iPod: A Genesis
by Doina Stefanescu | June 5, 2008
Day 1: Let there be iPod
It all started with the grand idea of Tony Fadell, an ex employee of Phillips, who dreamed of the perfect portable music player. So he thought out of the box and came up with the plan of a small hard drive-based MP3 player that was supposed to came together with a content delivery system which could provide users legally downloadable music.
We all know Rome wasn't built in a day, but it took Fadell almost two years to see his dream come true. In 2000, he first approached RealNetworks, but they already had a large content delivery system through Real premium radio and TV channels. They didn't see the wider picture and refused Fadell's idea. After this, Fadell turned to Phillips but they too turned him down. At this stage, Fadell went to Apple which embraced his idea, partly because months earlier they had bought the rights to SoundJam MP. Fadell was for Apple the right man at the right place, so in early 2001 he was hired, provided a development team and the deadline of a year to come up with a feasible product.
Unsure of Apple's real intentions and how bad they wanted such a product, after giving up in the past consumer electronics due to some failures, he chose to operate with an existing player to use as a base. So he found PortalPlayer and they could finally begin work, based on PortalPlayer prototypes. And they worked indeed. The prototypes had antique interfaces, no equalizers, couldn't support playlists larger than ten songs. And on top of this, the batteries were a laughing stock, merely three hours of playback time.
During the time spent actually finishing the PortalPlayer prototype, Steve Jobs intermediate a lot of high level meetings between Portal Player and Fadell's team, in which they would discuss issues regarding the device. Such happenings were strange for any Apple project at that time and it only proved that the project would take a while to be implemented. This took about eight months, and after the first three months Apple could brag about a preliminary version of the device interface and scroll wheel that would accompany the finished iPod.
Needless to say, Apple kept quite a low profile and took some pretty drastic security measures. No one outside the development team, and some few chosen ones from PortalPlayer, were allowed to see an actual complete iPod. During tests, the iPod prototypes were encased in sized boxes with the controls on different faces to keep intruders from knowing the size and layout of the device. The measures proved to be quite effective, since the press never knew a thing about what was going in Apple's playground until they begun to market the iPod's release on October 23rd, 2001.
The actual first released version was a 5GB Toshiba hard drive with ARM processor, high resolution display, lithium polymer battery and the most common feature of all iPods that were to come, a scroll wheel. This last details was actually what turned attention on the product. Users no longer needed to use skip buttons, they just scrolled through the list of songs to find the desired song, and the same wheel was used to control the system menus. This made it easier to navigate through the iPod's playlist, as opposed to that time's Nomad or Compaq MP3 players.
Nobody ever thought that Apple would go through such lengths to come up with "just" an MP3 player. It was until later that people recognized the importance of the device to Apple and to the music industry in general.
A month later, the iPod was released in Europe much to the enthusiasm of the media fans. Although it first received critics about the price, 400$ per unit, and that it wasn't Windows compatible, more and more units started to sell and an entire ecosystem began forming around the iPod, with new accessories and software products being released. A 10 GB version of the 1st generation (1G) iPod was later introduced.
Things really started to spin off when in July 2002, Apple released a Windows PC compatible version through MusicMatch. The iPod could now hold up to 20GB of storage space and had also PIM software. The original spinning scroll wheel was replaced by a solid state scroll wheel like a notebook's touchpad, with a ring of buttons surrounding it.
Next articles in this series:
1. Day 1: Let there be iPod
2. Day 2: Separating iPod from others
3. Day 3: The iPod world received colors
4. Day 4: The iPod stars
5. Day 5: iPod flora & fauna
6. Day 6: "Let us make iPod in our image...", Apple said
7. Day 7: And Apple rested..., or not?
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