Lost amidst all the iPhone 6 and Apple Watch fanfare, an icon was silently murdered last Tuesday. After 12 years of providing music fans with handheld listening enjoyment, Apple’s portable mp3 playing flagship, the iPod Classic, was discontinued. You can search the Apple website all you want, but any sign of the legendary device have been erased from existence.
Most news outlets didn’t pick up on the absence of the device that launched the popularity of mp3 players back in 2001, but those that did focused mostly on the demise of the distinctive click wheel or the historical significance of it. One commonality with all news reports is the mis-leading belief that the iPod Classic has been a technological dinosaur on the brink of extinction for several years.
No, the Classic didn’t feature a touch screen. No, it didn’t allow for the use of apps and was used primarily for playing music (and the occasional game of solitaire). And no, it featured zero ability to stream music or connect to the internet via wi-fi. Despite the lack of all these bells and whistles, music aficionados still continued buying what on the surface looked to be an out-of-date piece of hardware. Why? For one, the most recent model featured a colossal 160 GBs of storage. This is almost three times as much data space as the most powerful iTouch which only provides 64 GBs that must be shared amongst music, apps, games, videos, and photos. My current Classic iPod contains 20,841 songs with 30.4 GBs of storage still available.
Some may argue that you could carry the same amount of music, if not more, on the iTouch via the iCloud (because nothing says secure storage like iCloud!). I suppose they’d be right, but I can’t help but wonder what gets lost in terms of quality through streaming. Also, the Classic allowed listening in any setting while the iCloud depends on wi-fi and data services. What happens when I want to listen to that Les Savy Fav B-side while flying in an airplane over the Pacific? How am I to revisit a classic At the Drive-In album while driving through the desolate land of West Texas? What am I to do when I’m unable to stream the new Pallbearer album while hiking up a 14er in Colorado? Obviously, these are extreme cases of service disconnect, but if you love your music, you don’t want to leave it in the hands of your service provider.
Then again, maybe I’m out of touch. A study in 2009 found that 65% of teenagers rely on streaming sites like Spotify, Pandora, and YouTube to get their music. One can only imagine how much that number has spiked in the past five years with more streaming avenues (Rdio, Rhapsody, Beats) popping up every day.
However, I know I’m not alone in my allegiance to the iPod Classic, although I’m sure we are what Apple considers a niche consumer-base. Apple wants their devices to provide a multi-faceted experience while music obsessives just want some place to hoard all their albums. In years past, a creative, outsider spirit is what fueled Apple’s cult-like following among professionals, artists, and musicians, but recent moves suggest that the company has abandoned its rebellious approach in favor of raking in a bigger market share. In 2012 it was when they quit making the Macbook Pro with the ’17 inch screen despite its popularity within the world of video editing and graphic design. In 2013 it was the introduction of the iPhone 5C, a less expensive, low-end version of the original iPhone 5 that, while cheapening the dependable Apple name, helped reach a wider demographic. And now, despite a loyal following from music nerds like myself, the iPod Classic is no more.
So where do we go from here? Sure, our current Classics will survive for at least another decade, but what happens when the battery finally taps-out and the ability to carry all our music with us everywhere is gone? Current plans for Neil Young’s Pono Music player, a device designed for playing higher quality FLAC files, suggest that it could hold up to 192 GBs with memory add-ons, but the size of FLAC files will also eat away at that storage space. At this point, with more and more people relying solely on streaming services for their music, the Pono might be our only hope. If you are interested in supporting Young’s pet project, donate to the Kickstarter and maybe the memories of a device devoted solely to music won’t be completely lost in the annals of time.
For now, let’s take a moment to pay our respects to the iPod Classic – a device that forever changed the way we listen to music.