iPod First Generation Story

The beginning

Apple sent out their invitations with FedEx to a few selected reporters and tech-analysts. It arrived to them all wednesday 17 october 2001. It was a plain white envelope with a handwritten inscription. The card inside the envelope was spare, clean and white. There was a message inside the card:

This coming Tuesday, Apple invites you to the unveiling of a breakthrough digital device.
(Hint: it’s not a Mac).

The unveiling took place at 10 AM in Town Hall, an auditorium inside Apple HQ at Infinity Loop in Cupertino. The 200 invited guests didn’t realize then that they participated in an event revealing a product that would make a dent in the universe and change the way people listen to music for ever. The product was a new member to Apples “digital hub strategy”, a portable mp3 player that would fit in your pocket an hold a 1000 songs. At Apple it was known as P68 or Dulcimer. It was the iPod.


The first iPod was introduced October 23 2001 but wasn’t released to the market until November 10 when Apple shipped their first iPod. The music player was a “ultra-portable” mp3 player, only available to Macintosh users. It came as one size only and the price was $399. In the box you got the iPod, a charger, a FireWire cable, headphones with foam covers in light gray, a software CD and a manual and documentation.

The first generation iPod didn’t sell as well as expected, so in March 21 2002 Apple released a 10 GB model still only available to Macintosh users. The 5 GB model was the same, but the sleeve was different. Now the sleeve was marked with hard drive size. Some boxes came with artists on the sleeve. The 10 GB model came with Billie Holiday, Run DMC, Jimi Hendrix and Miles Davis. The 5 GB model came with Bob Marley and Alanis Morissette. The only other difference was some brief operating instructions printed on the back side of the transparent cellophane wrapped around the iPod. The inside of the boxes and the accessories are the same as the original iPod. The price for the 5 GB model was $399 and the 10 GB model was $499. 5GB and 10GB produced after March 21 but before July 17 are often referred as 1.1 or 1.5 generation iPods.

Q & A

Is there a second generation 5GB model, or are all 5GB iPods first generation?

To be perfectly honest all 5GB iPods are first generation iPods. BUT many collectors consider all 5GB iPods produced after week 11 2002 not to be true first generation iPods. Why? When Apple announced a 10GB iPod in March 20, 2002, both models were regarded as a next generation of iPod by the collecting community. Not by Apple though. So when Apple introduces the touch wheel iPod in July as second generation iPod, the March iPods are named generation 1.5 although the only thing to differ from the first generation is the box and the bigger harddrive in the 10GB model. So if you want to own a true first generation iPod, from a time when the only iPod in the world was a 5GB Mac only ultra-portable MP3 music player, you should try to get one before week 11 2002.

Were there ever a solid state touch wheel 5GB model?

No, the 5GB model was always exactly the same through generation 1, generation 1.5 and generation 2. The 10 GB model was released with both scroll wheel and touch wheel, and the 20GB model was shipped with only touch wheel.

Is it important for the serial number to match on both the iPod and the box?

Yes, to most collectors this is very important. A person who just want to have an original box with an original iPod would probably not mind at all, but most collectors want the box to match the iPod and all accessories.

Is it possible to see when an iPod was produced by the factory?

iPod serial numbers should be 11 characters. First two characters are always the plant where the iPod was made. Third character is production year. Following two characters is manufacturing week. The other 6 characters tells us the production number of that week. Serial number U22043K8LG6 tells us it’s a first generation 5GB iPod, produced as unit number 4122 in week 4 2002 by Inventec in Taiwan. I always look at the first 5 characters U22043K8LG6. U2 – Taiwan, 2 – 2002, 04 – week 4.

I have a first generation iPod with a serial number that says it was produced in 2004. Could that be right?

Yes and no. Your iPod is probably a refurbished iPod or an iPod produced by Apple to meet replacement or service needs. If the first two characters in the serial number is GQ, then it is a refurbished iPod. “Refurbs” is not interesting as a collectors item.

Why is refurbished iPods so bad? My first generation looks just like new. It must be worth plenty?

No, refurbs is not something a collector want in a collection. A refurbished iPod is an iPod that has been returned to Apple for some reason. It’s checked and repaired and sold again as a “used” but functional product. Let me put it like this. Is an old model 1923 T-Ford still a T-Ford if made of parts fabricated 2012? It is exactly the same with a refurbished iPod. It’s an old iPod, but everything could be new inside and out. I have seen 5GB first generation iPods with serials that says it was fabricated early 2006 which is possible but by many will never be regarded as a true 1st generation iPod. And if you are a collector, my recommendation is to stay away from iPods with “GQ” as production plant in their serial number.

Did Apple invent the iconic scroll wheel on the first iPod?

No, I don’t think so. Well, who did then?

