Requiem for Perfection: R.I.P. iPod Classic

Last week, Apple answered the question "Why mess with perfection?" by quietly killing off the iPod Classic.

Around 8:30 in the morning, nursing a cup of coffee, I received the following text from a co-worker: “My iPod died.”

Like me, he’s one of those who have 20,000-plus songs loaded on his device. So, my heart couldn’t help but sink a bit when I read his message. I know the hours it takes to put all that material back on the iPod. But until last week, we could at least take comfort in the fact we could always buy a brand new iPod Classic.

For obsessive-compulsive folks like me, rebuilding an iPod Classic first meant loading your “essentials” (your 50-plus albums you can’t live without), then reconstructing your genres along with your most recent purchases. For those who still hold onto the physical product, it’s the equivalent of coming home to find all of your CDs and albums in an ankle-high pile in your living room.

I and millions of others loved the iPod Classic. But I realize these people are a small demographic, and Apple knew this. Apple hadn’t changed the design or added any major new enhancements to the iPod Classic for a few years. They didn’t need to. Its current design was almost flawless, joining such perfectly-designed products as the key chain, the bookmark, and the umbrella. But perfection comes with a price, as Apple proved that last week. If a major product like a stereo, television, or gaming system doesn’t need improving, there is no incentive to buy more of them.

The iPod Classic forever altered the way I and millions of others consumed music. In the pre-iPod age, buying music always came with a two-pronged risk. The first was obvious: cost. The second was the simple fact that your purchase would take up space on your shelf, and inevitably would be added to your pile of stuff you would need to box up and move when you found a new apartment or house. Freed from the space and cost burden (either via free downloads, or heavily discounted MP3s), I could venture out and take more risks on different genres and bands.

Even the existence of the iPod affected me on a mood level. Like many music geeks, I got a bit over-zealous at wanting my entire record collection instantly available. Last time I checked, I had 24,426 songs loaded. Average that out to 12 songs an album, that comes to about 2,035 albums. The days I’m in a great mood, almost any album on my iPod sounds great. Days when I’m in a foul mood, I’ll keep hitting “>>” on shuffle and not find a single track that sounds good to me.

Despite all the added enhancements from its early 2000s unveiling when it looked like a deck of cards, I still saw the iPod as a logical extension of the Walkman. I continue to shrink when someone suggests to “just put your music on your phone like everyone else”. To me, I want my music experience totally separate from my phone and email updates.

As far as the physical product goes, I’m a traditionalist, but I’m also too ADD even for the iCloud. That’s what I loved about the iPod Classic. If you want a song from your library, you have instantaneous access — be it on a plane, in a forest, or in a hospital with no Internet access. And for the larger-capacity iPods, this meant songs that you downloaded years ago and forgotten about, were waiting to be rediscovered when you put your iPod on shuffle. The cloud can do this as well … if you have a connection.

In terms of size, perhaps 120 or 160 GB of memory was too big. One of the ways the iPod seriously hurt the music-listening experience was because of its bigness. With the ability to store tens of thousands of songs on your device, it created an environment of mass consumption. Download the latest “next Funeral” album, gobble up those $3.99 Amazon deals to complete your Pink Floyd collection, and get the download code for those ten songs on that free Sub Pop sampler. Your iPod Classic could handle it. However, your patience couldn’t. In the pre-iPod age, you were physically limited as to how big your CD jacket was. And if you were a student pulling a double-shift at a weekend job, you may have had to revisit those ten CDs in your backpack.

For music aficionados, something will come in to fill the void of the iPod Classic, but it won’t be as readily available as the Apple version. Its death wasn’t unexpected. But for many music lovers, it’s going to be tough to let go. They’re still available for purchase, but original batteries only last so long.