Apple's iPod was one of the biggest risks the company ever took

Posted:
in General Discussion edited October 22
Tony Fadell says that the iconic iPod was a giant risk for Apple to take, but Steve Jobs had promised that Apple would "go the distance" on the product's lineup and future.

Credit: Apple
Credit: Apple


Ahead of the 20th anniversary of the iPod's unveiling by Jobs on Oct. 23, Fadell sat down to speak with CNET about the product's inception -- and how it was a risky move to join Apple at the time.

In early 2001, Fadell was working on his own MP3 player when he was tapped by Apple as a consultant. After showing off a few prototypes to Jobs, the late Apple CEO was impressed. "We're building this, and you're now going to join us to build it," Jobs told Fadell.

However, at the time, Apple was not the multi-trillion tech behemoth it is now. The company was losing millions and sales of its primary product lineup, the Mac, were declining.

"I was like, 'whoa whoa,'" Fadell told CNET in a video interview. "Back then to go to Apple you had to be pretty nuts."

However, Jobs persuaded Fadell to join Apple by making him a promise that he would go the distance on the product lineup. Fadell says that it typically takes three generations to get the ball rolling on a new device -- and that it had been at plenty of companies that had given up earlier than that.

"A lot of people stop midway through the journey, and I wanted to make sure we weren't going to do that," Fadell said.

Jobs promised that he would throw marketing money at the iPod and pull resources from the Mac business. The first two generations of the iPod didn't see spectacular sales, but Fadell says Jobs ultimately held up his end of the bargain -- "and the rest is history."

When Jobs actually did announce the iPod, Fadell recalls that it wasn't a finished product. Despite that, the late Apple CEO still handed out early versions of the device to the press alongside a stack of 20 CDs containing the same music loaded onto the device.

By 2005, Apple began to explore cellular devices, which represented a "competitive threat" to the iPod. At the time, Apple was working on a full-screen iPod with a virtual click, as well as a device that was essentially an iPod Classic-style phone. Apple's separate Mac team had also built a giant multi-touch screen the size of a ping pong table. All three models eventually became the iPhone.

Apple's iPod has come a long way since then. Even though it's no longer the cultural cornerstone it once was, Apple still says a iPod -- a testament to the device's staying power.

Fadell left Apple in 2008 and started Nest, which was later acquired by Google, in 2010. However, he still keeps an old iPod around, loaded with music from the 1990s and 2000s.

"It's a window of time of my music library, and so you leave it that way," Fadell said. "You kind of jack in and you're like, 'I'm just right back to early 2000s music.' It's kind of like a really great mixtape."

The full interview is available at CNET, and contains more detail about the iPod's early days.

Read on AppleInsider

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 15
    Is the iPod discontinued now? Everyone has iPhones which do the same thing.
  • Reply 2 of 15
    mike1mike1 Posts: 2,802member
    While the hardware was an accomplishment, I would argue that the pivotal moment in the success of the iPod, and hence Apple as a whole, was the decision to offer a Windows version of iTunes. This brought the iPod and the new Apple to millions of additional users that otherwise would have bought some random MP3 player with stupid software and a horrible user interface.
    muthuk_vanalingamOferwatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 3 of 15
    canukstormcanukstorm Posts: 2,557member
    mike1 said:
    While the hardware was an accomplishment, I would argue that the pivotal moment in the success of the iPod, and hence Apple as a whole, was the decision to offer a Windows version of iTunes. This brought the iPod and the new Apple to millions of additional users that otherwise would have bought some random MP3 player with stupid software and a horrible user interface.
    Exactly this.  I would love for Apple to do the same with Apple Watch by having it work with Android.  That would greatly expand the market for the device and give it access to users that will never switch to the iPhone but are interested in buying AW.
    edited October 22 muthuk_vanalingamsagan_studentOferwatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 15
    crowleycrowley Posts: 9,082member
    Is the iPod discontinued now? Everyone has iPhones which do the same thing.
    https://www.apple.com/ipod-touch/

    Still there, even though it isn't linked from the navigation bar.

    Gotta love the "iOS 14 is the world’s most advanced mobile operating system" section
    edited October 22 retrogustowatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 15
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 33,117member
    I remember the news conference when Jobs held the iPod up, and said that “This will be a nice little product for us.”

