Thursday, December 21, 2006

The Perfect Thing

The design path of the iPod ...

"Five years ago, Apple engineers used foam core and old fishing weights to craft a model of a new MP3 player. The age of the iPod was about to begin.

In mid-October 2001, I received an invitation to one of Steve Jobs' carefully choreographed, exquisitely casual shows. It was to be held at Apple's headquarters in Cupertino, California, on October 23. The most interesting thing about the invitation was the teasing addendum: "Hint: It's not a Mac." Usually, I would have hopped on a plane to see the latest wrinkle in the consistently fascinating saga of Jobs. His return to Apple was a great business story in itself, but what was novel about his whole career was its unapologetic and unprecedented grafting of 1960s values – everything from rock and roll to cracker-barrel Buddhism – into the corporate world. Jobs was a great salesman, a guy who out-suited the suits when it came to mastering the pulleys and levers of global high tech product development and manufacturing, a chief executive of two companies traded on the Nasdaq (Apple and Pixar Entertainment). But I'd also seen him stroll into his boardroom wearing scissor-cut shorts almost up to his balls and a pair of flip-flops. All of this – the austere authority of a Zen poet, the playfulness of Mick Jagger, and the showmanship of David Copperfield – would be on display at this event. And if history was any guide, the product he unveiled would be worth writing about.

But I didn't make it to the show. I wasn't traveling much those days. It was, after all, little more than a month after 9/11, and I, like just about everyone else in New York City, was depressed.

I did, however, follow news of the event carefully. Steve Jobs is maniacal about maintaining total stealth in his operation, but a cat of this magnitude could not be fully bagged, and word was leaking that the "not a Mac" was some kind of digital music player. The prospect did not exactly thrill people. Digital music players – also known as MP3 players, in reference to the encoding algorithm that compresses music into data files – had been around for a few years already, but novelty was their main, if not their only, virtue. They generally held too little music, had impenetrable interfaces, and looked like the cheap plastic toys given to losers at carnival games."    (Continued via Wired)    [Usability Resources]


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The foam model concept reminded me of one of the first modern examples of a "build to form factor" approach: Walter Zapp and the Minox Camera. In the 1930's, Zapp carved a piece of wood to fit nicely in his pocket; then he designed a camera to fit in that form factor.

9:20 AM  

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