Monday, October 25, 2021

iPod at 20

Roger Cheng (via Joe Rossignol):

When Apple executive Jon Rubinstein, who had been tasked with creating a music player, came knocking in early 2001, 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.


After a few weeks of negotiations with Jobs, Fadell joined Apple in April 2001 and assembled a team made up of Fuse and General Magic employees to put together what would become the iPod. The project immediately faced an uphill challenge. The team needed to work with a lot of new components, including a brand new hard drive from Toshiba that Rubinstein, who oversaw the whole project, identified as the key ingredient for the iPod.

Other breakthroughs included new software for the user interface and a then-new kind of lithium ion pack, giving the device 10 hours of battery life that far exceeded anything else in the market.


Jobs told Fadell he was going to throw marketing dollars at the iPod, pulling resources from its core Mac business. And even though sales of the original iPod and the follow-up version didn’t light any fires, Jobs followed through.

Cabel Sasser (tweet, Hacker News):

Sure, Apple had made other things before (QuickTake! PowerCD!) but they never really felt committed to those things. […] I have fond memories of Dave (who now works on Playdate) reverse-engineering the iPod database storage format so that you could use Audion to load songs onto it. I remember how plain fun it was to use — that click wheel, the original fidget toy! It was cool that I could use it as a tiny portable hard drive. The iPod was really good.


Now, there are a lot of mysteries in the Panic Archives (it’s a closet) but by far one of the most mysterious is what you’re seeing for the first time today: an original early iPod prototype.


A (literally) small easter egg, but I loved this so much. It felt like classic Apple — engineers and designers just having a little fun before things got so big and serious — a tiny reminder that actual humans made the polished things I enjoyed. So of course, Apple removed it from a later firmware revision when the press noticed. Times were changing. (In solidarity, I registered https://☃.net.)

Tony Fadell:

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)

Om Malik:

When iPod launched, digital music was a mess. Napster had awakened us to the potential of digital and online music, but the dream was a nightmare. The music industry hated Silicon Valley. (It still does.) You had to buy compact discs, rip them and then put those files onto your devices. These digital music players had exotic names — iRiver, Rio, and Creative Labs, for example. I had them all. I hated them all, though iRiver was pretty awesome for its time. We were so close, yet so far. Against that backdrop came the iPod.

Eamonn Forde (via Hacker News):

In 2001, the record business was in freefall due to digital piracy, and the best way out of this accelerating crisis came in the shape of a white device the size of a deck of cards. The iPod, launched 20 years ago this week, was also how Apple’s Steve Jobs was able to prey on a failing business in order to avenge his own past failures – exiled between 1985 and 1997 from the company he co-founded – by turning Apple into the most profitable company in history.


Teeth were gnashed at the time, but labels had to accept that Apple steered them into a future they could not have reached under their own steam. “In effect, [Apple’s dominance of legal downloads] was the price you paid for entry into the creation of a legitimate marketplace,” shrugs Berman. “The creation of iTunes was the whipped cream on top. It really did create a sense, once things got off the ground, that this had rescued the recording industry.”

Ali Partovi:

In 2007, my music startup, iLike, had pioneered a way for fans to follow artists and watch their videos in a feed.


Our service was so popular that it was the top driver of affiliate sales to iTunes Music Store. I naively thought a record industry in decline would embrace us as saviors. How wrong I was!


I was excited to meet the legendary Jimmy Iovine. He was the top record mogul, with an enviable roster that included Eminem, Black Eyed Peas, and my favorite band, U2. One of his lieutenants had summoned me with overtures about a “partnership.”


Jimmy repeated with emphasis: “You’re building a business off our backs. I can cause enormous harm to you, unless you give us our share. If you want to stay in business, you need to give us 50% of your company.”

Jimmy demanded half our equity simply to continue what we were already doing legally! He started lamenting that he should never have licensed music to iTunes without getting Apple stock, because Apple had built an empire “off our backs.”

Update (2021-10-28): Jack Wellborn:

Flash forward to a few years later, when my mother decided to get my father an iPod for Christmas. Still relatively poor, my role in the gift would be to put my father’s music on the device. This was no small task. My father is an avid music listener and had amassed close to 200 CDs at the time. I persevered, knowing that being able to hold his entire library would be a magical moment for my father. It was. To this day he still prefers his iPod Classic over pretty much any other device, including his iPhone.

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That's about what I expect from Iovine.

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