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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.

The destiny of Apple changed drastically 10 years ago with the release of a deceptively simple digital music player.

On October 23, 2001, Apple lifted the curtain on the very first iPod, which packed 5GB of music storage into a sleek white box no bigger than a deck of cards.

Apple chose to unveil its portable digital music player in a low-key special event held on Apple's campus in Cupertino. The press and Apple fans alike met the iPod with severe skepticism. Pundits openly wondered what business Apple had selling consumer music gadgets. Many proclaimed doom (not the first or last time Apple's future was called into question, mind you).

By 2004, the iPod became a wildly successful product for Apple, and certain myths and legends sprung up about its creation. When historians 100 years from now recall the legacy of Steve Jobs, they will no doubt mention the iPod in the same breath. But while Jobs had an integral role in the birth of the iPod, no one man created the device. A diverse team of Apple employees and contractors brought the iPod to life.

A twinkle in Jobs's eye

Apple's relationship with digital music started innocently enough, from seemingly unrelated events in 1999. That year, Steve Jobs discovered the latent potential of a long-dormant Apple-invented technology: FireWire. The serial bus standard enabled data to be transferred at alarming speeds compared to common standards of the time.

Apple realized that with FireWire, Mac users could transfer videos shot with digital camcorders (which already used the standard) and edit them on their computers. The next round of iMacs, Steve Jobs decided, would contain FireWire ports.

Apple approached creative app giant Adobe to author a simple, consumer-friendly movie editing application, but Adobe declined. That's when Apple decided to create iMovie and feature the Mac as the center of a "digital hub" strategy, where the Mac served as the nucleus of an ever-expanding digital media universe.

By the late 1990s, digital music had become big news. Illegal file sharing site Napster, in particular, shoved the issue in everyone's face. Despite the legal issues, it quickly became apparent to most in the tech industry that Internet-downloaded MP3s were the future of music distribution.

Around 2000, Apple realized it had a large hole in its upcoming digital hub strategy when it came to music. To fill that hole, Apple bought the rights to SoundJam MP, a popular Mac MP3 player application, and hired three of its creators to work at Apple. One of these men, Jeff Robbin, would head development of an Apple-branded digital music application.

Robbin's team simplified SoundJam and added CD-burning features to create iTunes, released in January 2001. As iMovie had done with FireWire-attached camcorders, the iTunes team naturally sought to allow users to transfer songs from iTunes to the portable MP3 players of the day. They had trouble.


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