History of the iPod: From the First iPod to the iPod Classic

iPod History
iPod images copyright Apple Inc.

The iPod wasn't the first MP3 player—there were a number of models from a number of companies before Apple unveiled what came to be one of its flagship products—but the iPod was the first truly great MP3 player. It didn't have the most storage or the most features, but it did have a dead-simple user interface, terrific industrial design, and the simplicity and polish that define Apple products.

Looking back to when the iPod was introduced (near the turn of the century!), it's hard to remember just how different the world of computing and portable devices was. There was no Facebook, no Twitter, no apps, no iPhone, no Netflix. The world was a very different place.

As technology evolved, the iPod evolved with it, often helping to drive innovations and evolutions. This article looks back at the history of the iPod, one model at a time. Each entry features a different model from the original iPod line (that is, not the nano, Touch, Shuffle, etc.) and shows how they changed and improved over time.

The Original (1st Generation) iPod

Introduced: Oct. 2001
Released: Nov. 2001​
Discontinued: July 2002

The 1st generation iPod can be identified by its scroll wheel, surrounded by four buttons (from top, clockwise: menu, forward, play/pause, backwards), and its center button for selecting items. At its introduction, the iPod was a Mac-only product. It required Mac OS 9 or Mac OS X 10.1.

While it was not the first MP3 player, the original iPod was both smaller and easier to use than many of its competitors. As a result, it quickly attracted accolades and strong sales. The iTunes Store did not yet exist (it was introduced in 2003), so users had to add music to their iPods from CDs or other online sources.

At the time of its introduction, Apple wasn't the powerhouse company it later became. The initial success of the iPod, and its successor products, were major factors in the company's explosive growth.

Capacity
5 GB (about 1,000 songs)
10 GB (about 2,000 songs) - released in March 2002
Hard drive used for storage

Supported Audio Formats
MP3​
WAV
AIFF

Colors
White

Screen
160 x 128 pixels
2 inch
Grayscale

Connectors
FireWire

Battery Life
10 hours

Dimensions
4.02 x 2.43 x 0.78 inches

Weight
6.5 ounces

Price
US$399 - 5 GB
$499 - 10 GB

Requirements
Mac: Mac OS 9 or higher; iTunes 2 or higher

The Second Generation iPod

2nd Generation iPod
2nd Generation iPod. image copyright Apple Inc.

Released: July 2002
Discontinued: April 2003

The 2nd Generation iPod debuted less than a year after the original model's great success. The second generation model added a number of new features: Windows support, increased storage capacity, and a touch-sensitive wheel, as opposed to the mechanical wheel that the original iPod had used.

While the body of the device was largely the same as the first generation model, the front of the second generation sported rounded corners. At the time of its introduction, the iTunes Store still had not been introduced (it would appear in 2003).

The second generation iPod also came in four limited edition models, featuring the signatures of Madonna, Tony Hawk, or Beck, or the logo of the band No Doubt, engraved on the back of the device for an additional $50.

Capacity
5 GB (about 1,000 songs)
10 GB (about 2,000 songs)
20 GB (about 4,000 songs)
Hard drive used for storage

Supported Audio Formats
MP3
WAV
AIFF
Audible audiobooks (Mac only)

Colors
White

Screen
160 x 128 pixels
2 inch​
Grayscale

Connectors
FireWire

Battery Life
10 hours

Dimensions 
4 x 2.4 x 0.78 inches - 5 GB Model
4 x 2.4 x 0.72 inches - 10 GB Model
4 x 2.4 x 0.84 inches - 20 GB Model

Weight
6.5 ounces - 5 GB and 10 GB models
7.2 ounces - 20 GB model

Price
$299 - 5 GB
$399 - 10 GB
$499 - 20 GB

Requirements
Mac: Mac OS 9.2.2 or Mac OS X 10.1.4 or higher; iTunes 2 (for OS 9) or 3 (for OS X)
Windows: Windows ME, 2000, or XP; MusicMatch Jukebox Plus

The Third Generation iPod

3rd Generation iPod
Łukasz Ryba/Wikipedia Commons/CC By 3.0

Released: April 2003
Discontinued: July 2004

This iPod model marked a break in design from the previous models. The third-generation iPod introduced a new housing for the device, which was thinner and had more-rounded corners. It also introduced the touch wheel, which was a touch-sensitive way to scroll through content on the device. The forward/backward, play/pause, and menu buttons were removed from around the wheel and placed in a row between the touch wheel and screen.

In addition, the 3rd gen. iPod introduced the Dock Connector, which became the standard means of connecting most future iPods models (except the Shuffle) to computers and compatible accessories.

The iTunes Store was introduced in conjunction with these models. A Windows-compatible version of iTunes was introduced in Oct. 2003, five months after the third-generation iPod debuted. Windows users were required to reformat the iPod for Windows before they could use it.

