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).

Roger Stringer spends most of his time solving problems for people, and otherwise occupying himself with being a dad, cooking, speaking, learning, writing, reading, and the overall pursuit of life. He lives in Penticton, BC