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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.

He began to wonder if Audible's approach could be the solution to his problem and brainstormed ways that he could combine digital audio with music. Fadell explored the idea at Philips, but found little interest in the ideas among management. After a brief stint at RealNetworks, Fadell left to form his own digital music company called Fuse Systems.

Fuse developed a digital jukebox that would rip CDs to an internal hard drive, but the company had trouble raising funding in a time when venture capitalists fetishized software over hardware. Fadell had received the call from Rubinstein just as Fuse ran out of money.

Fadell went into initial talks with Apple in February 2001, thinking at first that Apple wanted to build a PDA. Soon, Apple offered Fadell a six-week contract as a hardware consultant. Just after signing, Rubinstein revealed Apple's true intentions.

"Apple thought that they could bring a better [MP3 player] to market and they asked for me to do some designs," said Fadell in an interview with Macworld. "How could one be built, what kind of components, how much would it cost, and to do all the basic research and design for what was to become the iPod."

Apple paired Fadell with Stan Ng, a veteran Apple product marketing manager, to help him mesh with the company's unique culture. During that six week period, Fadell met with almost everyone he knew in the handheld industry while keeping his true goals secret. He studied competitors' products and settled on the need for a small, ultra-portable device with a large capacity and long battery life.

Fadell brewed up three prototype designs for a potential Apple music player, each model crafted from foam core boards with rough interface graphics pasted on. Lead fishing weights gave each mock-up the approximate weight of a final device.

"It was all very, very rough," recalls Fadell. "I only had six weeks and it was only me really doing all the work."

When his contract expired in mid April 2001, Fadell presented his prototypes to Apple executives, including Steve Jobs, in an important meeting. Fadell purposely offered his two least promising mock-ups to Jobs first (one of which would have used flash memory, the other with removable storage) and hid the third under a decorative bamboo bowl Jobs kept on the conference room table. As Fadell predicted, Jobs liked the third mock-up best.

During the same meeting, Apple's Senior VP of Worldwide Product Marketing, Phil Schiller, presented mock-ups of a player featuring the now familiar scroll wheel. Schiller personally thought of the idea as a solution to a troubling interface problem at the time.

Other MP3 players used plus and minus buttons that would move, one item at a time, through a list of songs, which would grow tedious if the unit held a thousand songs--basically, you'd have to push the button a thousand times. With a wheel, a quick flick of the finger would navigate through the list at any rate the user wanted--especially since Apple would make the scroll speed accelerate the longer you spun the wheel.

 

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