Thursday, September 11, 2014

The End Of An Era (Which Don't Seem To Last As Long As They Used To...)

yesterday Apple gave a preview of the latest product i've been fortunate enough to work on, Apple Watch, while quietly saying 'good-bye' to the final version of another game-changing product i was lucky enough to be involved with, the original scroll-wheel iPod. and here's a cool story some of you may not have heard...

back in the spring of 2001 i was convinced i was going to be the next great talk-radio star... i was sending out demo tapes and taking stand-up and acting classes, and going to broadcasting conventions while, at my 'day job', i was senior counsel at Apple. i don't remember exactly what i had been working on, but i had a sense it was going to be a 'quiet' summer, so when i went to the Radio and Records Talk Radio Conference in Newport Beach and ran into Michael Zwerling, owner of KSCO, i was thrilled when he asked if i would be interested in replacing Rush Limbaugh, M-F from 9am-11am... this seemed like an amazing opportunity (i had only done fill-in hosting, or a weekly saturday show), so i talked with my manager at Apple about shifting my hours, so i could host a daily talk radio program, and she said yes. the show wasn't set to start for another few weeks, and as i was getting ready, and trying to figure out how i would create 10 hours a week of original content, my manager stopped me in the hall and said, "you know something about music and digital audio, yes? i have a secret project i think you would be perfect for..." (and just to set the record straight, when i first learned the details of the original iPod project my reaction was "a portable music player? are you kidding? that's a stupid idea... i've already got a Rio and a Creative Labs and a Sony Music Clip and, what, we're going to charge $400???!!!???" which, parenthetically, is why you don't let lawyers get involved in product marketing... but i digress...)

anyway, cut forward a few months and my super secret product needs beta testing, stealth mode, in the real world... i volunteer, am issued a white scroll wheel 5GB iPod, a thick firewire cable, and a pre-release version of iTunes to load music from my PowerBook. i take the entire contents of my Napster library (the statute of limitation must have run by now, no?), move it on to the device, get a cassette adapter with a headphone plug, and begin to make the twice daily drive from my home in San Jose, over RT 17 to Santa Cruz, and then back across the 'hill' to Cupertino, where i work with the team on manufacturing agreements and technology licenses and understanding what happens when you 'interrogate' a lithium battery with a screwdriver (hint: the interrogation ends badly for the battery and the screwdriver) until late each evening when i drive home, sleep for a few hours, wake up at 5:30am to start my show prep, and do it all over again. and as i clock all those miles, i have my iPod (in various modes of disguise) sliding around on the passenger seat, being controlled by me, blindly, as i reach across to press one of a series of identical buttons (which way is up?), while trying to keep my eyes on the road. i'm successful at one thing (staying on the road) but fail at the other, pressing multiple buttons at once, holding buttons too long, randomly, rapidly, and unintentionally changing settings, and generally causing the iPod to crash. and when that happens i try to remember what i did, and as soon as i park (at KSCO, or Apple, or home) i write down what i tried to do, and what actually happened, and then load it all into a bug reporting system. and upon the final release of the very first version of iPod software i am told that i have found more bugs than anyone else, and as a reward am given one of the FPOL (first product off the line) iPods, which i still have and which still works and which only contains songs i have legally purchased ("Don't Steal Music!")

and so, in the end, the scroll wheel version of the iPod had a longer run than i did at KSCO, but they both had a profound effect on the world (ok, maybe just one of them) and i'm glad to have been associated with both! and these days having 1000 songs in your pocket ain't no thing, but with Apple Watch you'll be able to listen to music, wirelessly, from your wrist even when you're not carrying your phone... and who knows, maybe i'll be able to convince the team to include a scroll wheel on the music player control screen! ('cause what goes around...)

if you're interested in a deeper look at the life and times of the scroll-wheel based iPod, Christina Warren on Mashable has a wonderful article, "Requiem for an iPod Classic" that i strongly recommend...

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