An Ode to the iPod Classic

Lindsay Zoladz, writing about the iPod Classic:

“Wow,” a man said to me recently on the subway, “I haven’t seen one of those things in years.” He gestured toward the scuffed-yet-still-sleek, aluminum-colored rectangle in my hand — a 160GB sixth generation iPod Classic. I blinked for a moment. We were not talking about, say, a quill pen, a monocle, or a bottle of Crystal Pepsi, but an electronic device I had purchased in 2010.

I knew what he meant, though. Technology moves at hyperspeed. Apple has created and helped universalize a particular kind of planned obsolescence — its products have to go out of fashion and/or break every few years, to ensure you’ll buy a newer one — and as a result, in the eyes of the general public, Last Year’s Model has never looked like more of an antique. The Museum of Modern Art recently hosted an exhibit called “Making Music Modern: Design for Ear and Eye,” which showcased the successive innovations in music players over the past century or so. As I strolled through, the piece that stopped me in my tracks and made me think, wow, look at that dinosaur! was not an old Victrola or a bulkily primitive jukebox — but a first generation iPod, circa 2001, complete with a clunky pre-touch click wheel and (get this) a FireWire port. “Nothing in the world,” writes Ben Lerner in his 2014 novel 10:04, “is as old as what was futuristic in the past.”

On September 9, 2014, Apple announced that it would no longer be making the iPod Classic. For a seemingly all-powerful corporation, its reasoning was uncharacteristically defeatist: “We couldn’t get the parts anymore, not anywhere on Earth,” Apple CEO Tim Cook later explained. “It wasn’t a matter of me swinging the ax, saying ‘what can I kill today?’ The engineering work was massive, and the number of people who wanted it very small.”

Well, relatively small. He was not wrong about the low sales numbers — especially when compared to a product like the iPhone, which essentially ended the need for a separate mobile music player. But in the weeks after Apple killed off the Classic, something unexpected happened: Used iPods started selling for double, triple, even quadruple their original retail price on eBay. By December, a characteristically melodramatic Daily Mail headline enthused: “iPod Classic which is THREE YEARS OLD is Apple’s hottest item this Christmas.” The Apple Watch never stood a chance.

Who would fork over up to $1,000 (or more; a factory-sealed seventh gen is listed for $1699 on eBay right now) for an old, obsolete MP3 player except a stick-in-the-mud Luddite, resistant to our inevitable progress toward a cloud-based future? I’m not sure. But I think these people were onto something.

I got a lot of use out of my iPod Classic til the battery eventually died, I also got a lot of use out of my iPod Shuffle until it accidentally got washed in the laundry (don’t ask).