Capacity
10 GB (about 2,500 songs)
15 GB (about 3,700 songs)
20 GB (about 5,000 songs) - replaced 15GB model in Sept. 2003
30 GB (about 7,500 songs)
40 GB (about 10,000 songs) - replaced 30GB model in Sept. 2003
Hard drive used for storage

Supported Audio Formats
AAC (Mac only)
MP3
WAV
AIFF

Colors
White

Screen
160 x 128 pixels
2 inch
Grayscale

Connectors
Dock Connector
Optional FireWire-to-USB adapter

Battery Life
8 hours

Dimensions 
4.1 x 2.4 x 0.62 inches - 10, 15, 20 GB Models
4.1 x 2.4 x 0.73 inches - 30 and 40 GB models

Weight
5.6 ounces - 10, 15, 20 GB models
6.2 ounces - 30 and 40 GB models

Price
$299 - 10 GB
$399 - 15 GB & 20 GB
$499 - 30 GB & 40 GB

Requirements
Mac: Mac OS X 10.1.5 or higher; iTunes
Windows: Windows ME, 2000, or XP; MusicMatch Jukebox Plus 7.5; later iTunes 4.1

The Fourth Generation iPod (aka iPod Photo)

4th Generation iPod
AquaStreak Rugby471/Wikipedia Commons/CC by 3.0

Released: July 2004
Discontinued: October 2005

The 4th generation iPod was another complete redesign and included a handful of spin-off iPod products that were eventually merged into the 4th generation iPod line.

This model iPod brought the clickwheel, which was introduced on the orignal iPod mini, to the main iPod line. The clickwheel was both touch-sensitive for scrolling and had buttons built in that allowed the user to click the wheel to select menu, forward/backward, and play/pause. The center button was still used to select onscreen items.

This model also featured two special editions: a 30 GB U2 edition that included the band's "How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb" album, engraved signatures from the band, and a coupon to purchase the bands entire catalog from iTunes (Oct. 2004); a Harry Potter edition that included that Hogwarts logo engraved on the iPod and all 6 then-available Potter books pre-loaded as audiobooks (Sept. 2005).

Also debuting around this time was the iPod Photo, a version of the 4th generation iPod that included a color screen and the ability to display photos. The iPod Photo line was merged into the Clickwheel line in fall 2005.

Capacity
20 GB (about 5,000 songs) - Clickwheel model only
30 GB (about 7,500 songs) - Clickwheel model only
40 GB (about 10,000 songs)
60 GB (about 15,000 songs) - iPod Photo model only
Hard drive used for storage

Supported Formats
Music:

  • AAC
  • MP3
  • WAV
  • AIFF
  • Apple Lossless
  • Audible audiobooks

Photos (iPod Photo only)

  • JPEG
  • BMP
  • GIF
  • TIFF
  • PSD
  • PNG

Colors
White
Red and Black (U2 special edition)

Screen
Clickwheel models: 160 x 128 pixels; 2 inch; Grayscale
iPod Photo: 220 x 176 pixels; 2 inch; 65,536 colors

Connectors
Dock Connector

Battery Life
Clickwheel: 12 hours
iPod Photo: 15 hours

Dimensions 
4.1 x 2.4 x 0.57 inches - 20 & 30 GB Clickwheel Models
4.1 x 2.4 x 0.69 inches - 40 GB Clickwheel Model
4.1 x 2.4 x 0.74 inches - iPod Photo Models

Weight
5.6 ounces - 20 & 30 GB Clickwheel models
6.2 ounces - 40 GB Clickwheel model
6.4 ounces - iPod Photo model

Price
$299 - 20 GB Clickwheel
$349 - 30 GB U2 Edition
$399 - 40 GB Clickwheel
$499 - 40 GB iPod Photo
$599 - 60 GB iPod Photo ($440 in Feb. 2005; $399 in June 2005)

Requirements
Mac: Mac OS X 10.2.8 or higher; iTunes
Windows: Windows 2000 or XP; iTunes

Also Known As: iPod Photo, iPod with Color Display, Clickwheel iPod

The Hewlett-Packard iPod

HP iPod Mini
image via Wikipedia and Flickr

Released: January 2004
Discontinued: July 2005

Apple is known for not being interested in licensing its technology. For instance, it was one of the only major computer companies never to have licensed its hardware or software to “clone” computer makers who created compatible and competing Macs. Well, almost; That changed briefly in the 1990s, but as soon as Steve Jobs returned to Apple, he ended that practice.

Because of this, you might expect that Apple would not have been interested in licensing the iPod or allowing anyone else to sell a version of it. But that’s not true.

Perhaps because the company had learned from its failure to license the Mac OS (some observers think that Apple would have a much larger computer marketshare in the '80s and '90s if it had done so) or perhaps because it wanted to expand possible sales, Apple licensed the iPod to Hewlett-Packard in 2004.

