On the death of the iPod

Unless you’ve been living under a rock you probably know that Apple finally killed off the last vestige of the iPod by ceasing production of the iPod touch this month. (May, 2022 for those of you in the future.)

I really don’t take much pleasure in saying the word “finally”, rather, it is an acknowledgement of what the iPod line has become: a limping, rotting corpse of something once great that is now begging to be put out of its misery. I actually wrote in defense of the iPod touch not that long ago, saying they still had their use cases. Sadly, Apple also let it languish, only bothering to update the iPod when it wouldn’t run the latest iOS anymore. (And with the iPhone 6s potentially due to lose support with iOS 16, the A10-series devices would become the floor for “currently supported iOS devices”.)

That’s actually a fun thought with the iPod touch. Apple used to keep it in lock step with the iPhone, updating the iPod touch with similar hardware as the iPhone. With the iPhone 4, however, Apple began crippling the iPod touch by saddling it with half the RAM as its iPhone counterpart. (The iPhone 4 had 512MB, the touch 4 had 256.) Arguably, this was a dumb idea as the iPod touch was still very much a very required device at the time: the iPhone hadn’t yet propagated to other carriers. (though Verizon was on the horizon. Yes, that was intentional.) So the touch was your ticket if you wanted an iPhone experience but couldn’t switch to AT&T to get it.

(You also couldn’t just…buy an iPhone to use offline either. All iPhones at the time wanted to be run through activation and would absolutely flip out on you if you didn’t stick a SIM card in and activate them. That’s an absolute non-starter for kids, teenagers, and people who just want a device they never intend to use with a cellular carrier.)

I’m getting off the topic here, though. The “death” of the iPod feels more or less of a product of a few different things:

Phones have really become our media devices. This was clear from the day the iPhone was announced. Apple positioned it as a phone that had serious content consumption prowess, and boy it did. No other phone could do music and video as well as it did and it would take Android a fair amount of time before it caught up. (The Palm Pre followed in Apple’s footsteps, but alas, they got HP’d.)

Nowadays with so much capacity available to you on phones, why would you want to keep a dedicated device on hand? Your phone can do everything. 

Music streaming has become “the norm“, for better or worse. The iPod touch is really the only iPod that could take the brave new streaming future in stride since it’s the only iPod that could actually act as an internet device. And with Apple getting all into this with Apple Music…

iPhones have gotten…cheap. The touch had its heyday when iPhones cost at a minimum $650+. But now we have devices like the SE which are much cheaper and arguably give you more than an iPod touch could ever hope to give, and are actually much more repairable when things go wrong. You can also go used market and get them for even cheaper. The only thing you miss out on is the headphone jack.

I do get that it really was the iPod’s “time”, so to speak. The world has moved on. I get it. But I can still be kind of sad about it mostly due to my views on music becoming more and more antiquated as the years roll on.

Because, as DankPods put it so well, the iPod is a really personal device. You decide when the music starts and stops. Notifications can’t get in your way. Phone calls can’t get in your way. No subscriptions to manage. The iPods of old are just you, and your music. Nothing else.

As streaming proliferates and we move into this You Don’t Own It culture, the old ways of the iPod become more of an ancient art. Music doesn’t feel personal anymore. People want to see their stats, or their other stats, or what other people listened to. Everyone wants to track what eachother is listening to. Music is becoming more social, and that’s cool and all, but at least to me music has always been a personal thing. A way to close my eyes and escape. To leave this world when I put the headphones on, and to re-enter it only when I take them back off, not by someone else’s whim by way of an errant notification.

The ways of old will never truly die, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention how much I dislike the people making it feel like music has to be social and anyone not participating in this new “social” are luddites to be mocked and ridiculed. (“Streaming is the future! Get with the times!”)

Music is what you make of it, not what other people tell you to make of it.

Just because Apple declares the iPod to be dead doesn’t mean we can’t still use and enjoy the devices we have. Every iPod still syncs perfectly fine with macOS, for example!

But there’s also that paranoia in the back of my mind that with this Apple may well be moving to kill off The Old Ways of Music. With this, Apple may well be putting a timer on how much longer iPod sync will work in macOS before they kill it altogether. With how relentless Apple has been in pushing Apple Music, it’s clear that’s where Apple wants you to go. To surrender control of everything to them. (Because, as I’ve written before: If you want to use Apple Music…you have to give it control over your local files, too. It’s one of my big issues with the service.)

I’m not about that future. I like playing my music on a variety of devices. Old iPods. Zunes. Old Macs (have you ever heard a Power Mac 6500? They’re amazing). I decide where my music plays. Not Apple, not Spotify. Not anyone.

And to me, the death of the iPod feels like one more step toward that future.