Apple has killed off the last remaining app-free music players in its roster, the iPod Nano and iPod Shuffle, leaving nothing but multi-use, connected devices in the brave new world of streaming, apps and games.
From the moment the iPhone was launched in 2007 the writing has been on the wall for Apple’s iPod line, and by extension, every other dedicated music player out there. For Apple, in the era of streaming music and smartphone ubiquity, now is the time to put its legacy players to bed, with the wifi-enabled iPod Touch the last remaining member of a once dominant gadget line.
The iPhone and other modern smartphones were capable of playing music, not quite as well as dedicated hardware, but good enough and while doing so many other things at the same time.
The Nano and Shuffle came out in 2005, two years before the introduction of the iPhone, as less expensive and smaller alternatives to Apple’s standard iPod, which was launched by Steve Jobs in 2001 with space for “1,000 songs in your pocket”.
The Nano replaced the popular iPod mini, introducing the company’s first flash-based iPods, which until 2005 had used small hard drives like shrunken versions of those available in computers at the time. Music was loaded onto them via iTunes, either from the store or ripped from CDs, but they were unable to access content without a computer.
Apple stopped updating the Nano and Shuffle in 2012 and 2010 respectively, and killed the direct descendent of the original 2001 iPod, the iPod Classic, in 2014 at the same time as launching the iPhone 6 and Apple Watch.
The iPod Nano and iPod Shuffle are just the latest in a long line of single-use devices killed off by the multitalented smartphone. The iPhone launched with an iPod app, which effectively did everything an iPod would, but with a touchscreen interface and smaller storage than a hard drive-based iPod.
As the cost of flash chips decreased, the storage capacity of smartphones increased, slowly removing all relevance for even the largest-capacity music players. But it was the dawn of streaming music that was the nail in the coffin for the dedicated, offline iPod.
Spotify was launched in 2008 and gave access to millions of tracks without the user having to own a vast library of music. The trouble was, only computers – and by extension smartphones – could really handle the task, with connectivity and application support.
Apple’s iTunes and downloaded music continued to be popular, with iPod sales peaking in 2008, but with the acquisition of Beats Music and electronics from rapper Dr Dre and music mogul Jimmy Iovine in 2014 for $3bn and the launch of Apple Music in 2015, even the mighty iTunes Store took a back seat in the subscription-based streaming world.
As Carolina Milanesi, consumer tech analyst with Creative Strategies, puts it: “Makes sense: No place for iPod Nano Shuffle when music means Apple Music.”
In a space where flexibility is essential and good enough is the key metric, the smartphone rules as the most adaptable and capable device in the modern era. Before music players, compact cameras were killed off by the smartphone. The rolodex, calendar book, portable gaming machines (with the exception of the Nintendo powerhouse) and even the humble alarm clock have been all but wiped out by the march of the smartphone.
As camera quality and advanced computational photography steadily improve, from the likes of Apple’s dual-camera iPhone 7 Plus to Google’s advanced HDR+ camera processing, the next on the chopping block could be the digital SLR camera. Once the domain of anyone serious about photography, from hobbyists to professionals, the pro camera market is being threatened by the smartphone, with journalists switching to smartphone cameras to capture world events.
In fact, one of the only single-use devices seemingly left untouched is the Amazon Kindle – an ebook reader that pretty much does nothing else. But if you look deeper, even the Kindle is becoming subsumed into the smartphone with Amazon’s Kindle app available for all good platforms. And don’t mention the mobile tablet, which was once the future of computing but is slowly being killed off by ever-bigger smartphone screens.
So we bid farewell to the iPod Nano and Shuffle, many people’s first taste of portable music. It is the end of an era, but it wasn’t the first and it won’t be the last long-standing device to fall in the face of the all-conquering smartphone.