Bring the Noise

The evolution of portable audio

By Matthew McKinnon
Apple iPod, 2001
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Apple iPod, 2001

Genius happens. Apple’s iPod, introduced Oct. 23, 2001, is sleek and white and wonderful, a palm-sized MP3 marvel that stores 60 hours of CD-quality sound. It is the instant acme of digital leisure. Critics charge that the machine is overpriced ($399 US) and exclusive (early models only function with Apple computers), grossly underestimating public thirst for science fiction made real.

Skip ahead to the present, and fifth-generation models offer Windows compliance, a colour screen, extended battery life and barely believable storage capacity: Apple’s latest units carry 20 and 30 days of music. The iPod shuffle, a cheap ($99–$149 US), entry-level player introduced this January, is as small as a pack of chewing gum and as light as a car key. Annual iPod sales have climbed near $1 billion US, dominating the MP3-player market. Rapper 50 Cent caressed an iPod in the video for his hit song P.I.M.P. ; NBA star Vince Carter has been fined for wearing his during game warm-ups; fashion designer Karl Lagerfeld is said to own 60, with laser-engraved contents listed on the back of each. Even noted luddite George W. Bush (see: second Kerry debate, “internets”) has embraced the technology — Time magazine included a photo of the American president “[listening] to Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl on his iPod” in its 2004 Person-of-the-Year coverage.

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