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Everything is impossible until it's not: October edition

How a failed internet kiosk and a mechanical wheel led to one little device that would change music — and Apple — forever.


Everything is impossible — until it isn’t. At Strike, we’re looking back on disruptive moments that changed the world. From technology that has shaped our lives to feats of human strength and resilience that were never thought possible, every month we’ll bring you a moment in history that changed everything.

Happy 20th birthday to one of our favourite disruptive inventions — the iPod. 

Apples launched its first portable music player 20 years ago this month — October 2001. While boomboxes looked romantic in 1980s teen movies and we still feel a little nostalgic about our old CD binders, with pages and pages of happy circles staring back at us, it’s safe to say that the iPod revolutionized the way we listen to music forever. Portable music players were nothing new, with cassette players and the CD walkman already being relatively common place — but they were incredibly limited in functionality and the amount of music you could have with you at any given time. (And don’t even mention the skipping.)

The internet kiosk that wasn't

The first iPod came with a mechanical scroll wheel — who can forget that little clickclickclick?

It launched with 5GB and 10GB capacities, but that's not say it was easily available to consumers. Though it came in at just under £300, for the first time you didn’t have to commit to listening to one tape or CD for your entire journey — you could bring hundreds of songs with you, anywhere. And that convenience brought a high price tag with it.

But how did the iPod become “the iPod''? The name had actually been registered by Apple before the iPod came into existence. The name had been intended for individual internet kiosks — but when the kiosks never manifested, copywriter Vinnie Chieco gave it to the new portable music players instead.

And if the iPod had never been the iPod, would the iPhone have ever been called the iPhone? One happy accident (and a failed internet kiosk) helped perpetuate one of the most iconic naming conventions of today’s tech landscape. 

Increasing ubiquity and further innovations

Of course, the innovation didn’t stop at invention. The iPod continued to develop, with a second-generation model in July 2002 introducing touch-sensitivity rather than the mechanical wheel. Unless you were a very early adopter of the iPod, chances are good you experienced that early, intuitive and touch-sensitive technology.

But it wasn't until the iPod mini launched in July 2004 that we met the click-wheel, which was a totally innovative navigation system that would stick around until the invention of the iPhone.

In fact, the iPod began to look more and more like an iPhone as it continued to develop. While iPod Nanos were a huge consumer favorite, Apple continued develop tech for its larger iPods — adding photo albums, and eventually FaceTime and iMessaging capabilities. 

While MP3 players and other rivals came and went on the portable music scene, the iPod is arguably the disruptive moment of music tech — or perhaps it’s more accurate to say, moment of tech and music combined. It’s been 20 years since that clicking wheel and an ability to carry thousands of songs in your pocket came on the scene, stealing the name of an ill-fated Apple product. And we’re so glad it did. 

We're always looking to dream bigger and find ways to make the impossible possible. Next month, we'll be back with another moment that changed everything.