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The birth of the iPod

Benj Edwards | Oct. 24, 2011
The destiny of Apple changed drastically 10 years ago with the release of a deceptively simple digital music player.

Meanwhile, Jeff Robbin, the programmer in charge of iTunes development, began work on the software end of the iPod. With so little time to debug a custom operating system to run on PortalPlayer's MP3 chipset, Robbin sought the help of Pixo, a Cupertino company that ultimately provided the iPod's basic OS.

Robbin's team, which included Apple interface designer Tim Wasko, would create the high-level user interface and music playing software in the iPod, as well as the version of iTunes that would sync with the iPod at launch.

Both teams put in long hours creating the device: 18 to 20 hours a day, seven days a week, according to Fadell, which took such a toll on his personal life that his girlfriend broke up with him.

While developing the iPod, Apple used a shoebox-sized prototype that enabled easier debugging while also obscuring the ultimate size of the device. Even within Apple, not everyone was certain of all the iPod's intended characteristics.

And what characteristics it would have. As with all its products, Apple wanted the iPod to stand out visually. While the software and hardware teams chugged away, Jonathan Ive's industrial design group got to work crafting the exterior appearance of the iPod.

iPod's outer beauty

After dozens of prototypes, Ive's team settled on a design: a simple box, the size of a pack of cards, clothed in a white polycarbonate front that set into a mirror-finish stainless steel case.

Two elements dominated the iPod's face: a simple rectangular display, and the now-iconic scroll wheel, which (unlike late models) physically moved when you spun it. The iPod's physical appearance eerily resembled the Braun T3 Pocket Radio designed by Dieter Rams, one of Ive's admitted design heroes.

I've intended the iPod's "shockingly neutral" white and stainless steel case to set it apart from a world of black and dark gray portable digital gadgets.

The iPod would have no removable battery door, no on/off switch, and no screws. Apple would seal the iPod's inner technological wizardry away from the prying hands of the user, silently conveying a simple message: it just works.

The finishing touches

So much about the iPod was new for Apple. Coming from a company accustomed to selling computers, Apple wasn't quite sure how to sell a consumer music gadget, which undoubtedly would be aimed at a different audience than the Mac.

Even the label on the iPod's box demanded special consideration for Apple: as a consumer audio gadget, the iPod had to comply with different trade laws regarding warning labels than those for the Mac.

To help with those tasks, Apple brought in outside experts who would assist in crafting the initial iPod marketing campaign. One of those experts, a freelance copywriter named Vinnie Chieco, gave the iPod its name.


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