Wednesday, 20 October 2021

Nokia 5510 (2001)

Launched October 2001

At the same time that Apple launched their groundbreaking iPod digital music player, Nokia were going for the same market with their equally groundbreaking Nokia 5510. Of course, today people remember the original the original classic iPod… but the 5510 hides in obscurity filed under W for weird.

A weird looking Nokia 5510
A weird-looking Nokia 5510

The two devices were both trying to do the same thing, but both Apple and Nokia started from different origins. Where the iPod had a 5GB internal hard disk and was strictly a music-only device, the 5510 had 64MB of internal flash memory and also a full QWERTY keyboard, WAP browser, email client and of course it was a phone too.

This was Nokia’s first music capable phone, but it required a Windows PC to encode MP3s in a copy-protected format, and the 64MB of memory was about for about one album’s worth of songs (compared to the 1000 or so on the iPod). This was slow and cumbersome, and the 5510 didn’t support memory cards so you were stuck with this 64MB limit. However, the 5510 did include an FM radio which was quite a useful feature for its day.

Nokia wanted it to be more than just a music phone, so the inbuilt email client and the built-in QWERTY keyboard should have been a good match. Except of course that looking at it now, the keyboard takes up most of the device with a relatively tiny screen. But RIM hadn’t yet come up with their iconic 6230 design which was frankly a lot more usable, and which was much-copied in the years that followed its release.

Doubly weird, two Nokia 5510s
Doubly weird, two Nokia 5510s

Flawed as a music player, and flawed as a messaging device… the 5510 nonetheless foreshadowed technologies that were to come. You can’t attach any blame to Nokia for seeing what consumers wanted, giving it a go and getting it wrong. But Nokia got it wrong rather too often, whereas the iPod was right first time.

Weird Nokia phones are quite collectable, and the 5510 easily falls into this category with good examples going for about £70 or so. You might only get limited use out of it, but certainly on looks along it still has the wow factor…

Image credits:
Nokia


Saturday, 16 October 2021

Apple iPod (2001)

Introduced October 2001

Last time we looked at Apple’s offerings in October 1991 with the Mac Quadra and PowerBook machines. Although they were decent systems, Apple went into decline during the 1990s and by 1997 it was a hairs breadth away from bankruptcy. But a change in leadership, including the return of Steve Jobs and fresh engineering and design talent started to turn the company around. 1998’s iMac wowed consumers, but the company wasn’t going to rely just on the Mac this time around.

By 2001, Apple had an eye on the portable music player market – devices that were tricky to use and either very limited in what they could store or were huge. But Apple didn’t have enough engineers with the rights skills to make such a device, so Apple’s head of engineering – Jon Rubinstein – contracted the work out to a former Philips engineer named Tony Fadell who had made a couple of practical if commercially unsuccessful PDAs and then formed his own company. Fadell recruited other engineers from Philips and his own firm, and then added to this was Apple engineer Michael Dhuey and Apple design Jonathan Ive. Further work on the UI was outsourced to a company called Pixo (eventually acquired by Sun Microsystems), and a deal was struck with Toshiba to supply their compact 5GB hard drive which would form the heart of the whole thing.

This music player became the Apple iPod, developed in less than a year and quite unlike anything on the market. Capable of storing 1000 songs, it came with a prominent scroll wheel, a decently sized screen with easy-to-use options all in a compact and elegantly designed case. Although it wasn’t cheap, retailing at $399, it was easily better than almost anything else on the market and was a huge hit.

Apple iPods and a Mac G5
Apple iPods and a Mac G5

The original iPod had a 5GB drive, but a 10GB one followed. One major drawback was this it could only be used with a Mac. The second-generation iPod was launched less than a year later, had more space and a touch-sensitive scroll wheel… and it could be used with a PC. Less than a year after than, the inbuilt FireWire port was supplemented with a USB for greater compatibility and these incremental improvements kept on happening, with the original-style iPods forming the “Classic” range and more company “Mini”, tiny “Nano” and display-less “Shuffle” devices following. After the launch of the original iPhone, a “Touch” range became available which was essentially an iPhone minus the Phone.

In the end, dedicated music players started to become a bit redundant. Smartphones were just as capable and the last Classic iPod (the sixth generation) went off sale in 2014. The iPod Touch remains, with the 7th generation launched in 2019 which is closely related to the iPhone 7. Although it is a bit of a niche market now, along the way Apple sold hundreds of millions of iPods making it the best-selling device of its type in the world.

The iPod also demonstrated that Apple could succeed outside of the microcomputer market. The next logical target was phones, and Apple’s long-anticipated entry into the market… well, actually the first attempt was a disaster because they made too many compromises. But eventually we’d get the iPhone (and iPad) which redefined their respective marketplaces. Although the iPod is a much less important product today, it helped to make Apple almost ubiquitous.
 
Image credits:
Matthew Pearce via Flickr – CC BY 2.0



Sunday, 10 October 2021

Apple Macintosh Quadra and PowerBook (1991)

Introduced October 1991

We find ourselves in the early nineteen nineties. Apple is still riding the wave of the early Macintoshes, but their advantage over PCs and the new Windows 3.0 environment is waning. Apple is still innovating, but is struggling to compete in terms of cost and usability.

In October 1991, Apple launched the desktop Quadra and laptop PowerBook computers, which were either more powerful or more portable depending on which route you took.

The PowerBook was probably the most interesting device. Apple had tried to make a portable Mac years earlier with the Macintosh Portable which was a market failure despite some very promising engineering. Several years of technological advancements – especially in the PC-compatible arena – demonstrated that it was possible to come up with a compact and usable laptop computer. The PowerBook took many of these ideas and created a more elegant and usable solution, and critically one that was a Mac and not a PC.

Apple Macintosh PowerBook 100
Apple Macintosh PowerBook 100


The first generation of PowerBooks break down into two distinct models. The PowerBook 100 was actually designed and built by Sony, and took the bulky original Portable and shrunk it down to a fraction of the weight. Running the by-then elderly 68000 processor, the PowerBook was essentially a classic Mac in a laptop form. The more powerful PowerBook 140 and 170 models were Apple designs running the more powerful 68030 CPU. The 170 was faster than the 140 and had an active-matrix monochrome display compared with the passive-matrix on the cheaper model.

The PowerBook was a huge success at first, but Apple struggled to fit the more powerful 68040 processor in it due to heat dissipation problems. By the time they’d fixed that, PC manufacturers had looked at the PowerBook and improved their models too so Apple started to struggle to compete. However, the PowerBook line remained until 2006, transitioning to the much more powerful PowerPC co-developed by Apple, IBM and Motorola.

The Quadra didn’t have the same problem with heat as the PowerBook and was a more natural platform for the improved 68040. More powerful than the 68030, transition between the two was not always smooth as the code required some optimisation to run on the new platform. A more modest success than the PowerBook the Quadra spawned a variety of models into the mid-1990s when it too was replaced by the PowerPC-based Power Macintosh line.

Apple Macintosh Quadra 700
Apple Macintosh Quadra 700


Despite some initial success, these models mark the beginning of a long decline for Apple. The Motorola 68000 series was reaching the end of its life, Microsoft’s kludgy early versions of Windows became more polished and Apple’s prices remained out of reach of many.  Just a few years after the launch of the Quadra and PowerBook it seemed that Apple was doomed. But that is a different story.

Image credits:
Danamania via Wikimedia Commons - GFDL
Simon Claessen via Flickr - CC BY-SA 2.0