Remember the first time you heard about MP3 files? You could take a regular old CD, like The Essential Johnny Cash or an album of Strauss violin concertos played by Sarah Chang, put it in your computer’s CD drive, and convert all your favorite songs into the MP3 format. And do you recall your delight when you learned that those MP3 files took up one-tenth of the space it would take to copy the CD audio files directly to your hard drive? You could leave the CD at home and rock out at your desk with your growing collection of freshly “ripped” MP3s (which sounded almost as good as the original CD, come to think of it).
Having a folder stuffed with tunes on your computer made working at it more enjoyable, but humans are always on the go. By 1998, the first portable MP3 players began to trickle onto store shelves, many offering 32 big, roomy megabytes (MB) of memory to store song files transferred from the computer.
Of course, most people wanted more than 30 minutes of music at a time. So, later MP3 players came with more room for music, even if they were a little bigger and a little bulkier.
Then came the iPod.
An iPod is many things to many people, but most people think of it as a pocket-size music player that holds 100 songs, 15,000 songs, or more, depending on the model. The iPod dynasty now ranges from a screenless 512-megabyte version that can hold plenty of songs for your gym routine and never skip a beat, to a 60-gigabyte multimedia jukebox that spins out an entire TV season of The Office, as well as color photos along with colorful music.
Like the original Sony Walkman, which revolutionized the personal listening experience when it was introduced in 1979, Apple’s announcement of the original 5-gigabyte iPod in the fall of 2001 caught the music world’s ear. “With iPod, listening to music will never be the same again,” intoned Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. But even out of the Hyperbolic Chamber, the iPod was different enough to get attention. People noticed it, and more importantly, bought it. By the end of 2005, Apple had sold more than 41 million of them. The iPod was the single bestselling music player on the market, the dominant player; for the first time in modern history, Apple got to feel like Microsoft.
And no wonder. The iPod was smaller, lighter, and better looking than most of its rivals—and much, much easier to use. Five buttons and a scroll wheel could quickly take you from ABBA to ZZ Top, and every song in between.
Gleaming in a white-and-chrome case slightly larger than a deck of cards, the original iPod could hold at least 1,000 average-length pop songs (or six typical Grateful Dead live jams), and play them continuously for 10 hours on a fully charged battery. The black-and-white LCD screen offered the song information in type large enough to actually read, and a bright backlight allowed for changing playlists in the dark. And with its superfast FireWire connection, the iPod could slurp down an entire CD’s worth of music from computer to player in under 15 seconds.
By the end of 2005, the iPod was zipping along on a USB 2.0 connection and showing digital photos, music videos, movies, and TV shows on its bright 2.5-inch color screen. The simple little music player grew up to be a multimedia warehouse that could still fit in a front shirt pocket.
But wait—there’s more. Once you’re done playing your tunes and watching your pictures, get ready for all the other ways the iPod can serve as your favorite gadget:
iPod as external drive. You can hook up an iPod to your Mac or Windows machine, where it shows up as an extra drive (albeit a much smaller drive if you plug in your lil’ old iPod Shuffle). You can use it to copy, back up, or transfer gigantic files from place to place—at a lickety-split transfer speed, thanks to its FireWire or USB 2.0 connection.
iPod as eBook. The iPod makes a handy, pocket-size electronic book reader, capable of displaying and scrolling through recipes, driving directions, book chapters, and even Web pages.
iPod as PalmPilot. Amazingly, the iPod serves as a superb, easy-to-understand personal organizer. It can suck in the calendar, address book, to-do list, and notes from your Mac or PC and then display them at the touch of a button.
iPod as GameBoy. All right, not a GameBoy, exactly. But there are three video-style games and a memory-tugging audio quiz built into the modern iPod— perfect time-killers for medical waiting rooms, long bus rides, and lines at the Department of Motor Vehicles.
iPod as slide projector. Granted, not every iPod can do pictures and music, but if you’ve got a full-size iPod with a color screen, all you need to do is whip out its AV cable and find a TV set to entertain your friends with a musical slide show of your latest trip to Disneyland.
You know how Macintosh computers inspire such emotional attachment from their fans? The iPod inspires similar devotion: iPod Web sites, iPod shareware add-ons, an iPod accessory industry—in short, the invasion of the iPod People.
If you’re reading this book, you’re probably a Podling, too—or about to become one. Welcome to the club.