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Chapter 1. Start Here > What Is the iPod?

What Is the iPod?

The iPod was released to much surprise and skepticism in November 2001. Revolutionary at the time, the iPod bucked the trends established by most existing digital music players (interchangeably called “MP3 players”) in that instead of a small and clumsy LCD screen, it had a large and detailed one navigated by an innovative rotary thumb-wheel. And instead of a low-capacity Flash memory system that could hold only a few dozen MP3 files at a time, or a large and heavy full-size hard drive, it was built around a physically tiny hard drive that nonetheless packed a huge 5 gigabytes of storage. This was enough, as Apple's marketing noted with much fanfare, to fit a thousand songs onto a device the size of a deck of cards, and thus into your pocket—a benefit that handily offset the iPod's high retail price. A fast FireWire connection meant you could copy the entire contents of your iTunes' Library to the iPod in just a few minutes. With a straightforward navigation system that reflected the organizational structure of iTunes itself, the iPod quickly banished all naysayers and claimed the mantle of “iTunes to Go.”

In the years since its release, the iPod has undergone many changes, the most obvious of which has been the gradual increase in capacity of its internal hard drive (although the device's physical dimensions, except for its thickness, have not varied): 10GB, then 20GB, and most recently 40GB and even 60GB models have appeared. iTunes' libraries comprising 5,000, 10,000, and even 15,000 songs can now fit easily on that same deck-of-cards-sized device. As Apple has refined the navigation system, recent iPods have sported subtly different interfaces, including versions with a touch-sensitive trackpad instead of a physically moving wheel, round buttons above the wheel instead of surrounding it, and (most recently) an integrated “click wheel” that incorporates all the iPod's controls into a single round rocking button. But the basics of the iPod's function have barely changed: You use your thumb to roll the selector up and down the menu on the screen, press the central button to select an option and move to the next screen, and navigate in that way until you find the music you want to listen to. Selecting that music starts it playing.


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