How Apple has changed the face of digital music

As Apple’s $3bn deal with Beats by Dr Dre has finally been confirmed, everyone’s been wondering just what Apple has in mind for the headphones brand, especially as the deal wasn’t even mentioned at the WWDC. However, thinking about it, Apple has been widely credited with accelerating the first digital music revolution, so the global giant could be planning another very overdue industry shake-up.

Struggling to remember exactly how the fruit-based brand has been changing the face of music since the ’80s? Don’t worry, we’re about to jog your memory.

The Apple II
While Apple’s 1977 eight-bit Apple II began with only the most basic audio features, by 1986 it had developed into the 16-bit Apple IIGS – with the GS standing for ‘graphics and sound’. This machine featured a wavetable music synthesizer, which was a first for personal computing at the time. The Apple IIGS maintained a loyal following all the way through to 1992, when the Macintosh line took over.

Originally introduced in 1991, Apple’s QuickTime Player broke new ground for multimedia computing, which barely existed at the time. In 1994, QuickTime added support for music track playback that transcended existing computer audio quality and only worked with small (now WAY smaller) data files, like old-school MIDIs, with its own native sound synthesis engine.
Over time, QuickTime grew into Apple’s default video playback program, which lives on today – you needed to have it downloaded to watch the WWDC last week.

The iPod
Released in 2001, the iPod is when everyone started sitting up and taking notice of Apple, and cemented the company’s image as the leader in digital music. We were quite content with our Walkmans until this little baby came along. Offering up “1,000 songs in your pocket” and iTunes (then just a digital jukebox); the iPod embodied what we’ve come to expect from Apple. Going on to make iPod Minis, Nanos and Shuffles, Apple effectively made personal digital-music players available to everyone and anyone.

iTunes Store
Built after its acquisition of early MP3 playerSoundJam MP; Apple introduced its first version of iTunes in 2001, alongside the iPod. Two years later, with iPod hardware and iTunes as a software framework, Apple could finally introduce its biggest game changer yet: a digital storefront stocked with 99p songs that basically created the music industry as we know it today.

As the iPod picked up steam into 2004, Apple rolled out GarageBand, a platform for digital-music creation that made it far easier for your Average Joe to make his own music. Now available for iOS as well as OS X, GarageBand was a key step in transforming a growing base of music consumers into creators as well, especially as it came out around the time that MySpace was big.

When Apple made its MP3 player into a smartphone, everything changed. The advent of the iPhone meant that we no longer needed to carry around two separate devices, one for calls and one for music and media. The iPhone took the market by storm and basically became every technology we’ve ever owned wrapped into one rectangular screen, and all the other top brands have been biting at Apple’s heels ever since. Could you imagine a world without your smartphone?!

By the time the iPad hit, the iTunes store was already overflowing with apps, so the most iconic tablet created didn’t even need to try in becoming the next device we didn’t know we needed. With its larger screen and touch interface, and ever-growing pool of music creation apps, the iPad made a huge impact on digital-music creation, and is still continuing to do so.

We can’t wait to see what Apple has in-store to incorporate Beats. We’re hoping that they’ll replace their headphones with Dr Dre’s ones, but that could just be us being optimistic. We’ll just have to wait with baited breath, won’t we?

Hayley Minn