A couple of weeks ago, Apple retired the last product in the iPod family, the iPod Touch; it had been 20 years since the launch of the original. As a former employee (& original lead on music), I was sad to hear it. But the truth is, I thought it had died a quiet death several years ago. In this article, I pay respect to ‘the little product that could’ and did (!) – and the lasting impact of the legacy it has left in its wake.
I may be wrong about the sequencing of events but I always think of the iPod as Apple’s first - and highly successful - pivot from a computer manufacturer into a consumer product and lifestyle brand. It also re-established a highly successful (and lucrative) strategy for Apple which was to combine off-the-shelf components into a high-end (premium) package. As I understand it, the innards of the iPod were not groundbreaking in and of themselves but the form-factor, the outrageously high storage capacity, and the slick interface made it a hit.
The very same approach was used for the iPhone. I remember competitors kvetching about how Apple was charging such a high price for components that didn’t add up to all of that but, again, Apple was never one to compete on price or exhaustive feature-set. Rather, they went full-throttle towards simplicity and elegance of (premium) design.
I, too, was inspired by the iPod in a project I worked on at the time. It was with a manufacturer of industrial miniature cameras who wanted to make a mass-market, spy camera with the company I was working for. We spent some time looking at the history of spy cams until we settled on the idea of embedding it inside a portable, chrome lighter shell.
The most famous of these lighters is, of course, the Zippo flip-top. And rightfully so. It’s a delight to pick up and play with. Nobody can help themselves. When you get one in your hand, it fits really well. The satin finish and dimensions of it make you want to play with it. The flipping action from flicking your wrist is slick and the ‘clacking’ sound it makes when you slap it closed is very satisfying.
However, this was an absolute nightmare to recreate from scratch! I developed a begrudging admiration for how well-machined Zippos were during this process. And the industrial team I worked with were very good at replicating many of the features but struggled to capture the elegance and sexiness of the Zippo, especially in the hinge of the flip-top, itself.
Oftentimes, I referred to the iPod and the Zippo by making the argument that they are a class of products that you just want to pick up and can’t put down because they feel so good to interact with. Using it is a joy that goes beyond the sum of its parts.
And to me that is largely the magic of Apple. The products are hard to keep your hands off of. And that was what the first iPod was all about.
very interesting to learn about your experience with your product as a result of having been inspired by the iPod; and of course, Apple and magic are synonymous. In fact, some years ago, I published a book called “The Magic & Moxie of Apple: An Insider’s View” to share insights on this very topic.