Ironically, the same day that Business Insider declared the death of the iPod, I saw the film “Baby Driver” at my local multiplex. It's a heist movie, with a twist. An unlikely getaway driver – a kid called “Baby” – is never without his iPod and white earbuds. And the only way he can successfully drive his gang out of harm's way is with the constant stream of music in his head.
It's notable that Baby owns multiple iPods. As he tells a curious thug, “I got different iPods for different days and moods.” And to Baby, it's always about the mix and finding just the right song for the right situation. It's notable that at various points in the film, we come to find out Baby also has a huge collection of vinyl, and during one intense moment, actually tunes in a real car radio appropriately playing “Radar Love.”
But “Baby Driver” is a movie. And the reality is that last month, Apple announced they're discontinuing both the Nano and the Shuffle, leaving the Touch as the last vestige of iPod-dom.
Amazingly, the iPod phase that most people went through in the first decade of this century didn't last very long. Early mp3 players were around in the late '90s, but it was the debut of Apple's iPod in 2001 that spurred a true trend. Seemingly, everyone bought an iPod, and like Baby, some people purchased multiple versions as Apple broadened the line, added features, colors, and designs.
My son, Mickey, saved his money to buy the special U2 edition iPod – a very cool version of the basic model, that I thought might spur other signature versions of Apple's mp3 player.
Ironically, Apple created the iPod phenomenon, and then seemingly killed the category with the debut of the iPhone just six years later. It's a true case of a company successfully disrupting itself. The iPhone (and its accompanying App Store) has become the biggest profit center in a company famous for its innovative consumer technology gadgets.
It's also a fact that streaming music services played a role in the iPod's eventual downfall and demise. As consumers have moved from owning their music to simply listening to it on platforms like Pandora and Spotify, the mp3 player has become as passé as the flip phone. And yet at its peak, the iPod could store 4,000 songs without using any data – a remarkable concept that is no longer viable.
Given the sales falloff of iPods, Apple's decision to virtually exit the mp3 market is pragmatic and probably very smart.
The decline of the iPod after a peak in 2008 at more than 54 million units sold is a testament to the notion that gadgets and devices have a shorter life-span in these fast-moving hi-tech times.
And then, there's the radio. A story in CNN Style last week by Clive Martin blared this headline:
“The radio is one of history's most important inventions”
From radio's ability to inform and entertain, to some of the truly iconic designs of radios through the ages, Martin makes the point that radio has survived for decades and decades – a much longer run than the iPod.
A new exhibit at the Cooper Hewitt museum in New York City, “The World Of Radio,' showcases the history of the medium – its impact and importance. In the story, Martin traces radio's physical history: those big old mahogany floor standing radios, portable transistor radios, boom boxes and ghetto blasters, and these days, “an app on a laptop or a phone.” There should probably be an Amazon Echo on display, too – the newest manifestation of the medium in yet another very different form.
The fact is, radio – its style, its ubiquitous presence, and its content offerings – has survived the ages, often taking on different forms and formats in order to remain America's #1 reach medium.
As Baby manipulates his armada of iPods in the film, it feels nostalgic – an odd sensation given that these devices haven't been with us all that long.
And yet, when he turns on the car radio and cranks up the volume, it feels downright contemporary.
By the way, “Baby Driver” is filmed in Atlanta, and when Baby punches up 97.1 FM on a stolen car and hears “Radar Love, that must be Cox Media Group's The River. I'm moderating a great panel, featuring Steve Goldstein, Chris Peterson, Kim Reis, and Tim Clarke – along with a few hundred disc jockeys – at Morning Show Boot Camp in Atlanta later this week. Info here.