I’ve been a tech and business writer for a long time, but I have to admit that I was clueless about Apple until 2003. That was the year iTunes debuted, and I met Steve Jobs. No, I didn’t hang out with the man, but I did cover a speech he gave and we had a quick chat afterwards.
The iPod had been around since 2001, and despite reasonable sales it was really just another MP3 player at that point. iTunes changed all that. During its first week, users downloaded more than a million songs at $0.99 a pop. Lots of albums were sold as well. As Jobs said that morning: “Our minds were blown” when they realized that half of the tracks sold in the first month were sold as albums.
Speaking to an audience of MBA students at Stanford, Jobs predicted that iTunes would turn the music industry upside down. I didn’t believe him. (Doh!) But he was certainly on the mark. He predicted that the number of songs on iTunes (then about 200,000) would double in just a few months and that the increase in content would drive iPod sales. Right on both counts. By June of 2003, iPod sales reached the million mark, and that September iTunes downloads reached 10 million.
The iPod nano, shuffle and touch are all still available – and there’s nothing wrong with them – but they’re not the same. My 80GB classic humbly sits in my Bose Sound Dock loaded with thousands of songs. Only a fraction of that library fits on my iPhone. Sure, the touch interface on an iPhone is way better than the click wheel, but when the classic was first released the technology was really slick.
I’m learning to play jazz piano, and I’m especially interested in hearing great musicians play. A few years ago, I read Miles Davis’s autobiography, a book that’s the equivalent of a master class in the history of jazz. I used it as a discography; when Davis mentioned a great pianist or sax player, I went to iTunes and played song previews. Whether I bought the track or not, I learned something.
That off-the-cuff immersion in unfamiliar music simply was not possible before Apple produced the iPod and iTunes. I’m grateful for that, and I’m grateful for the ability to plug my iPod into the car radio and listen to whatever I want, whenever I want – no stack of CDs required.
San Francisco journalist Bill Snyder writes frequently about business and technology. His work appears regularly in CIO.com and the publications of Stanford's Graduate School of Business and the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley. He welcomes your comments and suggestions.