My Nano was loud lime green and engraved with “Don’t Panic” on the back. It came with a computer, one of those Apple deals where you’d buy a laptop for college and they’d throw an iPod Nano in the box. I still have the 10-year-old MacBook White, but the 2nd-generation iPod Nano is long gone.
I wish it were the other way around.
This week marked the official death of the iPod Nano and the iPod Shuffle. As first noticed by MacRumors and confirmed by The Verge, Apple has removed both players from its online store and will officially discontinue them.
It is inevitable, and it is too bad. It’d been years since Apple paid any real attention to either device and longer since the iPod was really relevant—its job, like so many others, devoured by the smartphone. But never forget: The iPod was a toy where the iPhone is a tool. It is a throwback to a time you could love a gadget because it did one thing with neon aplomb, and it could bring joy into your life without saddling you with the business of your life.
During the iPhone decade, Apple has gestured at a revival of the vibrant color schemes it used to embrace on a cyclical basis—the look of the old rainbow logo and the amazing technicolor iMacs of the late 1990s. But that’s an occasional aberration. For the most part, phones come in neutrals, with an option of rose gold if you’re feeling fabulous.
The iPod Nano is a skateboard
It makes sense. The iPod Nano is a skateboard. It was small and quirky and task-specific enough to be lime green or eye-scalding purple, complete with a little customization. Your phone is a car. It’s boring and practical. People buy cars in neutral colors because a car is expensive, which means you have to worry about resale value, which means you have to get the Accord in champagne or grey because the boring person who’s going to buy it after you isn’t going to want hot orange. Statistically speaking.
Apple went through seven generations of Nano. Whereas the iPhone started smallish for a smartphone and has caved to the pressure to get big, my 2nd-gen Nano skinny and happily proportioned, like a business card that plays Weezer. (We can’t say the same for the squat 3rd gen Nano, which, hey, at least they were experimenting.) A modern phone, meanwhile, fits in your pocket (usually), but it dominates the whole space. It leaves an impression in the form of that line worn into jeans.
The iPod Shuffle was radically small. Remember its utter lack of screen? The Nano and Shuffle both were terrific for working out, walking around town—really any activity where the weight and girth of an entire smartphone is a burden today. I strap my iPhone to my arm to go running these days and wish I’d never sold my Nano.
Three years into its lifespan, my iPhone 6 has a headphone jack that no longer works, a charging port that works half the time, and ghosts in the machine that crash it or turn if off at random. The end is near. As PM has been saying, no one is solving the real problem with phones, which is that I never want to have to buy another one of these things. Getting a new phone isn’t exciting anymore; it’s a chore.
“Don’t Panic” never made me feel this way. It held just 4 GB of music at a time and was so dead-simple that yes, you thought about upgrading when the new version arrived. But you didn’t have to, lest you be left in the wilderness. Allow your phone to age past the period Apple intended you to own it and you’re walking through life with a device that controls your day but isn’t quite sure how to keep up, a personal assistant who’s constantly overwhelmed.
Whatever shape you procured, the iPod of old was about music. It wasn’t about everything.
One consequence of the fact that the smartphone ate all your standalone gadgets is that it sucked all your feelings into one box, too. Scan the apps that litter your home screen and you’ll find some that bring you the unrepentant joy you used to get from your iPod. You’ll also find financial apps nagging you to pay your bills and calendar apps pulling you into unnecessary meetings and social apps bullying you with the grandeur of everyone else’s make-believe life.
The iPod of old didn’t have the internet. It had jams, not notifications. Pour one out today for the uninterrupted playlist.