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Who Invented the iPod?

The story may end at Apple, but it begins in the 1970s

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the original iPod

The Original iPod, released in 2001

image copyright Apple Inc.

When a product becomes as popular and widespread worldwide as the iPod, people begin to ask the question "who invented the iPod?"

And though anyone who guessed "Steve Jobs and a bunch of folks at Apple" is mostly right, the answer to the question is a little more complex and interesting. Because, like most inventions, the iPod had predecessors--including one as far back as 1970s England.

Who Invented the iPod at Apple

Apple didn't invent the concept for a music plater that could fit in your pocket; The iPod was far from the first portable MP3 player. A number of companies--including Diamond, Creative Labs, and Sony--had been selling their own MP3 players for a few years before the iPod debuted in October 2001. But none of the MP3 players prior to the iPod had been big hits. This was partly due to price and features--the 1999 Creative Labs Nomad had 32 MB  of memory (Not GB! 32 MB is  enough for about 1 or 2 CDs at low audio quality) and cost US$429--and the digital music market still being pretty young. Remember, there was no iTunes yet, no other download stores, and Napster will still pretty new. The iPod succeeded in part because it was the first product to really make the process of loading and listening to music elegant and enjoyable.

The team at Apple took about a year to design and launch the first iPod in October 2001. That team consisted of:

  • Jon Rubinstein, then the company's senior vice president of hardware engineering; now on the board at Qualcomm
  • Jonathan Ive, senior vice president of design at Apple
  • Tony Fadell, an engineer and former senior vice president of the iPod division; his next company, Nest, was purchased by Google for $3.2 billion in Jan. 2014
  • Michael Dhuey, an engineer; now at Cisco Systems
  • Tim Wasko, an interface designer
  • Steve Jobs, the company's CEO, who oversaw the project

It was that team that created the original iPod.

The Name

Did you know that the person who gave the iPod its name wasn't even an Apple employee? Vinnie Chieco, a freelance copywriter, suggested the name iPod because he was inspired by the line in the movie 2001 "Open the pod bay door, HAL."

 

Who Invented the iPod at Other Companies

Apple has a reputation for building its hardware and software entirely in-house and not partnering with outside companies. That didn't hold true for the development of the iPod.

The iPod was based on a reference design by a company called PortalPlayer (now part of NVIDIA), who had created a prototype device using an embedded operating system.

Also in an uncharacteristic move for a company widely known and respected for its user interfaces, Apple didn't completely design the first iPod interface. Instead, it contracted with a company called Pixo (now part of Sun Microsystems) for the foundational interface, which Apple then expanded on.

 

But Who Really Invented the iPod?

As mentioned above, Apple was far from the first company to bring a portable digital music player to the market. But would you believe that the basic concept for the iPod was invented in England in 1979?

Kane Kramer, a British inventor, developed and patent the idea of a portable, plastic digital music player in 1979. Though he held the patent for a while, he couldn't afford to renew the worldwide patent on his idea, and because the patent had expired by the time MP3 players became a big business, he was unable to make any money from his original idea when it became widespread in the 1990s and 2000s.

Apple has even acknowledged Kramer's role in inventing the iPod as part of its defense against a patent lawsuit in 2008.

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