Curious iPod prototype turned up after 20 years

Before a device hits the market, it goes through several stages of development. We currently get an insight into that of the iPod from one of Apple’s better known employees – Tony Fadell. He has not only published pictures of the prototype of the first iPod, but also reveals details about its development.

In October 2001, then Apple CEO Steve Jobs introduced the first iPod with a 5GB hard drive. Even this early model featured the characteristic scroll wheel, which actually still had to be turned by hand at the time – and which was later replaced by the famous “click wheel”. But 20 years after the premiere of the first iPod, a prototype of a very early model of the MP3 player has now appeared, the appearance of which is not at all reminiscent of the later final product.

iPod prototype is thick and huge

Many still remember the first iPod. For its time, its design was revolutionary. In a housing measuring about 10 x 6 x 2 centimeters, Apple not only accommodated a hard drive with a capacity of 5 GB, but also a battery, a display and the iconic steering wheel. The small gray device even won the Red Dot Design Award in 2002. But to get to the finished product, Apple had to experiment with some designs.

An insight into the very early development phase was given by Tony Fadell himself to the “Panic Blog”. Fadell is considered the inventor of the later iPod concept and was heavily involved in its production. One photo shows a prototype of the iPod, which looks quite rudimentary. According to Fadell, it is P68/Dulcimer prototype, which Apple used to test some features of the later iPod before the actual design of the device was finalized. “For confidentiality reasons, I didn’t want it to look like an iPod – the button placement, the size – it was mostly air inside – and the wheel worked (poorly),” Fadell explained of the iPod prototype on Twitter.

A lot of air inside

iPod prototype from inside
The internal components have already been scaled down to such an extent that they hardly take up any space at all Photo: Panic Blog

Hübsch anzusehen ist der frühe iPod in der Tat nicht. Auf der Front sind angedeutete Tasten, ein rudimentäres Steuerrad sowie ein nahezu winziges Display zu erkennen. In dem gelben Gehäuse aus Kunststoff befindet sich vor allem Luft. Die wenigen Elemente, die Apple hier untergebracht hat, nehmen nur einen Bruchteil des zur Verfügung stehenden Platzes ein. Das liegt daran, dass sie im Laufe des Entwicklungsprozesses von den Ingenieuren deutlich verkleinert wurden, wodurch das spätere kompakte Design des iPods überhaupt erst möglich war. Die Fotos vom iPod prototypeen sind am 3. September 2001 aufgenommen worden – also nur wenige Wochen vor der Vorstellung des fertigen Gerätes. Noch frühere Versionen hätten wohl noch deutlich größere Steckplätze und Leiterplatten gezeigt.

iPod prototype
iPod prototype compared to the finished model Photo: Panic Blog

Remarkably, the picture also shows the finished iPod next to the prototype. Only here it becomes clear how big the preliminary model is in reality.


  • Panic Blog