The Short but Interesting History of the iPod

On October 23, 2001 Apple Computers publicly announced the iPod

Black and white photo of an iPod on a glass table.


On October 23, 2001, Apple Computers publicly introduced its portable music digital player the iPod. Created under project codename Dulcimer, the iPod was announced several months after the release of iTunes, a program that converted audio CDs into compressed digital audio files and allowed users to organize their digital music collection.

The iPod turned out to be one of Apple's most successful and popular products. More importantly, it helped enable the company to return to dominance in an industry where it had been losing ground to competitors. And while Steve Jobs has largely been credited with the iPod and the company's subsequent turnaround, it was another employee who is considered to be the father of the iPod. 

Who Invented the iPod?

Tony Fadell was a former employee of General Magic and Phillips who wanted to invent a better MP3 player. After being turned down by RealNetworks and Phillips, Fadell found support for his project with Apple. He was hired by Apple Computers in 2001 as an independent contractor to lead a team of 30 people to develop the new MP3 player.

Fadell partnered with a company called PortalPlayer who had been working on their own MP3 player to design the software for the new Apple music player. Within eight months, Tony Fadell's team and PortalPlayer completed a prototype iPod. Apple polished the user interface, adding the famous scroll wheel.

In a "Wired" magazine article titled "Inside Look at Birth of the iPod," former senior manager Ben Knauss at PortalPlayer revealed that Fadell was familiar with PortalPlayer's reference designs for a couple of MP3 players, including one about the size of a cigarette packet. And though the design was unfinished, several prototypes had been built and Fadell recognized the design's potential.

Jonathan Ive, Senior Vice President of Industrial Design at Apple Computers, took over after Fadell's team had finished their contract and kept perfecting the iPod itself.

iPod Products

The success of the iPod led to several new and upgraded versions of the wildly popular portable music player.

  • In 2004, Apple introduced the iPod Mini — a smaller, more portable music player that featured a 138x110 LCD screen and an easy-to-use interface with click wheel to scroll through playlists and options.
  • In 2005, Steve Jobs debuted the smallest iPod model, called the iPod Shuffle. It was the first iPod to use faster and more durable flash memory to store music files. 
  • The iPod Mini was replaced in late 2005 by the iPod Nano, which also featured flash memory. Later generations offered a color LCD screen.
  • In 2007, Apple released the sixth-generation iPod, called the iPod Classic, which featured a thinner, metallic design, improved battery life, and up to 36 hours of music playback and six hours of video playback. 
  • In 2007, Apple also released the iPod Touch, the first iPod product with a touch screen interface similar to the iPhone. Besides playing music, users can play videos, snap photos, and play video games.

Fun Facts

  • Apparently, Fadell is quite a character. He was once asked where he would be in life if he'd grown up before computers were invented. Fadell's response was "In jail."
  • What was the first song played using iTunes, Apple's proprietary software? It was a house-music dance tune called "Groovejet (If This Ain't Love)."
  • The first generation iPods had scroll wheels that physically rotated. Post-2003 iPods (third generation) have touch-sensitive wheels. Fourth generation (2004) iPods have buttons integrated onto the wheel.
  • The iPod's wheel technology can measure changes in position greater than 1/1,000th of an inch.


Kahney, Leander. "Inside Look at Birth of the iPod." Wired, July 21, 2004.

McCracken, Harry. "Before iPod and Nest: Fast Company’s 1998 Tony Fadell profile." Fast Company, June 4, 2016.

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Bellis, Mary. "The Short but Interesting History of the iPod." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Bellis, Mary. (2020, August 28). The Short but Interesting History of the iPod. Retrieved from Bellis, Mary. "The Short but Interesting History of the iPod." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 27, 2023).