How the iPod Was Made

By Milton Kazmeyer

The iPod's success came from its unique design.
i Jupiterimages/Creatas/Getty Images

The development of the iPod music player revolutionized the digital music business. The iPod was not the first device of its kind on the market, but its release quickly saw Apple become the dominant player in the market due to the device’s high quality, sleek design, and intuitive controls. The iPod’s success is the result of careful development as well as engaging marketing, and though many imitators have appeared, none has been able to dent Apple’s dominance in the field.


In 2000, Apple became interested in the digital music market. The company had poor success with portable electronics in the past, but the first MP3 players showed that consumers wanted a new portable music device. It also showed that current generation players were severely limited in their capabilities. Apple partnered with a company called PortalPlayer for the design of the new device, and CEO Steve Jobs himself took an active role in its development.


From the beginning, Apple envisioned the iPod having some significant differences from players on the market. Instead of flash memory, which was bulky and severely limited the number of songs you could put on a device, the iPod would use a hard drive to store songs. This also necessitated a change in the control scheme. Contemporary devices relied on users pressing buttons to navigate their playlist, something that would get tedious when trying to scroll through a large number of songs. The scroll wheel was the solution to this problem, and proved to be one of the keys to Apple’s success. The company kept their proprietary control scheme under wraps, with prototype iPods placed in bulky cases with external controls to disguise this feature.


Apple used a number of different components from different companies to create the first iPod. The hard drive of the first generation iPod was a quarter-sized five-gigabyte drive developed by Toshiba. The iPod ran on a processor from ARM, and the company Pixo helped design the user interface, with continuous input from Steve Jobs and other Apple designers. The original iPod used a lithium polymer battery, but the company would replace these in later models with lithium-ion batteries for better performance. Apple utilized several different Chinese manufacturing companies, such as Foxconn, to assemble the finished players.


Apple announced the iPod’s release on October 23, 2001. Initially, the high price tag of $400 turned many off, and sales were sluggish. The European release revitalized sales, however, and soon the iPod became a status symbol among MP3 players. Constant revisions to the hardware, as well as new designs with new capabilities, have kept the iPod at the forefront of the digital music player market for more than a decade.