing and upgrading older gamers will be sure that those that need to hold utilizing these gadgets can achieve this.

And who is aware of, possibly Apple will probably be again in the future because the fickle music markets shift currents as soon as once more.

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