On October 23, 2001 the world changed forever when Apple launched the iPod. Since then, 35 billion songs have been downloaded onto 400 million iPods. Join us as we take a misty-eyed look back at the evolution of personal music players.

Where it all began: The Sony Walkman

In July 1979 Sony created an entirely new way to listen to music with the introduction of the TPS-L2, better known as the Walkman. Playing cassettes that could hold up to 90 minutes of music, the battery-powered Walkman introduced the concept of ‘music on the go.’ From launch to its retirement in 2010, about 200 million devices were sold and “Walkman” became a by-word for all portable music players. 

Going digital: The Sony Discman

In 1984, energised by the global dominance of the Walkman, Sony launched the first portable CD player: the Discman. Entering the world just two years after the first mass production of CDs, the Discman was arguably ahead of its time but went on to achieve huge global success.

The best thing you (probably) never had: The MiniDisc

In the early 90s some brands encouraged us to switch from cassette and CD to MiniDisc. Unlike CDs, MiniDiscs were skip-free and re-recordable. Despite offering superior quality – and many subsequent years of use in the music industry – MiniDisc failed to take off and production of personal MiniDisc players ended in 2011.

The MP3 pioneer: The MPMan F10

By the end of the 1990s the MP3 digital music format was with us, leading to a flood of portable MP3 players hitting the market. Some had screens, some didn’t, and capacity was often limited to a handful of albums. Launched in 1998, the MPMan by SaeHan Information Systems was available in 32Mb and 64Mb models (yes, that’s MEGABYTES – the 32Mb model could hold 8 to 10 songs) and sold for around $200.

The first dual-purpose device: The Samsung Uproar

Nowadays the idea of having a phone and music player as two separate devices seems crazy. But back in 2000, when Samsung launched the first mobile phone with a built-in MP3 player, the concept was totally fresh. Hailed by Time magazine as one of the top 100 gadgets of all time, the Uproar was able to hold up to an hour of digital music and laid the foundations for iPhone and countless other smartphones.

The game changer (part one): Apple iPodOctober 23, 2001: Steve Jobs stepped onto the stage at an Apple Music event and changed the world. By introducing the iPod, Apple gave anyone (with a spare $399, a price tag that clearly positioned it as a premium product) the ability to put “1,000 songs in your pocket” thanks to a device that was smaller, easier to use and offered much more storage than other MP3 players on the market. 

Two years later, Apple launched iTunes, sealing its dominance of the emerging digital music market. Now only one model exists – the iPod Touch – with many commentators predicting the iPod category will be retired soon.

The game changer (part two): The Apple iPhone

Several years after the iPod launch, with over 100 million sold, Apple introduced a second revolutionary device in 2007 – the iPhone. Combining a phone, email, web browser and music player into a single product, Apple reinvented the phone and changed our portable tech expectations overnight.

Into the intangible era: The rise of streaming

The advent of the smartphone led to the demise of physical media for playing music – although vinyl has enjoyed a welcome revival among music aficionados. Streaming now accounts for 83% of music industry revenue in the US, a huge rise from just 3% when Apple launched the iPhone in 2007, with Spotify the dominant service globally.

Into the future: What’s next?

With a raft of opinions about what the future holds for music tech – from embedded microchips connected to our brain stems that automatically play music matched to our mood, to AI replacing artists entirely, making a solid prediction isn’t for the faint-hearted. 

Whatever the future holds, we’re excited to see (and hear) it!

To explore a range of future tech topics, check out our audio series Fast Forward