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Behind The Development Of The iPod nano 502

Posted by Zonk
from the teeny-tiny-product dept.
bonch writes "A Time Magazine article on the behind-the-scenes development of the iPod nano reveals that development work began just nine months ago, when the iPod mini was still a top-seller. Every internal component was redesigned and packed into every millimeter of the space inside. Famed Apple designer Jonathan Ives spent months on the tiniest of details, like the laser-etching of the logo and the roughness of the clickwheel compared to the smoothness of the rest of the exterior. 'I know you're not going to consciously find these details particularly appealing," says Ives, 'but I think it's the fact that we've worried about all of them that makes the product so precious.'"
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Behind The Development Of The iPod nano

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  • by Shut the fuck up! (572058) on Tuesday September 13, 2005 @06:49PM (#13551896)
    Worth every penny of the $10 it adds to the price.
  • by dreold (827386) on Tuesday September 13, 2005 @06:52PM (#13551923)
    ... wouldn't it be cooler if there was a conceptual innovation offered rather than only a smaller mousetrap? The iPod concept is about 5 years old by now. The iTMS is not exactly the only kid on the block (even though its market share is).

    What is the next BIG thing?

  • Huh? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by sH4RD (749216) on Tuesday September 13, 2005 @06:53PM (#13551928) Homepage
    "'I know you're not going to consciously find these details particularly appealing," says Ives, 'but I think it's the fact that we've worried about all of them that makes the product so precious.'"

    Then why do they matter? As long as my product works, and works well, and I notice the quality, shouldn't that be enough? Why should the product cost more money simply because someone labored over it to add features I will never notice? I don't buy a product because the developer decided to make it "precious" by worring about it too much. Just a thought.
  • by sexyrexy (793497) on Tuesday September 13, 2005 @07:00PM (#13551990)
    The great thing about the Nano (from an Apple perspective anyway) is that it hits the price vs. features sweet spot that fills the last gap - anyone who didn't have an iPod before, because the big'uns are too expensive or the Shuffle is too... well, the non-geek is pretty incredulous when told "no, it doesn't have a screen". The Mini's, while selling well, really did overlap the iPod's market, because they were practically the same size - essentially trading price for capacity. That leaves the two on pretty equal standing, whereas the Nano changes the dynamic altogether. The price AND size/weight vs capacity will draw in that previously alienated market who want a fully functional player but not their entire library in their pocket. Bravo Apple!
  • Re:Huh? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by tkdog (889567) on Tuesday September 13, 2005 @07:00PM (#13551998) Journal
    Because you notice the gestalt effect of all the little features that you don't notice individually.
  • by sexyrexy (793497) on Tuesday September 13, 2005 @07:04PM (#13552036)
    The user interface is one of the top reasons people buy iPods - almost every review of every MP3 player compares the interface to the iPod and almost every other brand falls short - the iPod truly is the standard against which all else is compared.

    In industrial design, as with programming, the best solution is difficult/expensive to attain but is elegant and almost mind-bogglingly simple. A perfect example: the iPod click-wheel and the way it works with the iPod OS.
  • by delta_avi_delta (813412) <dave.murphy@ g m a il.com> on Tuesday September 13, 2005 @07:04PM (#13552037)
    That interview just underlines apple's focus isn't on The Next Big Thing, or technological progress, it's something much more attractive to consumers - elegant design.

    They've been very lucky, releasing highly polished articles at just the time when consumers, spoiled by choice, are beginning to use quality of a design as a differentiator betweem almost equal rival products.

    Sometimes they're monomaniacal obsession with elegance causes them to make decisions that seem idiotic from our technical viewpoint (you can't get to the battery on an iPod because they wanted it to look "perfect" with no nasty access doors...) but the public doesn't care.

    Design is the new black.
  • Re:Huh? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by chill (34294) on Tuesday September 13, 2005 @07:05PM (#13552048) Journal
    You would notice many of them if they were missing. The overall affect of the product would be diminished. Attention to all those details is what will make an "average" product "good" and a "good" product "great".

