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10 years ago today, the original iPod changed music

Happy 10th anniversary to the iPod! It was introduced at a low-key Steve Jobs presentation on October 23, 2001, when the country and the consumer electronics market were still reeling from the events of six weeks earlier. The 5 GB device designed to put "1,000 songs in your pocket" wound up not only being a smashing hit, but paving the way to a revolution in how music and movies are purchased today, not to mention preparing the ground for the iPhone and the iPad.

The iPod was a game-changer on a number of levels, and we at TUAW decided to share with you our memories of our first iPods. We'll also be talking iPod history live tonight on the Talkcast.

Megan Lavey-Heaton

I was living in Bristol, Tenn., in 2004, working for the Bristol Herald Courier just over the state line in Virginia for a meager wage. That June, I began dating another journalist who worked for the Knoxville newspaper. After my laptop literally fell apart, my boyfriend offered to help me purchase a new computer.

After getting the computer and a new modem, we hauled the stuff out to the parking lot at Best Buy, and I asked my boyfriend to open the trunk so I could put our gear inside. He hesitated, saying I had a lot of junk in the trunk. Because I was holding some expensive items, I urged him to open it again. He opened the trunk, and sitting before me was a 15 GB 3rd generation iPod I'd been wanting for months. He'd been planning to surprise me with it at his house.

My relationship with that first iPod lasted much, much longer than the relationship with the boyfriend. We broke up after nearly seven months of dating. I kept the iPod until December 2006, when I got a 5th generation iPod so I could watch video. That first iPod saw me through two cross-country moves (Tennessee to Maine, then Maine to Arizona) and more. I passed the 3rd generation iPod down to my eldest niece, who used it another year before the battery and hard drive gave up the ghost.

Now, in addition to an iPhone, I have a 5th-generation iPod nano that I keep in the car and a 1st-generation iPod shuffle that I won at work that I use as an emergency USB stick. I've also sort of had my eye on the 6th-generation iPod nano.

"I was thinking I could use it as a watch," I told my husband.

My husband, who wouldn't be caught dead buying an iPod, but I still love him anyhow, just groaned.

Mike Rose

I had owned a RIO piece-o-junk MP3 player and had been studiously converting my CDs using SoundJam MP, so I was already familiar with the concept when the iPod came along, but it still seemed so remarkable -- five gigabytes of music on a hard drive? Who could even listen to that many songs? I had to buy one, and I did, telling myself I would use it as an external FireWire drive for troubleshooting and data transfer if the whole music thing didn't work out.

I used that 5G original iPod for quite a while, but then in a strange series of coincidences, I found myself in an upgrade cycle I didn't have to pay for. Between raffle drawings and tradeshow giveaways (an iPod mini, a nano, and eventually a first-gen iPod touch) and right-time/right-place happenstance (a boss who must have been feeling kindly toward me when he upgraded his iPod video, since he let me keep the old one) I don't believe I put my credit card down to buy a new iPod more than once or twice in the ten years after that first purchase.

My original iPod has long since been hand-me-up'ed to my mother; she was subsequently the recipient of the mini and now has her own iPhone 4. The nano and the touch have made their way to my two daughters. One clickwheel iPod is tucked away in my wife's kit bag, where she used it extensively with an external mic to record grad school lectures; the other one is embedded in a V55 5" video playback system that's been quite thoroughly obsoleted by recent developments.

I don't think any of us seeing the original iPod announcement back in October 2001 could have imagined what was to come... truthfully, we were all a little bit distracted at the time. What's remarkable now is the utter dominance that the iPod held over the portable player market, and eventually over the entire music ecosystem. To take such control of the category, only finding a shrinking sway when the entire product concept is being replaced by touchable devices -- it's been a wild ride.

TJ Luoma

I bought my first iPod in 2003, a 30GB model which only recently stopped working. It was my gateway to the Mac. My PC laptop didn't have FireWire so I bought a PC card adapter. That let me sync but didn't charge the iPod while it was syncing, which was a drag.

