How the rise of MP3 players enabled Apple's iPod to set up a decade of dominance

When the MP3 format began to catch the imagination of the general public in the mid to late 90s, it seemed that the promise of free music looked set to send the music industry into a downward spiral. Musicians and labels alike went public with their outrage, claiming that illegal digital distribution would lead to the destruction of their livelihoods. Few commentators could see any solution, and agreed that the industry was indeed in trouble.

Apple, however, clearly saw potential for the commercial side of MP3s where few others could possibly have envisaged it. October 2001 saw the release of the first generation iPod, a device with 5GB of storage (impressively large at the time), a Firewire interface and a 10 hour battery life that stood up against anything else on the market. The fact that the device could function perfectly even if it was being jostled around in ones pocket made it an instant must have for joggers everywhere, and it was quick to seep into the collective consciousness of the public.

People who once saw MP3s as a free format for them to distribute and download as they pleased, with little regard for copyright or the legalities of their country were quickly turning to the newly launched iTunes music store to do the unthinkable - pay for digital copies of music. It was to change the music industry massively, although it was something that, in hindsight, probably could have been predicted.

What followed, however, was almost unforeseeable. Apple had long since waged a war against Microsoft in a bid to make their devices seem cool compared to the businesslike facade they created to surround the PC market, but it wasn't until they stepped up to the plate in the consumer electronics market with the iPod, followed by the iPhone almost six years later, and then the iPad in 2010 that we truly saw the impact a single company could have on the shape of such a far reaching market.

Apple now dominate the smartphone market, with the iPhone being seen as the barometer against which all other smartphones are to be compared - and which few have managed to surpass, despite countless attempts. The tablet market can be seen to be going much the same way, with the word "iPad" having been very quickly absorbed into everyday language to refer to all touch screen tablet's as far as those who aren't particularly tech savvy are concerned, much the same way the word "iPod" became a suitable replacement for "MP3 player" all those years ago.

The Apple brand has now moved from being simply another electronics manufacturer to a way of life or fashion statement. Few could have predicted a decade ago that the rise of MP3 players enabled Apple iPod to change the consumer electronics, as well as music, industries so dramatically in such a short time.

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