A Touching Goodbye for iPod

Apple, today, announcing that the last remaining iPod model — the iPod Touch — is now discontinued and available only while supplies last:

“Music has always been part of our core at Apple, and bringing it to hundreds of millions of users in the way iPod did impacted more than just the music industry — it also redefined how music is discovered, listened to, and shared,” said Greg Joswiak, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing. “Today, the spirit of iPod lives on. We’ve integrated an incredible music experience across all of our products, from the iPhone to the Apple Watch to HomePod mini, and across Mac, iPad, and Apple TV. And Apple Music delivers industry-leading sound quality with support for spatial audio — there’s no better way to enjoy, discover, and experience music.”

This is a nice goodbye to a beloved product. It’s been under-remarked-upon how good the Apple Newsroom site has been. Back in the Jobs era, Apple would post things to the “Hot News” page of apple.com and when it was no longer hot or news, it would just disappear. Newsroom posts feel permanent. Apple’s post today contains a nice gallery of the best and most beloved iPod models: the 2001 original, the 2004 Mini, the 2006 Nano (which really propelled the lineup into what we then thought was the stratosphere of popularity), the 2007 Touch, the 2012 seventh generation Nano, and the Shuffle.1

I suspect most people reading this news will experience two thoughts, simultaneously:

That’s a shame, I loved the iPod.

Wait, they were still selling the iPod Touch?

The 7th-generation iPod Touch went on sale in May 2019; the previous model arrived in 2015. In the latter years of the iPhone era, the iPod Touch wasn’t exactly updated on a regular schedule. The final models from 2019 had the A10 chip that originally debuted with the iPhone 7 in 2016, and started at just $200 for the 32 GB base models. ($300 for 128 GB, $400 for 256 GB.)

Not only did the iPod Touch never make it to the Face ID era of iOS device design, it never even gained Touch ID. It is, today, a bit of a retro device.

But in its time, the iPod Touch was extraordinary. It debuted as a surprise in early September 2007, just 10 weeks after the original iPhone went on sale. It was, basically, spec-for-spec an iPhone without the phone. Alongside the debut of the iPod Touch, Apple cut the prices of the original iPhone — which had only been on sale for a little over two months — by $200. An 8 GB iPhone cost $400, and an 8 GB iPod Touch cost $300. But the iPhone still required a two-year contract with AT&T — with the iPod Touch, you paid $300 (or $400 for 16 GB) and owned it free and clear.

Turns out, 15 years ago, making an iPhone without the phone meant you could make something remarkably thinner. The original iPhone was 11.6mm thick and weighed 135g. The original iPod Touch was just 8mm thick and weighed 120g. The difference in thickness was particularly remarkable. It was like a vision of the iPhone’s future. This year’s A15-based 3rd-generation iPhone SE is 7.3mm thick and weighs 144g — much closer in size and weight to the original iPod Touch than to the thicker original iPhone.

I have two distinctive memories about the iPod Touch and its impressive, forward-looking industrial design. The first was in September 2012, at the event where Apple announced the iPhone 5, and, alongside it, the 4th generation iPod Touch. After the keynote, the media were invited to Apple’s usual hands-on area. I was hanging around with M.G. Siegler that day — Siegler was then covering Apple for TechCrunch — and we were among the first to enter the hands-on area. The table (tables?) with the iPhone 5 models on display were quickly mobbed. M.G. and I left for the table with the new iPod Touch models, which was far less crowded. This was the year when Apple added a small pop-out loop to which you could attach a wrist strap. We both had the same impression: we couldn’t wait to get our hands on iPhone 5 review units, but, the 4th-generation iPod Touch was thinner and sleeker. It still felt like the future of the iPhone, even alongside the sleekest new iPhone to date.

The follow-up memory was, I think, from WWDC 2013. Maybe 2014. I was on the third floor of Moscone West, before the morning keynote. Apple had put out some pastries, coffee, and juice for the media and “special guests” who’d been invited to the keynote. I was standing around, waiting for the doors to open for the keynote hall, looking for friends to say hello to. Mingling, as it were. I happened to walk by a man holding what struck me as an iPhone I’d never seen before. It was a jolt. It was, to re-use that same adjective, sleeker, in some fun color. Blue, maybe? My first thought was that he must be an Apple employee using an as-yet-unreleased iPhone prototype, inexplicable though that would be to do anywhere, let alone in a lobby filled with Apple-centric media. Yet he wasn’t being secretive or furtive about it at all. A brief moment later I came to my senses and recognized it for what it actually was: an iPod Touch.

To me, that moment exemplifies the heyday of the iPod Touch. More than just an iPhone without the phone, it was a preview of the iPhone’s future. Much like, in some sense, the original iPod was, too.

  1. The iPod Shuffle with buttons. Not the one without any buttons, which was a fascinating experiment in minimalism but clearly a mistake in hindsight. ↩︎