      -Charles
  • Nine months ago? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jcr (53032) <jcr@@@mac...com> on Tuesday September 13, 2005 @07:05PM (#13552051) Journal
    The Mini was a top seller right up until Apple replaced it with the nano.

    I'm pretty impressed with that move, myself. Discontinuing a very successful product just because you have a better one takes more guts than most companies have.

    -jcr
  • by vijayiyer (728590) on Tuesday September 13, 2005 @07:09PM (#13552095)
    Already there are several comments about how "Brand X" player is cheaper, or "Brand Y" player has more features, or "Brand Z" has more capacity. What nobody will accept is that no other player has the same _combination_. Anyone can make a big player cheaply. Or a small player with 128MB of flash. Only this has the capacity, size, and usability combination. If you don't value that, that's fine, but many people are willing to pay for quality.
  • Why complain? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Helios1182 (629010) on Tuesday September 13, 2005 @07:10PM (#13552102)
    People here complain that people are willing to pay more for a stylish product that does the same thing as a cheap product. I can't see how this is any different than any other field.

    I drive a Corolla, my Grandma has a Jaguar S-Type (I think thats the model). They are roughly the same size, they serve exactly the same purpose. Now granted the Jag has better performance, but you are paying a lot for image. Then again people complain about fancy cars, so you can't please everyone no matter what.

  • Re:Huh? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by mstroeck (411799) on Tuesday September 13, 2005 @07:13PM (#13552129) Homepage
    "I don't buy a product because the developer decided to make it "precious" by worring about it too much."

    Which is why you are not head of industrial design at Apple -- or anywhere else, probably ;-) Incredible attention to detail is a common trait of many successful people, especially those in art and design. It may not be obvious, but there _is_ a reason why people who normally don't give a rat's ass about electronic gadgets are going crazy over iPods. Their design pushes many people's buttons just the right way.
  • by badboy_tw2002 (524611) on Tuesday September 13, 2005 @07:13PM (#13552131)
    I don't really think pencil-width and quarters fall into the same category as LoCs. Football fields don't either for the American public. It provides an easier to experience metric than 1.1 centimeters and 4.3 ounces. I could conceivably take out 8 quarters and a pencil and get an instant idea of how thick and heavy the iPod is.

    The LoC measurement is silly because I have as much reference to what a LoC is in data as I do to what they're comparing it to. They might as well say "Dat der thingamajig is HUUUUUGE!"
  • by Thagg (9904) <thadbeier@gmail.com> on Tuesday September 13, 2005 @07:14PM (#13552140) Journal
    delta_avi_delta says: Sometimes they're monomaniacal obsession with elegance causes them to make decisions that seem idiotic from our technical viewpoint (you can't get to the battery on an iPod because they wanted it to look "perfect" with no nasty access doors...) but the public doesn't care.

    Actually, the point is that the public does care -- it's those subtle design principles that people respond to. Syd Mead did some work back in the eighties with electronics designed like jewelry; but I don't think that his designs were ever actually built.

    A door that's not there can never break off, can never be opened by rambunctious 8-year-olds (and they'll open anything that is openable, and many things that aren't), can never be lost, jammed, or broken.

    It's quite exciting to see. One is used to seeing that kind of fanatical devotion to quality in the space program, but one sees it in fewer and fewer places these days.

    Thad Beier
  • by rustbear (852420) on Tuesday September 13, 2005 @07:14PM (#13552143)

    Don't underestimate design

    How many guys, when given a choice between an average-looking woman, (specifically one that is much less likely to cheat on them or dump them) and a hot saucepot (who'll probably get bored by next month), would honestly choose the former "non-idiotic from our technical viewpoint" option?

