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Appeared on: Monday, October 23, 2006
Apple's popular iPod celebrates fifth birthday

Apple's popular iPod player marked its fifth anniversary as a cultural phenomenon that helped bring music into the digital age and reap billions of dollars in sales for the US company.

The California-based company launched its mini music player five years ago on October 23, 2001 and has never looked back as sales of the trendy gadget have continued to skyrocket.

Apple shipped over eight million iPods during its fiscal fourth quarter, marking a 35 percent increase in such shipments over the year-ago quarter, according to the company's latest earnings statement released last Wednesday.

"This strong quarter caps an extraordinary year for Apple," the company's chief executive Steve Jobs said last week, noting that the group had sold over 39 million iPods during the past year. And the sleek little music player has already become the "first cultural icon of the 21st Century," according to Michael Bull, a media lecturer at Britain's University of Sussex, who is researching the social influence of the iPod.

Apple has shored up the diminutive music player's popularity and ease of use by making it compatible with Windows PCs, and in 2003 the company launched its iTunes online music store enabling iPod devotees to download their favourite hits. Current visitors to the iTunes store can also download films and popular television programs.

However, industry competition is mounting, and software giant Microsoft announced in September that its Zune MP3 music player will hit US stores on November 14 as it seeks to challenge iPod's grip on the lucrative market.

South Korean electronics giant Samsung has also started marketing its own MP3 player called the YP-Z5 in a bid to challenge Apple's dominance over the music-player market.

Part of the iPod's success can be attributed to its small size, the smallest model easily fits in a shirt pocket, and its hefty memory which allows owners of the larger models to store up to 20,000 songs. Its international appeal was also helped by the fact that Apple designed the iPod's menu in multiple languages, including Japanese.

An 80GB model, which sells from 249 dollars, holds up to 20,000 songs, up to 25,000 photos and will also store up to 100 hours of video. The pocket-size iPod shuffle by comparison costs 79 dollars and can hold up to 240 songs.

Indeed, the iPod has become so ubiquitous that Mazda, General Motors and Ford recently teamed up with Apple to provide iPod-compatible equipment in their cars. Popular with students and young hipsters, iPods have, however, been snapped up by Britain's Queen Elizabeth II and US President George W. Bush, according to media reports.

Last week, Apple said its most recent quarterly profit jumped 24 percent from a year ago to 546 million dollars as sales of iPod music players and Macintosh computers gathered momentum.

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