Some people say it was a company called Synaptics that actually designed the click wheel based on Apples design requirements. I do not know anything about that, but I know for a fact that the danish design company Bang & Olufsen released a DECT phone called BeoCom 6000 in 1998 with exactly the same physical scroll wheel. The wheel works in the same way, accelerates through long lists when rotating fast, incredibly exact when rotating slow and even makes an electronic clicking sound when rotating to make the user register the speed of the “movement”. And this was four years before the iPod was introduced and way before Apple even thought of designing a MP3 music player.


iPod Second Generation Story

Second Generation, third revision

140218- 1

1G to the left, 2G to the right

17 July 2002 Apple made four major announcements. First, PC versions of the iPods were unveiled. Second, a 20 GB model was introduced to the market. Third, both the 10 GB and the 20 GB models had the new solid state touch wheel instead of the rotating one. And fourth, the prices were lowered. The 5 GB model was $299. The 10 GB model was $399 and the 20 GB model retailed at $499. All versions still had only FireWire to sync and charge the iPod. Very few PCs had FireWire installed at this time which made the iPod rare in the PC world. The FireWire port on the top part of the iPod had a white plastic cover on the second generation. The FireWire cable was also slightly thinner than the previous one. The 10 GB and the 20 GB models came with a wired remote and a case with belt clip. If you wanted the remote and the case to your 5 GB model, it was possible to buy them as extra accessories, sold by Apple for $39. The earbuds where also slightly different from the first generation, and you now got two sets of foam pieces in black. You also got a soft pouch to put the iPod in when stowing it away for longer periods. The windows models was also shipped with a 4-pin to 6-pin FireWire adapter. The software was updated with time, calendars and contacts. You could also browse your music by composers or genre. Apple started shipping these iPods in late August.

130529- 1

iPod Third Generation Story

Third Generation iPod

3rd gen boxes

This is not my picture.

April 28, 2003 Apple unveiled the third generation iPod. They begun shipping May 1. The third version was a major redesign of the iPod. The four buttons around the touch wheel had been moved to a straight line under the screen. They where touch sensitive and backlit. The iPod was also slightly thinner and lighter and had a more rounded enclosure. The prices was adjusted so the 10GB model costed $299, the 15GB model costed $399 and the 30GB model costed $499. The FireWire port on top was removed and replaced by the new “30 pin dock connector” at the bottom. It was also shipped with a dock and a single cable with the new 30-pin dock connector in one end and FireWire 400 at the other end. The iPod was both Mac and PC ready. You also got a soft pouch, a 4-pin to 6-pin FireWire adapter and cover caps in white plastic for the dock connector port in the bottom of the iPod. In June 19 Apple finally released software drivers and a dock connector to USB 2.0 cable. By June 23 Apple sells their millionth iPod since introduction in October 2001.

September 8 2003 Apple release the second revision of the third generation. The two larger models were updated with bigger hard drives. 15GB was replaced with 20GB ($399) and the 30Gb was replaced with 40GB ($499). A dock connector-to-USB 2.0 cable and software for PC was also included in the windows versions of the iPod.

In November the complaints about failing batteries reaches its peak when “iPod’s Dirty Little Secret” video spreads across the internet. Apples solution to the problem is to offer existing users a cheaper battery replacement alternative than the regular one.

In January 6 2004 Apple replace the entry level iPod with the 15GB model and announces the sale of its two millionth iPod less than six months after its one millionth. The retailers drop the price of the remaining 10GB iPods to $249.

iPod Value

Just to make one thing clear. In my opinion a factory sealed iPod first generation will never be worth $200 000! Ever. Not to a collector and not to a museum. Why? Why would a museum want to display a sealed box? I guess they would like to display an iPod, not a box. And a serious collector could buy a complete collection for that kind of money. Or send their kids to college.

I often get questions about the value of different iPods. My standard response to this question is “It’s worth what someone is willing to pay”. I’m trying to be as honest as possible and I always try to help people to the best of my knowledge. Sometimes people get  disappointed. This is often the case when they think the iPod is worth much more than it really is.

The value of an iPod depends on many things. First it depends on who you ask. If you ask a collector it could be worth one thing. If you ask a user it could be worth another thing. And if you ask an Apple fan boy it could be worth a fortune. I value iPods from a collectors point of view.

As a collector I value the overall condition on both the iPod and the accessories and packaging. The supply and demand also plays a huge part in determine the price. Suddenly everyone decide to sell their iPods at the same time and the prices drop drastically. Sometimes two collectors want the same iPod and the price skyrocket.

There is also another factor to consider. There are lots of people buying and selling iPods that are not “real” collectors. I call them opportunists! They are people who surely just want to make easy money. They buy what they think a collector would buy and hope to sell it again with a profit! They sell it to another opportunist and the snowball is rolling. After a couple of times on ebay, the iPod is suddenly “worth” a fortune!

Other naive “do-not-have-a-clue” ebayers also see these insane auctions and think they could get plenty of $$$ for their banged-up, box-missing, no-good, scruffy-looking iPods. Soon enough a 5:th generation iPod is worth more money now, than when it was new.

Still, an iPod is worth, what someone is willing to pay…I know!
But honestly…some sellers on different marketplaces set huge pricetags on their iPods.
My fear is that some crazy bastard with loads of money and no judgement,
buys the lot and sets a whole new standard to the collecting market, not based on collectors opinion, but rather investors and other opportunists imaginary values.

This is my humble opinion, others may “think different”.