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A World Without iPods

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Wow, my 401(k) is really taking a beating. Glad I put all that money into Bitcoin! Uhhhhh …

The Plain View

Weeks after introducing the iPhone in January 2007, Steve Jobs visited New York City to show his creation to top editors at a couple of publications. I hosted him for a lunch at Newsweek, and my bosses were dazzled by a hands-on demo of the new device, months before its release. While chatting with Jobs before he took off, I shared a thought with him: Wouldn’t it be cool to have an iPhone without the phone? I mentioned this because, at several points throughout his presentation, he’d explained why certain features were constrained by the security and connectivity needs of the mobile carrier.

It wouldn’t work, he told me, rather dismissively.

Later that year, however, we saw the iPod Touch—an iPhone without the phone, complete with iOS, a touch screen, and, of course, a music player, among many other available apps. It was one of countless 180s that Jobs executed in his years at Apple, a skill that freed him from preconceptions. Or was it underway when we spoke and he was, uh, misdirecting me? Whatever. What no one knew at the time, though, was that this SIM-less wonder would one day be the last remaining device that claimed the iconic appellation of an iPod. And, as of this week, there are none. On Tuesday, Apple announced that it’s discontinuing the iPod. (You can still grab one while supplies last.) The company took the rare step of issuing a press release looking back on the iPod legacy, which captivated a generation of fanatic users.

Including me. There was no way I was going to ignore this event—I wrote the book on the iPod! So even though last week I wrote about Apple losing its soul, this week I am compelled to talk about Apple literally losing its Touch.

What does Apple, and the world, lose by no longer having an iPod? The question is anticlimactic, because it was a stretch to call the Touch an iPod in the first place. Its iPodness came by way of its iPhone parentage, and as all Apple nerds know, Jobs introduced the iPhone as three devices in one—a phone, an internet communicator, and an iPod. But the iPhone’s secret weapon was actually how its operating system worked with sensors and connectivity to deliver new kinds of apps. The iPod Touch, like its phone sibling, featured music as just one of a zillion other functions. In the days since Apple’s announcement this week, pundits have pondered the ontology of iPodness. Jobs himself once addressed this question to me, when I asked him why we should view the just-announced iPod Shuffle, with no clickwheel or display, as an iPod. What is an iPod? I wanted to know. “An iPod,” he told me, “is just a great digital music player.”

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