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2001 saw the launch of the first iPod, the portable music device that went on to revolutionise the way that we listen to music. Fast forward thirteen years and it looks like the iPod could soon be no more.
Over the past decade and a half, the iPod has been one of the must-have gadgets; with the introduction of variations such as the Nano, Shuffle and Touch (which have all seen multiple versions), there was always an iPod to suit everyone. The growth of the market was boosted by the launch of the iTunes store in 2003, allowing members to buy music online which they could store and play on all of their devices. The iPod lifted the restrictions on how much music a person could carry at one time; with marketing slogans such as ‘1000 songs in your pocket’, it was an irresistible piece of technology to the music-lover.
In September 2014 the production of the iPod Classic, (for all intents and purposes, the modern version of the original iPod), was discontinued by Apple. Many were saddened by this – not just because of the disappearance of the iconic click wheel you have to roll your finger around, but because the device helped pioneer the digital music world. Its demise could highlight the industry’s decline in that less people buy music every day.
It’s now been four years since the iPod shuffle saw an upgrade and two years for the iPod Nano – have Apple given up on making music players which are not also phones? If you visit an Apple store you’ll find the iPhone and Mac have pride of place at the front of the store, with the iPod somewhere at the back. Apple boss Tim Cook has admitted that iPod sales this year are down 52% compared to early 2013.
So why have sales of the digital icon fallen? Dr Alice Enders (former senior economist at the World Trade Organisation) believes “the converged media device is the way forward.” Perhaps this is the reason the iPhone is Apple’s most popular product – it is an iPod plus hundreds of other devices, due to its capability to run ‘apps’.
The growth in popularity of music streaming has had a detrimental impact on iPod sales. Research from the British Phonographic Industry (BPI) shows that almost twice as many songs have been streamed in the UK in the first nine months of this year compared to the same period last year. Streaming removes the hassle of having to download files, and in many instances is free. But you can’t carry it round with you in the same way you could with the iPod. There was something special about having your whole music library in your pocket that seems to have been lost – streaming is mainly done on devices that are stationary, e.g. laptops.
The significance of streaming can’t be denied though. The Official Charts Company (OCC) has recently started including streams in UK singles charts calculations. Singer/songwriter Ed Sheerhan has stated he is a big fan of streaming because it provides a platform for artists to promote their music for free. But Taylor Swift is opposed to it due to the extremely small royalties (roughly 0.4p per stream compared to 30p per download from iTunes) and has not released her latest album on Spotify to encourage people to buy it.
The music world is changing, and as the iPod once proved, change is not always bad. I would like to say there’s still a place for the iPod – there’s so many distractions on an iPhone that there’s less of an immersion in music as there was in the days when you’d spend a good while wheel-scrolling your way through your artists to decide who to put on next. But the figures are hard to argue with: people have other things they would rather spend money on now than music and music-players. As sad as it is, it seems the iPod’s time is coming to an end.