    Plain fact: design sells, design is desirable. Design is something tangible, as in "look, my iPod's really slick" where as good technical work is much more passive and less immediate

    .
  • by OzPeter (195038) on Tuesday September 13, 2005 @07:22PM (#13552205)
    Have you seen the size of these things? I have handled one at the local compUSA store and (to put it politely) you are out of your mind to think that its the same size as a 256MB flash card, MP3 player, FM radio, and voice recorder. These things make the iPod mini look big and clumsy. and it makes my mp3 player (with its radio and 1.25GB) look like a dinosaur
  • regarding capacity (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Beebos (564067) on Tuesday September 13, 2005 @07:25PM (#13552230)
    I've heard complaints that the nano is a step backwards in capacity. However, a recent survey showed that the average MP3 player has about 300 songs on it, while the average iPod has 500. So for most people 4 gigs is enough.

    Maybe that survey was reported here. I don't remember, one of the side effects of reading too many web sites in a day.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday September 13, 2005 @07:30PM (#13552263)
    you have never held a management job, have you?
  • by RapmasterT (787426) on Tuesday September 13, 2005 @07:38PM (#13552327)
    Famed Apple designer Jonathan Ives spent months on the tiniest of details, like the laser-etching of the logo and the roughness of the clickwheel compared to the smoothness of the rest of the exterior
    After all this time of wishing I knew who to blame for the clickwheel being such a dirt and filth magnet, now I finally have a name to curse.

    Here's a clue Mr "I design inside an aesthetic bubble", in the real world things people touch with their hands gets DIRTY. If you make it from something that doesn't wipe clean, it stays dirty forever.

  • Re:Why complain? (Score:3, Insightful)

    by thomble (642879) on Tuesday September 13, 2005 @07:40PM (#13552336) Homepage

    This is typical Slashdot geekthought. The iPod isn't popular simply because of it's style, or "image." It's popular because it does what it does better than any of its competitors. I own an iRiver H320 20GB OGG/WAV/MP3/WMV player and picture viewer with a crisp LCD and great battery life. I also modded the firmware to play videos. It happens to be up for auction on eBay right now.

    Why, you ask?

    Because the software AND hardware interface on it (and most mp3 players ) are atrocious. The menus are cumbersome and cluttered with "features" that I'll never use. The buttons are small and give little feedback. I have to open up WinAmp and create an m3u playlist to listen to what I want to on the iRiver. I can create a playlist on-the-fly with an iPod.

    I'll pay a premium for good design. It's not about "image." I'll carry my iPod around with black headphones.
  • Re:Too expensive? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by RapmasterT (787426) on Tuesday September 13, 2005 @07:56PM (#13552481)
    I also see a lot of complaining that the nano is worse than the mini because it doesn't have the same GB/$ ratio. I know it's unnerdy and wrong, but I would rather have the nano, which I can wear on a lanyard, and the durability of the flash over the hard drive. I'm seriously thinking of selling my 3G 20GB and picking one of these up.
    My personal theory is that the hard drive based models are only even slightly attractive to people whose entire music collection fits on it. If you've got over 40GB of music, why would you want a player that can only hold a large percentage of what you own? You might as well go with a MUCH smaller unit that holds a small percentage. It takes a long freakin time to sort through enough music to fill a 4GB mini, imagine having to do that with 30GB out of a 60GB collection.

    You're just better off with a smaller player that you load up with a weeks worth of listening at a time. Unless of course everything you own fits, then stuff it and go.

  • by Kelmenson (592104) <kelmenson@y[ ]o.com ['aho' in gap]> on Tuesday September 13, 2005 @07:58PM (#13552502)
    Lots of comments here are complimenting Apple on the foresight to cancel the Mini and move to the Nano. But really they were just responding to the complaints that came out with their earlier models.

    * Mini: "This thing is barely smaller than a regular iPod, costs almost the same, and still has a hard drive so I can't go jogging with it."

    * Shuffle: "Great, so you shrunk it down and removed the harddrive, but no screen? How am I supposed to use this thing?"

    * Nano: "Ah, perfect. Small enough to fit just about anywhere. Full screen and standard interface. And no harddrive!"

    I wouldn't be surprised that Apple knew of the complaints they would get with the Mini and Shuffle even before their launches, but decided that those were the best that could be implemented at the manufacturing costs they were willing to have. It was all just stepping stones to get to the goal they had preset: Small, fully functional, flash. In short, Nano.

