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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.

Steve Jobs liked the ideas he saw and offered Fadell a job at Apple to continue his work. After a period of uncertainty, Fadell joined Apple full-time in April 2001. The iPod project--then code named "P-68"--had officially begun.

Forming a team

With Apple's portable music project officially in gear, Fadell needed to settle on a release schedule. After some consultation with Apple's marketing department, Fadell decided that iPod would ship during the 2001 Christmas shopping season, which only gave him six months to form a team, develop a product, get it manufactured, and push it out the door.

While Apple dominates financially today, 2001 marked an uncertain time for the company. The recent tech stock crash loomed fresh in everyone's minds, and Apple was just barely breaking even financially. The company's main focus was on the Mac computer line, and it had few resources to spare for other projects.

Fadell knew he had to finish iPod quickly so Apple wouldn't shut down the project; he had to justify its existence as a financial drain on the company. He also felt that competitors would beat Apple to market with a similar device if Apple didn't work as fast as it could.

To build the core iPod development team, Fadell hired engineers from his startup company, Fuse, and veterans from General Magic and Philips.

"We weren't able to take other engineers or other resources from other parts of Apple, because they were already constrained," says Fadell. "We couldn't shut down the Mac to build the iPod, right?"

Apple placed Fadell's team, which consisted of about 25 regulars and a varying number of contractors, in what could be considered the Siberia of Apple: one of the oldest, dingiest buildings on its campus. (The building was so dilapidated that Apple had to kick the iPod team out after a couple of projects to substantially renovate it.)

The iPod team's open cubicle workspace made for a rowdy and playful environment. Fadell tells of the team members' attempt to write their initials in wet concrete outside the building (they were caught), and about the time one of the engineers accidentally stuck a screwdriver through a lithium polymer battery. It exploded, causing a nasty fire that sparked an internal FBI-like investigation scene with Apple Legal looking on.

Hashing out the details

With the launch deadline looming, Fadell's team didn't have time to develop all of the iPod's components in-house. While the power supply and display design drew from Apple's expertise, the heart of the iPod, a specialized MP3-playing chipset, came from a San Jose company called PortalPlayer.

A company called Fostex would manufacture the included Apple-designed earbuds. Fadell says earbuds where an obvious design choice because they're more portable, harder to break, and don't mess up your hair like traditional headphones do.

 

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