It’s been just over five years since Apple killed off the iPod Classic (henceforth known as the iPod, because it is the One True iPod). Its death on September 9th, 2014 was no big surprise: Sales had been declining for years as the iPhone surpassed it in sales and feature set. Indeed, the notion of loading files from a computer onto a spinning hard drive to listen to music was totally anachronistic by 2014. Apple Music hadn’t arrived yet, but Spotify was quickly becoming the most important way to listen to music. Since we were all carrying smartphones, having another device for music just didn’t make sense anymore.
In retrospect, though, I sometimes miss the iPod. Over the last five years, smartphones have taken on a predictable form. Screens are bigger, networks are (marginally) faster, cameras are better, but all in all, we know what we’re getting with a handset. However, our relationship with smartphones is far more fraught than it was in 2014. We’re overloaded with notifications telling us about the horrible state of the world, networks like Twitter and Facebook are minefields of abuse, subscriptions and microtransactions suck more money out of wallets — and yet we can’t put our phones down.
Against the backdrop of smartphone addiction, the iPod suddenly seems appealing. Its tiny, 2.5-inch screen contained a UI meant to help you skim through thousands of songs quickly and easily; there was very little to distract you from your music. A device that felt so futuristic when it came out now feels positively retro. It’s full of buttons! You have to copy files from your computer to use it! There’s no internet connection!
Of course, those aren’t bugs but features to a small but substantial group of music lovers. You can find a whole variety of iPods for sale on eBay, not surprising considering how popular they were, but it’s still an impressive secondary market. There’s also a healthy mod community that’ll help interested hackers put a larger, more modern SSD drive and new battery into that old iPod case. If you’re the kind of person with a carefully-curated MP3 library built up over the last two decades, or someone who still buys CDs and rips them to a computer, you’re probably the kind of person who pines for an iPod.