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Enter The iPod

The Apple iPod is commonly considered to be the first hard disk based, high capacity MP3 player, but that simply isn't the case. About a year before the iPod arrived, Creative launched its DAP Jukebox, which combined a 6GB notebook hard drive with MP3 playback ability. Creative also came up with a logical interface for navigating the immense (for the time) amount of music that could be stored on the DAP. In fact Creative would later sue Apple (and eventually win $100m in damages) for using this interface without obtaining a license.
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It may not be as pretty as an iPod, but the DAP Jukebox came first.

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To be fair to Apple though, even though Creative's DAP Jukebox was the first widely available hard disk based digital music player, it wasn't exactly what I'd call a portable player. The DAP was roughly the same diameter as a CD Walkman, but considerably thicker and heavier, while Creative's claim of five hours battery life was optimistic to say the least. What the DAP did bring to the table though, was the ability to store a large library of music in a single device, while also offering the option of high bit rate encodes, for those who valued sound quality above convenience.

What Apple did with the iPod was squeeze all of the functionality of Creative's DAP into a far smaller and sleeker package - even by today's standards, the first generation iPod looks pretty good. But the aesthetics were only part of the attraction, it was the navigation interface that Apple implemented that really won the general public over. The Scroll Wheel navigation made searching through hundreds upon hundreds of songs a far simpler experience than anyone ever dreamed it could be. Apple's wheel navigation method was so groundbreaking, that it's still in use today, with only the latest touch-screen iPods leaving it behind.
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The first generation iPod took mobile music to the next level with high capacity, small form factor and great navigation.

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Not only did the iPod hardware change the face of MP3 players forever, but the music management software that interfaced with the device was set to become as much of a success as the iPod itself. Whether or not you like iTunes, it can't be denied that it's a feature rich, easy to use music management application that interfaces seamlessly with Apple's online store. In fact it could be argued that the iPod itself was a seeding device to create iTunes users. It's amazing how many iPod users are happy to buy tracks from iTunes regardless of the fact that those tracks will only ever be usable on an Apple device. Of course more tech savvy users resolutely refused to buy tracks from iTunes for that very reason, and in the end Apple relented and started to offer DRM free tracks on the iTunes Store.

Although the iPod built its name on hard disk storage and the ability to carry all your music around with you, in 2005 Apple launched the iPod Shuffle, which came equipped with a modest 512MB or 1GB of memory, no screen and a constantly random playlist. Later in the same year Apple's foray into flash based players continued with the launch of the nano. The nano was an impressive piece of kit which married Apple's now legendary navigation wheel with a device that was wafer thin and feather light.
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Flash based players like Apple's iPod touch have become a more desirable option for consumers and manufacturers alike.

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With the ever increasing capacity of flash memory and the continual price drops, it comes as no surprise that the vast majority of MP3 players now favour flash over hard drives. Both Apple and Creative offer 32GB versions of their respective touch and Zen players, which is more than enough storage for the vast majority of users. However, for anyone who still wants all their music on one device, Apple pretty much has a monopoly, with Creative openly admitting that it won't be producing a new hard disk based device anytime soon. The good news at least is that the 80GB iPod Classic is a great player and a complete steal at around £160.

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