IPod, Therefore I Am: Looking Back At An Original IPod Prototype

iPod Prototype

Have you ever wondered what consumer electronics look like when they’re in the ugly prototype stages? So have we. And thanks to [Cabel] of at Panic.com, we have a rare glimpse at a prototype first generation Apple iPod.

In the days before you could just stream your favorite music directly from your phone and into your Bluetooth speaker, pods, or car, there was the Sony Walkman and various portable tape players. Then there were portable CD players. As MP3’s became a popular format, CD players that could play MP3’s on home made CD’s were popular. Some portable digital media players came to market in the mid 1990’s. But in October of 2001, the scene changed forever when Apple unveiled the first generation iPod.

Of course, the iPod didn’t start out being so svelte, shiny, and downright cool. This engineering prototype has been hiding in [Cabel]’s closet for almost 20 years and they’ve just now decided to share with us its hilariously oversized case, JTAG port, and square pushbuttons that look like they came from a local electronics supply house. As [Cabel] brings out in the excellent writeup, the hardware itself is very close to production level, and the date on the prototype is very near the actual product launch.

Of course prototyping is an essential part of building any product, production or otherwise. Having a gander at such pre-production devices like this, or these off-ear speaker prototype for Valve’s VR headset reminds us just how important even the ugliest prototypes can be.

Have you got any pre-production nuggets to share with the world? Be sure to let us know by dropping a note in the Tip Line, and thanks to [jp] who sent this one in!


17 thoughts on “IPod, Therefore I Am: Looking Back At An Original IPod Prototype

  1. The case looks like it was originally for an earlier and larger prototype.

    It also looks like it’s injection molded so it was probably the longer tool setup time for the injection molding that caused them to re-use a previous case version as they didn’t have time to re-tool.

    1. This was actually a very late prototype, as evidenced by the near final UI and control system. The case is deliberately crude and misleading; this prototype was used to cooperate with outside vendors, and Apple didn’t want to give away the physical design of the actual product, so they created this monstrosity.

  2. There’s the child. Quick, now that you know what it looks like somebody go back in time and kill it before it can grow up!

    An alternate timeline where Apple remained mostly irrelevant has got to be better than this one.

    Devices have to be too thin for external connections and use only a bare minimum of buttons… Surely that BS started here!

  3. Is that one with the miniature hard drive?
    I found a tray of miniature postage stamp sized hard drives at a contract manufacturers development lab. The guys told me they were for he the original IPod.

  4. I recall reading in a book about Steve Jobs life that HP created the first miniature hard drive and at the time they apparently weren’t sure what to do with it but Steve Jobs knew the second he laid 👀 on it.

    1. That is funny because it contradicts what I heard him say in an interview. He said never look at new technology and find a use for it. Instead design the product you want then see what technology is available to build the product. He violated his own advice 😁

      1. The story I heard is that Apple wanted to do a music player, but Steve Jobs wanted it to have a large capacity and they couldn’t do it. Jon Rubinstein was visiting the Toshiba factory and saw the 1″ (CompactFlash-sized) 1GB hard drives, and then he called back and said now he knew how to.

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