Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

The iPod Turns Twenty

Roger Cheng, CNet:

When Apple executive Jon Rubinstein, who had been tasked with creating a music player, came knocking in early 2001, [Tony] Fadell was already working on his own startup, Fuse Systems, with the goal of creating a mainstream MP3 player. It was a nascent market, with more than a dozen players from different companies including Creative Labs and RCA. The problem: Sales of the devices, which cost a few hundred dollars apiece, only totaled 500,000 units in 2000, according to the Consumer Electronics Association. Fuse itself faced plenty of rejection. Still, Fadell saw the Apple consulting gig as a chance to keep his own project alive.


At the end of March 2001, he presented them to Steve Jobs. Apple veteran Stan Ng had worked with Fadell to prepare a stack of papers for the presentation — this was before the days of slideshows — and prepared him for both Jobs and his reputation for an explosive temper. “Those stories were ingrained in my brain, burned into my brain, so I’m going in nervous,” Fadell said.

Jobs immediately took the stack of papers, riffled through the pages and quickly tossed them aside. “Here’s what I want to do,” Fadell recalled Jobs saying, hijacking the conversation and forcing them to dive right in.

Great story about what now seems like an odd time in consumer electronics history. I say “odd” because it is tough now to remember a time when a phone could not yet be a perfect convergence device. It did not take long for that to happen — Fadell’s presentation to Jobs in March 2001 happened about eight months before the first iPods went on sale, and less than six years before the iPhone was unveiled. As I write this, the Apple Watch has been shipping to consumers for a longer time than the gap between the first iPod meetings and when the iPhone went on sale.

The iPod is not lost in today’s Apple: the “pod” word is still more-or-less a synonym for a “music device” in the company’s language. AirPods are a huge success; HomePods, not as much. One more quirk of history is that podcasting — named for “iPod” and “broadcasting” — has been a bigger deal in the post-iPod era than it ever was while the device was on sale.

Cabel Sasser, of Panic, used this occasion to show off an extraordinary prototype of the original iPod:

Clearly, this revision of the prototype was very close to the internals of the finished iPod. In fact, the date there — September 3rd, 2001 — tells us this one was made barely two months before it was introduced.

Just wait until you see the housing.

Tony Fadell on Twitter:

This is a P68/Dulcimer iPod prototype we (very quickly) made before the true form factor design was ready. Didn’t want it look like an iPod for confidentiality — the buttons placement, the size — it was mostly air inside — and the wheel worked (poorly).

While I reflect on the iPod’s product arc, one more thing I think is worth mentioning: the entire history of the iPod, from those first meetings in March of 2001 until Apple stopped selling it in September 2014, took place in less time than the iPhone has been on sale. But without the iPod, it is hard to imagine Apple would have ever created the iPhone. The iPod may have been essentially a single-purpose device for listening to music, but its greater historical purpose is that it changed Apple and, consequently, the world.

With that, I leave you with the succinct review of the iPod by then-Slashdot editor Rob Malda: “No wireless. Less space than a nomad. Lame.”