You have probably seen some old movies where some unruly teenager carried on his shoulders one the first “portable” audio players—a blaring cassette-tape-playing two-speaker monster (if you’re old enough, you may even have done this yourself). Unwieldy as those things were, they signified the very common desire of people to take their music with them.
But the first truly portable audio player was the cassette-tape based Sony Walkman, which was revolutionary in its time and brought on the dawn of the portable audio player and sparked a legion of imitators. The subsequent introduction of audio CDs and CD-based walkmans marked the start of the digital music age.
A relatively recent revolution in this area was the introduction of Apple’s portable music player, the iPod. Although portable mp3 players existed before it (the first mass market mp3 player, the Rio PMP300, was introduced in 1998), the iPod’s unique design, its user-friendliness, the hype surrounding its unveiling in 2001, and Apple’s very good reputation for its sense of aesthetics created immense interest in the product, and catapulted the iPod to its current ubiquity.
Portable mp3 players today are a must-have in the “everyone-else-has-them-so-I-should-have-one-too” sense, although they are undoubtedly very handy and one of the most remarkable innovations in entertainment technology. Especially among the younger half of the population, jumping aboard the portable music bandwagon is a way of staying cool and keeping up with the times.
The primary source of music in mp3 players today are still audio CDs, as it is now very easy to create mp3s from them. But the widespread availability of internet access, with the ability to download plenty of music (legally and illegally) is also a crucial factor in the spread of portable music players. Some additional factors for the popularity of mp3 players include the ability to access radio stations (present in many mp3 players), the recent integration of iPod interfaces into cars, and the many iPod accessories in the market.
Today, 1 in 5 Americans, and about 11 out of 20 American teenagers, own at least one portable audio player (with more than 7 out of 10 owning an iPod). More than 1 out of 10 older adults (aged 35-54) own an mp3 player as well. (Interestingly, and perhaps not surprisingly, two-thirds of mp3 player owners are male.) From these stats alone, it’s easy to see that portable music players are definitely here to stay.