  • by boomgopher (627124) on Tuesday September 13, 2005 @08:07PM (#13552589) Journal
    Actaully, yes it probably is worth it - as the commoditization of nearly every manufactured product makes the "race to the bottom" in regards to price harder and harder. I'm guessing Apple's philosophy is to make very high-quality and well-designed products (or at least the appearance of this), so people are willing to pay more.

    (Which, personally, is a very good idea, imho. I know I'm personally getting tired of the now-broken crap I bought because of "wow - look how cheap this is".
    My philosophy now-that-I'm-all-grown-up is: wait until I find something I really want, and then buy the best quality product I can.)


  • by mblase (200735) on Tuesday September 13, 2005 @08:34PM (#13552812)
    You can bet we would have lived with $10K computers for years in a stagnating market..

    I don't get it. How could you possibly have a monopoly and the most expensive product on the market?

    I can't even imagine a world where consumers want expensive computers so badly, no retailer would risk offending Apple by selling cheaper non-Apple PCs. It defies logic.
  • by jim3e8 (458859) on Tuesday September 13, 2005 @08:44PM (#13552890) Homepage
    I find it misleading to claim Microsoft has "protected" us from an Apple monopoly, as Microsoft has never been a hardware company, and the entire idea of "commodity hardware" is derived solely from the availability of PC clones and not under Microsoft's control. IBM, not Microsoft, had a stranglehold on the PC market until Compaq reverse engineered the PC BIOS and produced a clone. Had IBM's lawsuit been successful, we probably would have lived with $10K computers for years in a stagnating market, Microsoft or no. It would have been an ugly battle until IBM was finally broken apart. Or until Apple grudgingly accepted low-cost Apple clones and took over the market. See how fun pure speculation can be?

    As a counterpoint, you can imagine a world in which Microsoft did not have a virtual monopoly on office productivity applications and indeed on the entire chain down to the operating system, and had been forced to play nice with others. Perhaps the lock-in precluded some incredible innovation of the software side which our counterparts in the alternate universe simply could not imagine living without. Oh, I'm speculating again. It must be contagious.
  • by 2nd Post! (213333) <gundbear@@@pacbell...net> on Tuesday September 13, 2005 @10:01PM (#13553372) Homepage
    So in a world of Apple, we have 80% Apple, 10% Creative, and 10% other.

    To go with this, we'd also have:
    Spare, clean OSes that don't try to do everything and be mediocre
    (Compare to the MP3 players that have FM tuners, replaceable batteries, and voice recorders)
    Good software on said OSes
    (Compare to iTunes to all the other jukeboxes)
    Price competition forcing the #2 manufacturer to actually LOSE money to compete
    (Compare the fact that because Apple is cutting prices to maintain dominance, Creative is losing money to 'keep up')

    So if Apple had captured the OS market, we'd be seeing:
    Well designed OSes (like the iPods)
    Fast adoption of new technology (The iPod was the first with the 1.8" hd when everyone else was using 3.5" and 2.5" drive, the first to use CF drives when everyone else was using flash, and now the first to use flash when everyone else has adopted CF. The iPod was also first to use a fast serial connection.)
    Computers people LOVE to use (like the iPods)

    Wait... all those things are true NOW in Apple computers.

    So the only difference is, with 80% dominance, is that 80% of the populace would be:
    Happy
    Using a well designed OS
    Using new technology

    Instead of only 5% of the population.
  • by eMartin (210973) on Tuesday September 13, 2005 @10:13PM (#13553425)
    You see to think that design means asthetics.

    It doesn't.

    "Good technical work" is not the opposite of good design.

    BTW, I think the iPod nano and iPod mini are very well designed. I don't think the same about the ones that came before them, despite the fact that they also looked nice.
  • by LinuxMacWin (79859) on Tuesday September 13, 2005 @10:19PM (#13553451)
    I have not posted in eons. But parent comment takes the cake and I had to respond. Funny how trollish comments get rated as Insightful. The statement is a complete slander. The only complaint raised is "commodity hardware".

