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|
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.
Matthew Pearce via Flickr – CC BY 2.0