Was there digital music before the iPod? Contrary to what many people might think, the answer is yes. Well before the iPod became a technological and cultural sensation, millions of people were listening to digital music on their computers. And not just on their computersthey were listening to music on their portable music devices, called MP3 players.
Although the iPod certainly wasn't the first device for playing digital music, it changed the way people listened to and purchased music, and became a part of the cultural landscape. Before the iPod, the people who primarily listened to digital music on their computers and MP3 players were experienced computer users. After the iPod, even grandmothers with little computer experience could be seen plugging the familiar ear buds into their ears.
The iPod was introduced in 2001 and became an overnight sensation. Its popularity grew even more over time, as the confluence of legal, business, and technological innovation grew it into the phenomenon it has become today.
On the legal front, the music industry began cracking down on people who shared music files with each other using software such as Kazaa and similar programs. High-profile prosecutions began to make people fearful of downloading music. At the same time, the music industry took the creators of Kazaa and similar programs to court, successfully shutting down a number of them.
What does this have to do with the iPod? Plenty. Apple recognized that there was a massive pent-up demand for digital music, but no easy, legal way for people to buy that music. Music publishers didn't sell many of their songs online, and could not agree on a single way to sell music. People had no easy way to find and buy music they liked.
Apple saw a business opening and launched its iTunes Music Store. The iTunes Music Store is directly integrated into iTunes software for listening to music, "ripping" music from CDs, and "burning" music onto CDs. iTunes also integrated directly to the iPod, so that music downloaded into iTunes could be automatically copied to the iPod.
The introduction of the iTunes Music Store changed forever the way people buy and listen to music. Singles were made available for under a dollar and sales exceeded the expectations of the music industry. It became the biggest music site on the Internet; people finally had a legal way to buy and listen to digital music.
The iPod changed the way we buy and listen to music, but the changes it wrought didn't stop there. It also changed the way people listen to radio as well, via a technique called podcasting. With podcasting, anyone can create their own radio program, and then people can subscribe to that program so it downloads automatically to their iPods on whatever schedule they choose.
At first, podcasters were do-it-yourselfers, but soon the commercial world caught on as well. Today, there are many thousands of podcasts available, from people creating them in their living rooms to high-quality broadcasts from traditional radio stations.