A news post went up last night (Tuesday, India Time) – the day when Apple discontinued the iPod Touch, the last remaining iPod model. “The music lives on”, reads the title of the post, bringing back fond memories of the iPod that cemented Apple into the most innovative tech company on the planet. First announced in 2001, the iPod not only changed the music industry but also changed how we think about technology and design. Not only the iPod was a turning point for Apple but its surprise success elevated Jony Ive, a close creative collaborator with Apple Inc co-founder Steve Jobs, as the most prolific industrial designer of the 21st century. Ive later went on to design cult products including the iPhone, iPod, and Apple Watch, among others. While Apple says the iPod Touch will remain available to buy “while stocks last”, we celebrate the legacy of the iconic music player with 5 surprising facts you might not have known about one of the world’s most innovative products ever created.
Nobody remembers Vinnie Chieco, a freelance copywriter, who was instrumental in naming the ‘iPod,’ Apple’s first music player. Sitting in the office of Apple in San Francisco, Chieco and a small group of freelance writers were called to name a product Apple was about to launch. When Chieco was handed the prototype, the device’s simplicity surprised him. The smooth-edges, white exterior reminded Chieco of a famous line from the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey where the character Dr Dave Bowman says, “Open the pod bay door, HAL!” In the film, HAL is the computer that could control the ship. The “pod,” in the movie is a spacecraft used for extravehicular activity. Chieco saw an analogy to the relationship between the spaceship and the smaller independent pods in the relationship between a personal computer and the music player.
It took Apple a single year to design, engineer and release the Original iPod to the public, says the company’s ex-Apple SVP, Tony Fadell. Fadell, often referred to as the “Father of the iPod,” says when he joined Apple in late January to run the iPod project, the idea was simply to make a hard-drive-based MP3 player. There was “No team, prototype, designs, nothing,” Fadell told Stripe CEP Patrick Collison. In fact, the project wasn’t approved by Jobs until nearly the end of March. Between May and October 2001, things started to speed up. By October of the same year – just eight months later – Apple CEO Steve Jobs took the stage in California to announce the iPod.
While speaking to Vogue’s Anna Wintour at last year’s Re-Wired conference, Apple’s former design chief said that the iPod was, in a real sense, Apple’s first piece of wearable technology. “I can’t think of anything more personal, more specific, more individual, and more intimate than things being inside us,” he told Wintour in an interview.
The iPod’s aesthetic, minimalist layout…the scroll wheel and accompanying headphones, in white, had all the elements of a signature Apple design. But do you know that Apple’s headphone cords are not exactly white. Leander Kahney’s book on Ive reveals that Jobs initially wasn’t on the same page as Ive on Apple’s designs moving in a white direction. Jobs disliked white initially for products when Apple designers presented the products. So, Apple’s designers tried to come up with colours that were close to white without being white to make him happy. “The designers came up with cloud white, snow white, glacial white, and moon gray, which looked like it was white, but was really gray. Jobs liked the moon gray, and approved it for a keyboard”, says Kahney. Moon grey was also selected to be the colour on the cords for Apple’s earbuds.
Did Apple invent the iconic scroll wheel on the first iPod? No. Apple’s inspiration for the music player’s wheel navigation came from a Bang & Olufsen cordless telephone. The idea to incorporate the scroll wheel was Phil Schiller’s, Apple’s former SVP of marketing, who had an experience with a Bang and Olufsen home phone that incorporated a scroll wheel for scrolling through contacts.
The Danish design company Bang & Olufsen released a DECT phone called BeoCom 6000 in 1998 with the same physical scroll wheel. Designed by Henrik Sørig Thomsen, the phone used “an intuitive navigation wheel to give speedy access to practical features like a phone book.” This was exactly four years before Apple even considered making a dedicated, portable MP3 player.