I had tried at least a dozen other MP3 players and always ended returning them. The iPod "just worked" and was so much better than everything else I'd tried. Sure, it cost more, but it actually made me want to use it, and it lasted about 6 years before the battery wouldn't hold a charge. It lived out its last years in my car, always plugged into a power adapter and working fine until one day it simply would not spin up.

A small memorial was held for family and friends.

Chris Rawson

I didn't get my first iPod until 2005. I'd wanted something like it since before the iPod even existed -- carrying CDs around in the car or in a portable player was always more trouble than it was worth -- but I felt the first several generations of iPod were simply far too expensive for what they offered. The low capacities, monochromatic screens, and high prices were all huge turn-offs.

The 60 GB iPod Photo finally offered the right mix of functionality and price, so I bought one ... exactly two weeks before Apple unveiled the much more capable fifth-generation iPod with video. Fortunately my local Apple Store was kind enough to let me exchange for the new one (after paying a restocking fee, naturally), and the iPod with video became my primary means of listening to music for nearly four years.

I must have spent tens of thousands of hours listening to that thing, whether it was on cross-country car trips, commutes to university, riding the train to work, working out, or the 13-hour plane ride to New Zealand. I bought some games for it (Tetris was absolutely awesome on the iPod), kept notes and a handful of funny videos on it, and even used it for dictation a couple times with an external mic attachment. Through all of that, it kept trucking on like a champ.

One day at Target I saw a returned second-gen iPod shuffle sitting in the electronics department, marked down significantly from its normal price -- I think it was $39. I snagged it, but I've hardly used it at all since then, except in situations where I was afraid of damaging one of my more capable devices. Though my wife loved her first-gen nano and her newer sixth-gen model, I've never found anything particularly enticing about the nano lineup, which once again fell into a features/price situation that never convinced me I needed one.

Immediately after buying my first iPod, I wished for something that combined a device with the functionality of an iPod with basic phone functions. I would've been happy if Apple had just put out something that held a few gigabytes of songs, made phone calls, and let me sync my contacts, photos, and ringtones via iTunes -- even something like the ROKR would've been good enough if it had been able to hold 1000 songs instead of only 100. The iPhone turned out to do all that and much more, and it pretty much killed any enthusiasm I had for the entire iPod line. My iPhone 3G had far lower capacity than my iPod, but in every other way it was a far more capable device, so I sold my trusty old iPod and haven't looked back.

It's not a big stretch to say that the iPod is the product that saved Apple from the brink. It was also the first brand-new Apple product I ever bought, and though it's unlikely I'll ever buy another iPod, I've been hooked on Apple's other, more powerful mobile devices ever since.

Steve Sande

My first experience with the iPod was in 2002. I was fascinated by the idea of the iPod, but thought they were way too expensive so I went and bought a Creative NOMAD Jukebox MP3 player. I hated it. The user interface made no sense to me at all, and it took just a few days for me to pack it back in the box and send it back to Amazon.

The next week, I headed over to a nearby CompUSA store (remember them?) to look at the pricey, but oh-so-cool iPod. I ended up buying the 10 GB model, although at the time I had barely begun to rip my CD collection. I remember being totally enchanted by the 1st-Generation iPod, complete with that mechanical click wheel. It was so easy to use compared to that crappy NOMAD that it wasn't too long before I had ripped my CDs and created a pretty huge music library.

My experiences with the iPod resulted in me writing a book that was later published by Take Control Books as Take Control of Your iPod: Beyond the Music. In that book, I talked about using the iPod as a PDA, running Linux on an iPod, and a number of other fascinating things that really went beyond just listening to music.

I've owned several iPods since then, although I haven't used one for listening to music since getting my first iPhone in 2007. I still have a 4th-generation iPod classic that I use as a troubleshooting tool, and I'm not sure that I'll ever get rid of it. It reminds me of that 1st-generation device that hooked me on the design, and it will make a good "museum piece" along with my QuickTake 100 camera and Newton MessagePad 2100.

What was your first iPod experience? Please share it with us in the comments!

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