The iPod Classic is gone but the spirit of the click wheel lives on

Yes, Apple has finally killed off the click wheel and while its demise was inevitable, it still hurts.

Apple is discontinuing the iPod Classic. So, if you want one, you better buy one while the remaining stock is on shelves. Source: Geoffrey Fowler/The Wall Street Journal

While Apple was unveiling two new, larger iPhones and giving the world a first look at its Apple Watch, the company quietly pulled the plug on a beloved but neglected gadget: theiPod Classic. Yes, Apple finally killed off the click wheel.

This, of course, was inevitable. But, as a music lover, it still hurts. There was no tribute, no nostalgic montage acknowledging the click wheel’s passing. Tim Cook, on stage in Cupertino, didn’t mention it. U2—a band that once co-branded a black-and-red iPod with Apple—performed at the Tuesday event, yet they didn’t even bother with condolences.

This is probably as it should be. Gadgets aren’t people. They’re tools that are expected to be replaced without hesitation when something better comes along.

But to those of us who love gadgets—who love hardware as much as software, who understand how beautiful it can be when the two are built for one another—they feel like more. We project a soul into the mechanical, digital things in our lives. And for me and many other music lovers out there, the iPod Classic will be missed.

There was an emotional connection to the click-wheel iPods; an unmistakable joy that came from rolling a thumb around that smooth plastic donut. Clicking through your library of songs, albums, playlists, artists and genres was a smile-inducing ritual. This was our connection, our bridge to the music we loved. And though the click wheel iPods could eventually play video and display photos, they were really built for music lovers.

After all, the 160GB iPod Classic could store about 40,000 songs. It’s easy to take that for granted now that we can stream millions of songs from services like Spotify, Rdio or Beats Music with just a few taps on the touch screen. But even being able to carry around 500 songs on an iPod was heaven to those of us who remember what it was like lugging a book of CDs and a Discman; or to sit by a boombox waiting for the DJ to play that one special song so you could tape; or to those of us who lovingly curated milkcrates stuffed with 12-inch vinyl records.

CDs, cassettes, vinyl and the click wheel: each technology comes with a unique chore, but it’s all been a labor of love. Still, after the iPod’s debut more than a decade ago, it is time to move on. That’s what Apple is doing, and that’s what most of the world has done. (Both touchscreen and click-wheel iPod sales have been on the decline since 2013.) Flash memory has replaced the iPod Classic’s hard disk drive. Touchscreens have replaced the click wheel. You don’t carry music in your pocket anymore, you demand it, with an app.

The iPod was an iconic device for Apple and if Tim Cook has his way, the Apple Watch is the next icon. Fittingly, as the iPod and its click wheel exit the stage, a new clicking, rotating hardware wheel gets ready for the Apple limelight: the Apple Watch’s “digital crown.”