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This article was published on October 23, 2021

It’s iPod’s 20th birthday and people have a lot of feelings

Remembering the good times

It’s iPod’s 20th birthday and people have a lot of feelings
Cate Lawrence
Story by

Cate Lawrence

Cate Lawrence is an Australian tech journo living in Berlin. She focuses on all things mobility: ebikes, autonomous vehicles, VTOL, smart ci Cate Lawrence is an Australian tech journo living in Berlin. She focuses on all things mobility: ebikes, autonomous vehicles, VTOL, smart cities, and the future of alternative energy sources like electric batteries, solar, and hydrogen.

As a tech journo, I love it when people share their experiences of tech with me. It’s so much more interesting than a review someone is being paid to write or a marketing blurb. So in celebration of the iPod ‘s 20th birthday, I reached out to a bunch of folks I know to hear their stories. Just friends, some journos, and a former PR for Apple

A catalyst for new music

I remember loading my trusty oldiPod up with all my favorite music before traveling around Europe back in 2008 (i was 22). About a month into a nine-month trip, my iPod stopped working & it felt like the biggest disaster ever!

Fortunately for me, I visited the Apple store in London and used some highly persuasive language (threatening to buy an Iriver and never supporting Apple again.) This resulted in a free replacement even though I was two months out of warranty, and I still have it to this day.

Because I had lost all my music, I ended up collecting music from lots of different people I met traveling for the next eight months. I got so much cool stuff I had never heard of that for literally years I was discovering cool music (13th-floor elevators, Death cab for cutie, Broken Social Scene, the list goes on) by picking something random on my iPod.

— Kate Walker 

original iPod advertising
For serious fans, you can even buy an original iPod poster.

A soundtrack for Stonehenge

When I left Express Media in 2005 after five years as Artistic Director, my going away present was a 160GB iPod classic.

A month or two later I was in the UK for the first time in my life, and that iPod was my soundtrack for a visit to Stonehenge – somewhere I’d wanted to visit since I was a child.

I can still remember my first glimpse of the megaliths as our bus carried us across Salisbury Plain, and the album that was playing on my iPod at the time: Hilmar Orn Hilmarsson’s soundtrack to the film ‘Angels of the Universe.

To this day, listening to that album – and in particular the Sigur Rós tracks’ Bíum Bíum Bambaló’ and ‘Death Announcements and Funerals’ which are its closing tracks – bring back vivid memories of that day.

I still own that iPod. 

–Richard Watts 

How to pick up boys

I remember having one of the first iPodMinis – the chunky ones you could get in various colors and for a time have engraved for free. It was a major talking point at my uni, who got what engraved on theirs and so on. I think I had something terribly emo, like ‘Dreams are means of escape’ on mine, which was apple green. I met my uni boyfriend by yammering on in the Student Union about the philosophy behind this groundbreaking quote.

— Rachel England 

Like losing your arm

I had a first-gen white one with the mechanical scrolling wheel. I absolutely loved it, and it went everywhere with me. I worked for a tech mag and people were pretty wowed about it when they saw it. I painstakingly copied every CD I owned onto it, and that of my BF at the time.

Hours and hours of a life’s work in what used to be called ‘record collecting’ on my cool, chunky iPod. Which didn’t feel that dissimilar to the deceased Walkmans in size…

Then I stupidly left it in my car and someone nicked my car from outside the house. Car gone. All the music I’d ever owned, gone. 

Ever since, I’ve not downloaded or bought music in the same way. A bit of me died that day.

— Jane Bentley 

Hide your loser music by using an iPod

My iPod, and then iPod shuffle, really helped me to explore music I wouldn’t necessarily get away with at home. I remember going through an emo stage at home – I’d asked for Stain’d, Break the Cycle but then was told I wasn’t allowed to play it on my speakers.

The pocket device made it easy to hide from my indie friends that I was listening to Eminem. Plus, it was much more easier to carry around than a personal CD player. 

— Gina Clarke 

Remember the iPod advertising?

Songs to snowboard to

Despite my large audio library, it was surprisingly easy to switch between songs on my 4th gen. iPod. The highlight was blasting my songs on a snowboarding tour bus with the help of an FM transmitter. And later hijacking radio channels in cafeterias that we visited. The Herbaliser was played a lot on that trip.

— Toms Panders, CEO, Setupad

A bad iPod dad joke

I got my first iPod for Christmas around 2005. It was a present from my Dad, and I was over the moon about it. I still remember the thrill of unpacking it and seeing the lights come up as I switched it on.

Then I saw there was already something on it! Only one song, but it had to be a special one since my Dad put it there on my Christmas present.

I plugged in the earphones with trembling hands and waited – what’s gonna be that special song, the first one to be ever played by my iPod? And there it was.

Farting Christmas Jingle Bells.

This is a song I can’t unhear and a memory I can’t forget, which was precisely my Dad’s idea of an unforgettable Christmas present.

— Ieva Sipola, Content Marketer, Truesix

advertising the iPod
Apple’s original iPod ad

Tech journos are mean 

Ordered my first one from Apple in 2004(?), had it shipped from the US to the UK office and was beyond excited. My hilarious colleagues checked the serial number and set up a whole fake awareness/ email campaign that mine was one of a stolen batch that needed to be handed over to the police immediately. So funny 

I still have it!

— Clare Shephard 

An iPod DJ Club

I ran an iPod DJ club called Playlist. We had offshoots around the world. It was a fun hobby but the site is offline now. We had judges and prizes and people held up signs that said ‘Tune’ when a DJ played something good!

The iPod DJ Club
Scoring songs at The iPod DJ Club

I also briefly part-time edited a magazine based around the IPod.

– – Jonny Rocket

Wow Apple were really stingy with their PR

Ah, memories. I literally cannot believe it’s 20 years. Also still can’t believe we had 3 days from briefing to put together the journalist launch, including finding a venue and inviting everyone…no one believed us. And I think we had just one iPod for the event, still one of my career highlights. 

— Chevy Davis 

Lessons from the former Apple head of UK PR

 I was Apple’s head of PR in the UK when iPod was launched. My journo friends would never believe we might only have two or three early models to cover all PR and sales activity for the whole country. But it was often the case.

Early on, I remember deciding to go and visit every music magazine I could get in to see and put the first iPod in journalists’ hands. You really couldn’t “get” the interface until you played with it. 

After a few visits, the most successful pitch became clear: Go outside with anyone that smoked. When a music journalist found they could smoke with one hand and browse their music with the other they were sold. 

I remember driving the UK’s first Bondi blue iMac to a service station late at night where an evaluation was done plugged into a cleaner’s socket in the cafe. 

Apologies to all who didn’t get the kit they needed. We were always absurdly under-resourced and the bean counters could not be budged. It was hard work but great times.

— David Millar 

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