20 years ago, Apple revolutionized the world of MP3 players with the iPod

20 years ago, Apple revolutionized the world of MP3 players with the iPod © Apple

We were celebrating a special anniversary yesterday. The iPod, one of Apple's greatest hits, was presented by Steve Jobs on October 23, 2001, to an incredulous crowd. At the time, putting a thousand songs in one device was like science fiction.

For the occasion, an engineer and a creative who worked on the project shared their memories with our colleagues at 20 Minutes.

Going from 15 to 1 songs: back to the future

Whether you are a fan or detractor of the Apple brand, it must be admitted that the presentations of Apple products have always looked like religious ceremonies. As a preacher, Steve Jobs, eternally adorned with his blue jeans and his turtleneck, in 2001 sketched the outlines of the future of music: “This extraordinary little device carries 1 songs. And it fits in my pocket ”.

The range of audio players of the time struggled to convince technology enthusiasts, who had to be content with 15 MB flashcards which could only contain about twenty songs, with questionable audio quality. Even the Mini Disc, a Sony project, did not achieve the expected commercial success, because it was too expensive for the general public.

It was Jon Rubenstein, Apple's tenor, who then visited the Toshiba factories and came across a miniature hard drive of more than 5 GB. To make a sort of high capacity MP3 player, it was the brilliant idea that germinated in Apple's offices at the turn of the millennium. With ten million dollars invested, Michael Dhuey, mechanical engineer, finds himself at the head of the project. He remembers particular working conditions:

“We were in a secret building far from the main campus. We worked 10 hours a day, often Saturdays and Sundays. We had food delivered. For security reasons, cleaning staff had limited access. The trash cans piled up so much that there were rats in the building. "

A one-year project, 400 million copies sold

Toshiba's miniature hard drive is a good base, but it has too little battery life. To overcome this problem, all you have to do is "push" the song to a DRAM chip to put it on RAM. This process does not drain the battery, and the first iPod prototype gets away with 10 hours of battery life. Dhuey also explains having had to push the sound to the maximum because "Steve Jobs suffered from a slight hearing problem".

The name given to this player is the subject of tasty anecdotes. Steve Jobs listens to the proposals and classifies them into three categories: “worst name I've heard in my life”, “not so good” and “not bad”. Finally, the team agrees on “iPod”, a subtle reference to Stanley Kubrick's 2001 masterpiece: A Space Odyssey. After a few weeks of reflection, the boss who was initially recalcitrant ended up approving.

Launched at the end of 2001, the product first sold 3 million copies - a relative failure for the brand. IPod is beautiful and innovative, but it only works with Mac computers. The team corrects this problem and allows PC users to be able to play music on the player from their machine. Consequently, the iPod obtains the disproportionate success which one knows him, with 400 million units sold.

Source : 20 Minutes

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