Apple’s Assassin: Four Music Devices the iPod Destroyed

By Guest staff (for guest post, refer Terms ) In October, Apple celebrated the 10 th anniversary of its revolutionary iPod portable dig...

By Guest staff (for guest post, refer Terms)

In October, Apple celebrated the 10th anniversary of its revolutionary iPod portable digital music player. At the time, cassette players were all but extinct, the Diamond Rio player was poised to lead the digital music revolution, and Napster was at its peak. Hoping to exploit the fledgling market of digital music devices, the late Steve Jobs mandated the creation of a player that was compact, but more user-friendly than existing models. The iPod appeared less than a year later and, despite doubts that PC fanatics could be lured to the new product, crushed its competition like Genghis Khan.

The best way, then, to celebrate the iPod’s inception is to hold a proper funeral for the technology Apple killed in its rise to supreme dominance. So, after a moment of silence for the entire music industry, I present you with four technologies rendered obsolete by the iPod.

The Portable Cassette Player

The cassette player was a feeble old man when iPod appeared and, like a lion, plucked the sick and dying device from the portable music herd. In its prime, Sony’s Walkman cassette player stood toe-to-toe with its Discman CD player and even had a number of advantages over CD’s. Audio cassettes never skipped, and even the best anti-skip technology for CD players couldn’t keep pace with a vigorous runner. Creating mix-tapes was a cinch, and no one complained about copyrights or piracy when you pulled songs straight from the radio. Alas, the storage limits and the fragile nature of the cassette—to say nothing of re-spooling woes—made it hard to keep up with the youthful CD. Then iPod’s signature white earbuds started popping up, and at that point, portable cassette players withered and died like the bad guy in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

The Portable CD Player

Initially viewed as a cross between laserdiscs (video) and floppy disks (computer data), the CD was superior to all the similar technology that preceded it. It recorded music with higher clarity than cassette tapes, and it could hold more data than floppy disks. The only thing it couldn’t do, at the time, was handle a little jostling. Since a laser read the information stored on CD’s, any inconsistency in the CD’s spin would disrupt the portion of the disc being read. This meant the first generation of Discman players could only function on a level, immobile surface. In spite of this, not having to flip from side A to B or worry about untangling strands of magnetic tape made the discs popular. Once legitimate anti-skip tech, CD-R’s and CD-RW’s, appeared, CD players ruled the portable music world. Just as Discmans were headed towards a three-way slugfest with MiniDisc players and the Diamond Rio device (the only worthwhile mp3 player of the era), the iPod took over and demoted compact discs to photo storage duty.

The MiniDisc Player

Sony announced in September 2011 that it would no longer ship MiniDisc products, officially acknowledging the demise of a device that had really fizzled out years before. The MD’s start in 1992 was promising and became fairly popular in Japan. The magneto-optical disc didn’t catch on globally due to its high price and the affordability (read: dirt cheap) of recordable CD’s and burners. In spite of this, the MiniDisc had admirable qualities. It was the smallest, most travel-friendly player of its day. You could record over a disc as many as one million times and, up to the advent of mp3 players, it had the fastest seek time and edit on-the-fly capabilities. Its flaws—lack of support from recording labels, incompatible audio and data discs, and comparative cost—caused MiniDisc players to only survive during their technological prime, and promptly dropped dead at the sight of Apple’s first iPod.

The Diamond Rio PMP300 (or mp3 players in general):

There were a few mp3 players bouncing around the digital music scene by 2001, but none showed as much promise as the Rio. Produced by Diamond Multimedia, the Rio ran for about ten hours on a single AA battery, played mp2 and mp3 audio files, and was created alongside RioPort, a sort of primitive iTunes. Unfortunately for Diamond, the design flaws and legal setbacks stunted what could have been a great product. The central navigating wheel fell off, its silver paint flaked off, the casing cracked, and the battery flap snapped off. Counter-intuitively, pioneering the digital music revolution was a distinct disadvantage due to the murky legal waters companies like Diamond were exploring. The Recording Industry Association of America filed a temporary restraining order, preventing the sale of the Rio, which delayed the player’s arrival into the market. Nowadays, the Rio is still kicking around, but its inferior quality back in 2001 marked it for obscurity in the iPod’s shadow.


Taggart is a writer for CableTV.com. He typically writes about business, technology, and sports. You can follow him on Twitter: @taggartwhite.

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