This is how Apple kept the original iPod prototype top secret


This month marks the 20th anniversary of one of Apple’s most iconic and revolutionary products, the humble iPod digital audio player. Not only did the pocket player change the way we listen to music, it was also Apple’s first big secret project.

Prior to 2001, Apple Computer, Inc, as it was still called then, focused primarily on the Mac. Sure, the company dabbled in a few other things back then, but they all turned out to be failures at best, and some of its more unusual and ambitious products never saw the light of day.

More importantly, however, when Steve Jobs returned in 1997, he killed all those quirky little side projects to put Apple back on the Mac. After slashing and burning all of his predecessor’s favorite projects, it’s fair to say that no one expected Jobs to deliver the iPod just four years later.

Jobs also differed from his predecessor in one key area, which was a penchant for extreme secrecy about unreleased products. While former Apple CEO John Sculley was eager to show off even the most preliminary concepts for products like the Newton, Jobs kept everything under control until there was a finished product ready to go. land in the hands of the customer.

This was the case with the iPod, and now an Apple developer, Panic, gives us an overview of the steps Apple takes to keep the iPod a secret until the very last minute.

The era of the first iPod

The iPod wasn’t the first portable media player, but it was on its way to becoming the smallest in its class. Other small portable digital audio players of this era had 32-64MB (yes, that’s an “M”) of flash storage, allowing them to hold about an album’s worth of MP3 files.

Meanwhile, the only popular digital audio player with any real amount of storage was the original Nomad Jukebox from Creative Labs, which had a 6GB hard drive and was the size of a portable CD player.

Needless to say, when Apple was about to put 1,000 songs in your pocket on a device the size of a deck of cards, it was taking no chances in letting anyone discover this revolutionary new device. After all, it was one thing if people found out that Apple was working on a digital audio player, but the real surprise with the iPod was going to be how well Apple was able to do it.

So Apple found a way to hide what it was working on by storing it in a case the size of a portable DVD player – devices that were actually quite common at the time. Anyone who ever encountered this monster would likely have no idea what it was meant to be, let alone the size of the finished product.

A little after Panic posted his photos of the prototype case, someone on Twitter contacted Tony Fadell, the “father of the iPod,” who confirmed the photos are correct and added some additional comments.

Contrary to the theory that Apple needed space to accommodate large circuit boards, it was actually “mostly air inside” according to Fadell, who also noted that the wheel worked, but only wrong.

The original iPod did not feature the “click wheel” that came to later generations; discrete buttons were used for up, down, left and right, and these were placed separately on the larger case.

Fadell also shared that over the years of iPod, Apple has become the world’s leading customer for 2.5-inch and 1.5-inch hard drives as well as NAND flash memory, to the point of having to partner with Samsung to build new factories virtually overnight. to answer the question.

Years later, Apple followed a similar strategy with the early prototypes of the Apple Watch, in this case disguising them in such a way that casual observers might mistake them for an iPod nano. However, those cases were a lot less extreme than what Apple did to keep the original iPod a secret, but it’s also fair to say that it was a very different time, and miniaturization was a much bigger deal. twenty years ago than it is today.


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