It's 10 years since the original iPod shuffled on to the scene, changing the way we listen to and buy music for good. But could it soon be time to hang up our white headphones? Johnny Davis reports.
Monday lunchtime at the world's largest Apple Store in London's Covent Garden and Georgina Evans, visiting from Bath in south-west England for a day's shopping, is trying to score some cred points with her daughter Emily.
"I want to see how competent I am," she says, jabbing the screen of an iPhone 4.
"Put it down," tuts her husband, Andrew. "You're not."
Across the cavernous chambers of the Grade II-listed building similar human-technology interactions are taking place. At other ...view middle of the document...
" In other words: the iPhone, the iPod Touch and the iPad - devices that the iPod paved the way for, devices that have helped push Apple's latest profits to a record-breaking $US20b. If the iPod now finds itself as the least-loved of the company's shiny portable devices, you get the sense Apple is probably OK with that.
The iPod is 10 this year. Developed during 2001 and brought to market in just eight months, the circumstances surrounding its launch were hardly auspicious. For a start, it debuted days after 9/11. The press launch promised "the unveiling of a breakthrough device", the only other information on the invitations from Apple's Silicon Valley HQ was some small print along the bottom: "Hint: It's Not a Mac". The assembled media probably figured that was just as well. Apple's most recent computer, the G4 Cube, had failed to match the success of its iMac - the candy-coloured, egg-shaped machine that had transformed the desktop computer from functional grey workstation to translucent object of desire. And even its appeal was dwindling.
Apple's CEO, Steve Jobs, who had recently returned to the company after being dismissed as the head of the Mac division in 1985, had failed to appreciate quite how important downloading would become to the online generation. The "i" in iMac was supposed to stand for "internet", but the first models had no slot drives - users had no way of burning their own CDs or DVDs. Given that almost 30m PCs were sold with this capability during 2000, Apple had missed a trick. Along with other companies associated with the dotcom bubble, its stock was on the slide.
"When I joined Apple, the company was in decline," Jonathan Ive, senior vice-president of industrial design and the man who would help revolutionise the business, has said. "It seemed to have lost what would become a very clear sense of identity and purpose."
Nevertheless, the launch saw Jobs making great play of Apple's "digital hub" strategy. He envisaged the Mac as the centre of a new digital ecosystem, a place where we would soon come to plug in all manner of wonderful new devices. The first of these turned out to be something of a surprise. With no previous experience in music, Apple announced it was launching an MP3 player. "Why music?" Jobs asked. "Well, we love music, and it's always good to do something you love." He suggested music was something that touched everyone. "It's a large target market. It knows no boundaries. And there is no market leader. No one had really found the recipe yet for digital music."
Apple's iPod would hold 1000 songs, could be recharged within an hour and would cost $US399. "Do you remember what it was like when you got your first Walkman?" asked the singer Seal, who alongside other musicians appeared behind Jobs on a giant video screen. "'Wow! I want to carry this wherever I go."' Others were less convinced. Apple's MP3 player was neither the first nor the cheapest nor the largest capacity device on the...