The iPod explained, for kids

March 4, 2010 by  


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The iPod is a portable media player designed and marketed by Apple and launched on October 23, 2001. The product line-up includes the hard drive-based iPod Classic, the touchscreen iPod Touch, the video-capable iPod Nano, and the compact iPod Shuffle. The iPhone can function as an iPod but is generally treated as a separate product. Former iPod models include the iPod Mini and the spin-off iPod Photo (since reintegrated into the main iPod Classic line). iPod Classic models store media on an internal hard drive, while all other models use flash memory to enable their smaller size (the discontinued Mini used a Microdrive miniature hard drive). As with many other digital music players, iPods can also serve as external data storage devices. Storage capacity varies by model, ranging from 2GB for the iPod Shuffle to 160GB for the iPod Classic.

Apple’s iTunes software can be used to transfer music to the devices from computers using certain versions of Apple Macintosh and Microsoft Windows operating systems. For users who choose not to use Apple’s software or whose computers cannot run iTunes software, several open source alternatives to iTunes are also available. iTunes and its alternatives may also transfer photos, videos, games, contact information, e-mail settings, Web bookmarks, and calendars to iPod models supporting those features.

The iPod line came from Apple’s “digital hub” category, when the company began creating software for the growing market of personal digital devices. Digital cameras, camcorders and organizers had well-established mainstream markets, but the company found existing digital music players “big and clunky or small and useless” with user interfaces that were “unbelievably awful,” so Apple decided to develop its own. As ordered by CEO Steve Jobs, Apple’s hardware engineering chief Jon Rubinstein assembled a team of engineers to design the iPod line, including hardware engineers Tony Fadell and Michael Dhuey, and design engineer Jonathan Ive. The product was developed in less than one year and unveiled on 23 October 2001. Jobs announced it as a Mac-compatible product with a 5 GB hard drive that put “1,000 songs in your pocket.”

Apple did not develop the iPod software entirely in-house, instead using PortalPlayer’s reference platform based on two ARM cores. The platform had rudimentary software running on a commercial microkernel embedded operating system. PortalPlayer had previously been working on an IBM-branded MP3 player with Bluetooth headphones. Apple contracted another company, Pixo, to help design and implement the user interface under the direct supervision of Steve Jobs. As development progressed, Apple continued to refine the software’s look and feel. Starting with the iPod Mini, the Chicago font was replaced with Espy Sans. Later iPods switched fonts again to Podium Sans—a font similar to Apple’s corporate font, Myriad. iPods with color displays then adopted some Mac OS X themes like Aqua progress bars, and brushed metal meant to evoke a combination lock. In 2007, Apple modified the iPod interface again with the introduction of the sixth-generation iPod Classic and third-generation iPod Nano by changing the font to Helvetica and, in most cases, splitting the screen in half by displaying the menus on the left and album artwork, photos, or videos on the right (whichever was appropriate for the selected item).

In September 2007, during a lawsuit with patent holding company Burst.com, Apple drew attention to a patent for a similar device that was developed in 1979. Kane Kramer patented the idea of a “plastic music box” in 1979, which he called the IXI. He was unable to secure funding to renew the US$ 120,000 worldwide patent, so it lapsed and Kramer never profited from his idea.

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