The iPod's Cultural Impact, Explained: Which iPod Generation Was the Best?

The iPod was officially discontinued this year, more than 20 years after it revolutionized pocket devices and geeky music culture.
The iPod's Cultural Impact, Explained: Which iPod Generation Was the Best?

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On May 10, 2022, Apple finally brought down the curtain on their legendary product, the iPod.

For over two decades, the handheld personal music device was widely known as the very tip of cultural cool. With its easy-to-use interface and simplistic click-wheel, the iPod was just as much a device for listening to music on-the-go as it was a fashion statement.

In the mid-2000s, iPods (and, later, iPod clones and inspired devices) were essential for anybody who cared about music. The stylish pocket gadget rendered Walkmans and CD players obsolete as it revolutionized how people listened to their songs anywhere.

Before iPhones ended up in everyone's pockets, it was the iPod that equipped an entire era of people with the ability to listen to thousands of songs wherever they went... and look cool doing it.

Looking back at the product that helped launch Apple into the modern age, we see that there were several different generations and incarnations of the iPod—some more influential than others.

Which iPod generation was the best and which iPods had the most impact on mainstream culture?

5. iPod Shuffle

We all know the iPod Shuffle as the one Apple product your aunt was willing to buy for you because she wasn't spending the insane money needed for any other Apple device.

Kids and teenagers rolled their eyes at the thing, even as disgruntled parents shot back: "But it's still an iPod."

Over time, the iPod Shuffle has been left behind and almost feels kitsch now—perhaps even cool because of its reputation as the worst iPod. And it wasn't worst because of its price, but because of its uselessness.

The iPod Shuffle was tiny, both in form factor and in memory space. The largest model only had 4GB, which may have been relatively huge at the time, but still not enough for anyone with a sizable music collection.

Without a screen, the iPod Shuffle was an annoyance for anything but casual listening. But if you're going to get one today, the 2010 model still looks the best of all the iPod Shuffles.

4. iPod Nano

When the iPod Nano came out in 2005, it was meant to be a replacement for the iPod Mini. Unfortunately, it lacked all the fun of the iPod Mini and felt more like a gimmick for its small size.

In reality, the iPod Nano broke easily and didn't really offer much apart from its novelty factor during an era when mobile phones were starting to get bigger with the advent of smartphones.

Apple added features that now seem a bit silly when looking back, like video playback. The whole point of the Nano was its smallness, so why would anyone want to watch anything on it? That's beyond us.

Eventually, the iPod Nano faded out with a whimper. However, if you want to know which one was the best of them, it'd be the 2010 6th Generation (which essentially became the blueprint for the Apple Watch).

3. iPod Mini

The iPod Mini was seriously cool when it landed in 2004. Not only was it Apple's first real attempt to make an iPod that kept all its functionality while being much smaller, it was a huge success.

The curved edges of the design and the robust metal frame made the iPod Mini a fun device to keep on you and fiddle with at all times. It was large enough to hold all the music you could need, and it even had a nifty case with a clip (which some might argue was too big).

At the end of the day, the iPod Mini was a statement. It showed that you weren't beholden to an iPod that became a metaphor for something else. Instead, the Mini was vibrant and chilled out. Sadly, it was discontinued in 2005 for the iPod Nano.

2. iPod Touch

The iPod Touch signaled the end of the iPod range of products long before it was finally culled in 2022. With its launch, the iPod Touch basically showed that iPhones were what iPods used to be.

Still, at its peak, the iPod Touch was the iPod everybody wanted because it was packed with numerous features: internet browsing, music and video playback, and even apps. The iPod Touch was an iPhone without the phone, making it the second coolest product in the world.

For over a decade, the iPod Touch never made any dramatic changes in appearance and only kept offering the services of an iPod while iPhones grew more popular and ubiquitous.

The death of the iPod Touch means that the iPhone is all that remains of the iconic iPod line, but it was seriously fun in its day. The coolest of the line still remains the first generation Touch, which was everything people wanted in the form of an iPod.

1. iPod Classic

Even against the greatness of the iPod Touch, the iPod Classic still reigns as the best of them all. Not because it was the easiest to own or the best for features, but because it had the special sauce.

The iPod Classic had an ingredient that made it better by looking at it. People would go into an Apple store, with nowhere near enough money in their accounts to buy one, and stare at it for the design.

Click-wheel. That's all that needs to be said here. It's just so cool, even if you can't articulate why it's so cool. For all the genius of the iPhone and the iPod Touch and how they revolutionized the mobile experience, we still remember just how cool that click-wheel was.

The iPod Classic felt expensive. It felt novel. Plus, it was practical, with an internal memory that could handle almost anything that any normal person could need from a portable music device.

And of them all, the 6th and final generation iPod Classic wins. It still feels like the ultimate version of the ultimate iPod. It's a piece of tech from an era long gone.