On January 8, 2004, HP announced that it would begin selling its own version of the iPod—basically it was a standard iPod with the HP logo on it. It sold this iPod for a while, and even launched a TV advertising campaign for it. HP’s iPod accounted for 5% of total iPod sales at one time.

Less than 18 months later, though, HP announced it would no longer sell its HP-branded iPod, citing Apple’s difficult terms (something many telecoms complained about when Apple was shopping for a deal for the original iPhone).

After that, no other company ever licensed the iPod (or really any hardware or software from Apple). 

Models sold: 20GB and 40GB 4th Generation iPods; iPod mini; iPod Photo; iPod Shuffle

The Fifth Generation iPod (aka iPod Video)

iPod Video
iPod Video. image copyright Apple Inc.

Released: Oct. 2005
Discontinued: Sept. 2007

The 5th generation iPod expanded on the iPod Photo by adding the ability to play videos on its 2.5-inch color screen. It came in two colors, sported a smaller clickhweel, and had a flat face, instead of the rounded ones used on previous models.

The initial models were 30 GB and 60 GB, with an 80 GB model replacing the 60 GB in 2006. A 30 GB U2 Special Edition was also available at launch. By this point, videos were available at the iTunes Store for use with the iPod Video.

Capacity
30 GB (about 7,500 songs)
60 GB (about 15,000 songs)
80 GB (about 20,000 songs)
Hard drive used for storage

Supported Formats
Music

  • AAC
  • MP3
  • WAV
  • AIFF
  • Apple Lossless
  • Audible audiobooks

Photos

  • JPEG
  • BMP
  • GIF
  • TIFF
  • PSD
  • PNG

Video

  • H.264
  • MPEG-4

Colors
White
Black

Screen
320 x 240 pixels
2.5 inch
65,000 Colors

Connectors
Dock Connector

Battery Life
14 hours - 30 GB Model
20 hours - 60 & 80 GB Models

Dimensions
4.1 x 2.4 x 0.43 inches - 30 GB Model
4.1 x 2.4 x 0.55 inches - 60 & 80 GB Models

Weight
4.8 ounces - 30 GB Model
5.5 ounces - 60 & 80 GB Models

Price
$299 ($249 in Sept. 2006) - 30 GB Model
$349​ - Special Edition U2 30 GB model 
$399 - 60 GB Model
$349 - 80 GB Model; introduced Sept. 2006

Requirements
Mac: Mac OS X 10.3.9 or higher; iTunes
Windows: 2000 or XP; iTunes

Also Known As: iPod with Video, iPod Video

The iPod Classic (aka Sixth Generation iPod)

iPod Classic
iPod Classic. image copyright Apple Inc.

Released: Sept. 2007
Discontinued: Sept. 9, 2014

The iPod Classic (aka the 6th Generation iPod) was part of the continued evolution of the original iPod line that began in 2001. It was also the final iPod from the original line. When Apple discontinued the device in 2014, iOS-based devices like the iPhone, and other smartphones, dominated the market and made standalone MP3 players irrelevant.

The iPod Classic replaced the iPod Video, or 5th generation iPod, in Fall 2007. It was renamed the iPod Classic to distinguish it from other new iPod models introduced at the time, including the iPod touch.

The iPod Classic plays music, audiobooks, and videos, and adds the CoverFlow interface to the standard iPod line. The CoverFlow interface debuted on Apple's portable products on the iPhone in summer 2007.

While the original versions of the iPod Classic offered 80 GB and 120 GB models, they were later replaced by the 160 GB model.

Capacity
80 GB (about 20,000 songs)
120 GB (about 30,000 songs)
160 GB (about 40,000 songs)
Hard drive used for storage

Supported Formats
Music:

  • AAC
  • MP3
  • WAV
  • AIFF
  • Apple Lossless
  • Audible audiobooks

Photos

  • JPEG
  • BMP
  • GIF
  • TIFF
  • PSD
  • PNG

Video

  • H.264
  • MPEG-4

Colors
White
Black

Screen
320 x 240 pixels
2.5 inch
65,000 Colors

Connectors
Dock Connector

Battery Life
30 hours - 80 GB Model
36 hours - 120 GB Model
40 hours - 160 GB Model

Dimensions
4.1 x 2.4 x 0.41 inches - 80 GB Model
4.1 x 2.4 x 0.41 inches - 120 GB Model
4.1 x 2.4 x 0.53 inches - 160 GB Model

Weight
4.9 ounces  - 80 GB Model
4.9 ounces - 120 GB Model
5.7 ounces - 160 GB Model

Price
$249 - 80 GB Model
$299 - 120 GB Model
$249 (introduced Sept. 2009) - 160 GB Model

Requirements
Mac: Mac OS X 10.4.8 or higher (10.4.11 for 120 GB model); iTunes 7.4 or higher (8.0 for 120 GB model)
Windows: Vista or XP; iTunes 7.4 or higher (8.0 for 120 GB model)