    I believe that I’m remembering the exact wording he used. One wonders whether he really did think that, or was under estimating what he thought in public. We’ll never know. But I didn’t think much of it at the time. But over some time, as I read the Tuesday NY Times, which had a section devoted to sales of electronics, appliances, etc, they had one for digital music players split into a section for solid state storage, and hard drive players. You could see over the weeks and months as the iPod moved up the ranks of the HDD players, then over all players. Then at some point the Times discontinued that section.

    but what seemed to be a minor product took over the company. Particularly after iTunes came out, and Jobs was convinced to let the player directly work with Windows in software, and by eliminating the FireWire port and replacing it with the much slower USB in their 30 pin connector.
    edited October 22 Oferrezwitswatto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 6 of 15
    My original iPod video still works
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 15
    mike1mike1 Posts: 2,802member
    crowley said:
    Is the iPod discontinued now? Everyone has iPhones which do the same thing.
    https://www.apple.com/ipod-touch/

    Still there, even though it isn't linked from the navigation bar.
    Price would seem to be the key reason. Often given to kids for music, video, games from the family app store account with no monthly cell plan costs. Parents can reach them using FaceTime or messaging apps.
    This prompted me to do a quick comparison. The iPod Touch starts at $199 for 32GB. 128GB is $299
    However, for an extra $149 (comparing 128GB versions) an iPhone SE (don't need to activate as a cell phone) offers a much more compelling value...

    4.7" Retina vs. 4" screen
    Much newer processor A13 vs. A10
    Far superior cameras both front and rear with 4K video
    IP67 Water/dust resistance
    Wireless charging (if that's your thing)
    Touch ID

    edited October 22 watto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 8 of 15
    rezwitsrezwits Posts: 758member
    I remember I was there day 1, with $500 in hand (CreditCard).
    My local mac store was like, "You think this will be a big thing huh?"  I replied "Huge!"

    Been great all the way!
    sandoranantksundaramwatto_cobra
  • Reply 9 of 15
    sandorsandor Posts: 591member
    rezwits said:
    I remember I was there day 1, with $500 in hand (CreditCard).
    My local mac store was like, "You think this will be a big thing huh?"  I replied "Huge!"

    Been great all the way!

    Still have mine!
    Talk about an intuitive device, i set it up for an 85+ year old to use it during dialysis & she had no problem finding and playing the albums she wanted/

    Looking back, the idea of a spinning hard drive in such a device is cringe worthy, but i'd already been using Kodak's DCS series DSLRs with PCMCIA spinning storage, so it seemed appropriate. :)
    rezwitswatto_cobra
  • Reply 10 of 15
    They used to cost so much! I remember when the original (or something) came and it was such a huge amount of money for a junior high kid. I bought my first one in high school instead, a iPod mini! I miss it from time to time, but the hd broke down and I don’t think Apple store will fix it. 
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 15
    I got mine in November 2001 (early Christmas present from my wife!), and recall being enthralled. 

    This one product was the singular progenitor of taking a nearly bankrupt company to a $2.X trillion behemoth. At the risk of overstating things, it changed everything. It put a dent in the universe, at least our little piece of it. 
    watto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 12 of 15
    JapheyJaphey Posts: 981member
    I got mine in November 2001 (early Christmas present from my wife!), and recall being enthralled. 

    This one product was the singular progenitor of taking a nearly bankrupt company to a $2.X trillion behemoth. At the risk of overstating things, it changed everything. It put a dent in the universe, at least our little piece of it. 
    That’s not overstating it at all. I would argue that it didn’t just put a little dent in the universe, it was the seed that ended up changing the entire world forever. 
    watto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 13 of 15
    sdw2001sdw2001 Posts: 17,739member

    “However, at the time, Apple was not the multi-trillion tech behemoth it is now. The company was losing millions and sales of its primary product lineup, the Mac, were declining.”



    This a bit of revisionist folklore.   It’s accurate but extremely out of context.  It makes it seem like Apple was failing and the iPod rescued it.   Except that’s not actually true.  

    When jobs returned, Apple was losing billions.  I’m FY 1997, after his return, it lost 1 billion.  By 1998, it was turning a profit of over $300 million.  By 2000 it was approaching 1 billion.  Mac sales were way up for several years.  

    Apple suffered along with others in the 2000 tech meltdown and recession.  The iPod certainly led to explosive growth and Apple as a global phenomenon.  But let’s not pretend it primarily “saved” Apple at the time.  

    edited October 23 watto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 15
    mike1 said:
    While the hardware was an accomplishment, I would argue that the pivotal moment in the success of the iPod, and hence Apple as a whole, was the decision to offer a Windows version of iTunes. This brought the iPod and the new Apple to millions of additional users that otherwise would have bought some random MP3 player with stupid software and a horrible user interface.
    Exactly this.  I would love for Apple to do the same with Apple Watch by having it work with Android.  That would greatly expand the market for the device and give it access to users that will never switch to the iPhone but are interested in buying AW.
    Most Android users I know would NEVER consider ANYTHING Apple.  You seriously know Android users that want an AppleWatch?!?!?!

    BTW - I'll go out on a limb, and state it will never happen.
    watto_cobrajony0
  • Reply 15 of 15
    JWSCJWSC Posts: 1,048member
    iPod.  The product that went supernova.

    We won’t see many other product releases like that in our lifetimes.
    watto_cobra
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