LINDA WERTHEIMER, host:
This is MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Linda Wertheimer.
RENEE MONTAGNE, host:
And I'm Renee Montagne. The iPod wasn't the first player to offer music on the go. Remember the Walkman? And it wasn't the first portable MP3 player. But it did revolutionize the way people consume music. As we look back at the signal events of this decade, NPR's Laura Sydell revisits 2001 and the launch of the iPod.
LAURA SYDELL: Steve Jobs, founder of Apple, stood in front of a San Francisco audience wearing his trademark jeans and black turtleneck, and asked a question.
Mr. STEVE JOBS (Founder, Apple): How many times have you gone on the road with a CD player and said, oh, God, the CD - I didn't bring the CD I wanted to listen to? To have your whole music library with you at all times is a quantum leap in listening to music.
SYDELL: Apple launched the product with a series of characteristically savvy commercials.
(Soundbite of music)
A geeky guy gets jazzed up to go out and dances around his apartment listening to his iPod.
Unidentified Man: IPod, a thousand songs in your pocket.
SYDELL: The player was about the size of a deck of cards and, like other Apple products, it looked cool. It was also easy to use. It had a white wheel on the front that let you scan quickly through the stored music library. But it wasn't just the player that was so revolutionary. It was the software.
Mr. SANDY PEARLMAN (Record producer): We don't really understand now what a shock it was when it came out.
SYDELL: Sandy Pearlman is a record producer who's worked with Blue Oyster Cult and The Clash, among others. He was also a founder of eMusic, one of the earliest legal download sites.
Pearlman says the iPod, combined with the iTunes software, created the first complete, Web-connected portable music system.
Mr. PEARLMAN: One of the most salient proofs of concept that it demonstrated was that you could use the Internet on a seamless, really easy to use, like falling-off-of-a-lubricated-log basis.
SYDELL: And iTunes offered access to music from the major record labels. Up until that time, no company had succeeded in getting them to come together and be part of an online music site. But as a growing number of customers began to download music without paying, the industry realized it needed to offer a legal alternative. Don Passman is an entertainment attorney who's represented R.E.M. and Janet Jackson.
Mr. DON PASSMAN (Entertainment attorney): So when iTunes and iPod came along and wanted to put money into legitimately selling music digitally and put advertising and marketing behind it, the industry was very excited to see that there was someone there that wanted to do something legal.
SYDELL: Despite its steep initial price and problems with its batteries, the iPod took off, selling more than 225 million units to date. Now when a candidate runs for office, they better be prepare for the inevitable question.
Unidentified Man: Tonight, we will be focusing on Barack Obama and John McCain, the Democratic and Republican candidates for president of the United States. But more importantly, we'll be focusing on their iPod playlists.
When President Obama met the Queen of England, he gave her an iPod. But eight years after its launch, this one included videos and photos. Now there's the iPod Touch and the iPhone, which can connect directly to the Internet. And that just may make the regular old iPod as obsolete as the Walkman.
Laura Sydell, NPR News, San Francisco.
MONTAGNE: And all this week and next, we're exploring the decade in music on our Web site. You can see a timeline of major events and hear the music at nprmusic.org.