The 15 Most Important Technologies of the Last 15 Years – #5: The iPod and the iTunes Store

In the mid 1990’s the MP3 digital music format quickly became popular with music junkies and tech-savvy individuals everywhere. Music piracy suddenly became extremely easy for anyone with a computer and a high speed Internet connection, such as those available on college campuses, much to the chagrin of the record industry. Still, people wanted to use the MP3 format for legitimate purposes and one of those uses included taking their music with them. A fledgling market of portable MP3 players started cropping in the late 90’s, but the market for these devices was limited to tech-savvy individuals because the features and ease-of-use of these early versions were not so great.

When Apple introduced the iPod in the fall of 2001, many industry experts scoffed at the device, thinking it wouldn’t be successful because they thought it was too expensive and it lacked Windows compatibility. However, the simplicity and large storage capability of the original iPod made it a hit not only with Macintosh users, but also Windows users who quickly developed hacks and workarounds to make the Apple music player compatible with their computers. Apple quickly followed up with an official Windows-compatible version the next year and two years later introduced the iTunes store. It was this one-two punch of a simple and powerful portable music player along with the ease of buying legally licensed music that spring-boarded digital music into the mainstream. In doing so, Apple fundamentally changed not only the record industry, but also our expectations of all forms of media. Now portable digital media is commonplace across not only music, but also books, movies, and TV shows. Without the combination of the iPad and iTunes Music Store, we may live in a very different world today when it comes to digital media.

Did the iPod and iTunes change the way you listened to and bought music? Comment below and share when you first became introduced to digital music!