Since its introduction in November 2001, the iPod has spawned an ecosystem of accessories that include cases, earphones, home stereos, and hardware for playing the device in the car. In addition, it has driven the success of Apple's online music store iTunes, which sells more music over the Web than any other store.
In announcing its achievement Monday, Apple trotted out praise from Grammy Award-winning artists Mary J. Blige and John Mayer. The company even offered a quote from bicyclist Lance Armstrong, the seven-time Tour de France champion who apparently can't be separated from his iPod. "I take my running shoes and my iPod with me everywhere," he said.
Celebrity fawning aside, the iPod's rise to dominance has left competitors scratching their heads and regulators in Europe threatening to rein in its monopoly. The device accounts for more than three-quarters of the global market for portable players.
Since the iPod's introduction 5-1/2 years ago, Apple has unveiled more than 10 models and sparked an ecosystem of more than 4,000 accessories. The iTunes music store's library has grown to more than 5 million songs, and Apple claims to have sold more than 2.5 billion tracks.
For several years, Microsoft tried but failed to catch the iPod with devices built by manufacturing partners with its Windows Mobile software. Last November, Microsoft copied Apple's strategy by launching its own device called Zune, which also has its own music store. Zune, however, has failed to have any impact on iPod sales, analysts say. The SanDisk MP3 player is the closest competitor with about 9% of the market.