The iPod Turns 15: Watch Steve Jobs' Original Reveal, Those Classic 'Sillhouette' Ads and More

The first generation iPod
Apple Corp. via Getty Images

The first generation iPod shown on Oct. 23, 2001.

Fifteen years and one day ago, a turtlenecked Steve Jobs stood on a nondescript stage, in front of an un-glitzy presentation screen using comically uncool fonts, and introduced the device that would set in motion the digital music age: the iPod. And while this newfangled device took a couple years to catch on, perhaps because of its cost ($399) and compatibility (Mac-only), the iPod eventually became the de facto MP3 player for music lovers eager to have their entire music collections in one tiny device. Others eventually tried (RIP Zune), but few found the "recipe" for digital music that Jobs described back on Oct. 23, 2001.

"In this whole new digital music revolution, there is no market leader," he told the audience. "There are small companies, like Creative and SONICblue, and then there’s some large companies like Sony that haven’t had a hit yet. They haven’t found the recipe. No one has really found the recipe yet for digital music. And we think not only can we find the recipe, but the Apple brand is going to be fantastic, because people trust the Apple brand to get their great digital electronics from."

Watch Jobs' presentation:

People may have trusted Apple, but they weren’t clamoring to throw down $400 for a 5GB music player, especially if you had to have a Mac. The possibilities opened up a year later when Apple added Windows compatibility, and then in 2003 launched the all-important iTunes Music Store, which meant instead of users having to create their own MP3s (remember ripping all your CDs?), a consumer could just buy a single song or album and synch it to their iPod in a couple easy steps.

That CD-->Computer-->iPod process was on full display in the very first iPod commercial, released in 2001 and featuring an enthusiastic guy rocking out to a song by the Propellerheads.

Two years after the gadget’s debut, Apple’s ad agency TBWA/Chiat/Day went to Jobs with print ad mockups that featured colorful backgrounds and silhouettes of people dancing with their stark white iPods and chords dangling. According to Walter Isaacson’s book Steve Jobs, the CEO was initially cool on the idea, but he eventually gave the go-ahead. Over the next several years, the sillhouette billboards -- and those TV ads, see below -- would become some of the decade’s most iconic, and affective, pieces of marketing.

The year 2004 also saw the introduction of the iPod mini, a much smaller and more colorful cousin to the regular iPod.  A year after that came the iPod Shuffle (which did exactly that) and the iPod Nano, which was touted as being the same width of a pencil. Ads for the Nano were as cool as the device itself, with the most memorable one featuring Feist's "1234."

Then came the iPod Touch, which had the look and user experience of the just-released iPhone (2007) but without the phone part. Over the years, the Touch has evolved in tandem with its phone cousin and today is the only iteration of the iPod remaining in the Apple Store. (The original iPod Classic design was killed off in 2014.) The Touch is currently in its fifth-generation and includes the same A8 chip as the iPhone 6.

The iPod’s fall from grace coincided with the drop in digital download sales and the rise of streaming as a dominant format. (Who needs 160GB of storage when there’s a cloud up there with practically every song?) It also became redundant when iPhones and other smartphones began doing exact same thing. (Remember carrying around an iPod AND a flip phone? Crazy!) But just like how there are people who will never give up their vinyl LPs, there will be well-heeled collectors who want their thousands of MP3s organized in one mobile device. For them, the iPod will live on.


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