    Do you have any other points on which you can compare Apple and Microsoft.

    Do you think if Apple was a monopoly, Steve Jobs would have given up his reality distortion and would be a corporate suit? Forget the products, have you seen the passion with which the man introduces the products. If Apple was 80%, and Microsoft 20%, would anyone have come to watch Bill Gates introduce Windows Vista? The point being...despite market share Steve would have had passion for usability, and bill for unethical practices.

    Do you think if Apple was a monopoly, the prices would be 10,000 per machine? Would not have Linux have much better opportunity in such times? After all, Linux is trying to fight a $300 operating system and could be winning with some more effort. With a $5000 operating system, and another $5000 for hardware, Linux would make sure Apple could not remain a monopoly.

    Do you think if Apple was a monopoly, it would not innovate? With limited R&D funds, Apple is able to develop such cool technology. Give them twice the money, give them their lost 10 years and they would have had an operating system of circa 2010 NOW. Why? Because for all the market leadership Microsoft has, they do not have imagination. They know how to copy, not how to be creative.

    I can go on, but I wonder. Why is the parent comment insightful?
  • by Chris Tucker (302549) on Tuesday September 13, 2005 @11:07PM (#13553747) Homepage
    DRM, lack of WMA compatiblity, ITMS files can't play on other players, "this here no name plastic player from China is cheaper and plays Ogg and... yadda yadda yadda".

    OK, sit down, shut up and pay attention.

    The overwhelming majority of people who buy iPods and KEEP buying iPods don't care a fat rat's ass about ANY OF THAT. Not one little bit do they care.

    They want something that simply works. They don't care about ITMS DRM. They DO care about the fact that they can get music they want right now for a modest sum. They know they'll get a quality file.

    They buy iPods because the interface is simple and it works well.

    They buy iPods because they are small, sturdy and hold an amzing amount of music.

    The overwhelming majority of the buying public is who Apple is targetting the iPod line to.

    Not you smelly Linux hippies with your handmade machines and having to config it. And then you have to write some shell scripts. Update your RPMs. You have to partition your drives. And patch your kernel. Compile your binaries. Check your version dependencies. Probably do that once or twice.

    Just to install an MP3 player.(and after all that, you STILL don't have more friends!)

    You are not the consumer Apple cares about.

    You have never been the consumer Apple cares abou.

    You will never be the consumer Apple cares about.

    Get over yourself and welcome your new, Jonathan Ive designed overlords!
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday September 14, 2005 @01:13AM (#13554380)
    You don't have to give a shit about sports to have heard the phrase "fifty-yard line" at some point in your life. A football field is 100 yards long.
  • by Kadin2048 (468275) <slashdot DOT kadin AT xoxy DOT net> on Wednesday September 14, 2005 @01:47AM (#13554500) Homepage Journal
    Huh? Not at all.

    Consider the two options. One, they could have played it safe, stuck with the iPod Mini through Christmas.

    This way they stay right on current expectations for earnings, expenditures, etc. They don't have to sign any new contracts for parts. Their biggest worry is making sure they have enough of the silly things to stock stores in November and December, and providing technical support in January for the clueless. It's safe, it's simple. It's the textbook business case of 'if it ain't broke...'.

    The other option, and the one they took, required them to do several things simultaneously. Firstly, they had to wind down production of the Mini. This means they had to stop buying parts, but assemble all the ones they had already bought or committed to buying. They had to meet all their commitments to stores, but also not leave retailers with big stocks of them (which would almost immediately become unwanted 'clearance items' when the Nano was revealed). That in itself is a big supply chain problem. Shutting down a supply chain can sometimes be as much of an issue as starting one up.

    On top of that, they had to build up an entirely new supply chain, of new components and manufacturing, for this new Nano product. They had to be able to deliver on the initial rush of orders after the announcement, and they have to be able to push them out the door constantly until Christmas, when the next rush occurs. To do this they'll have to sign big agreements with suppliers and manufacturers (which will bankrupt them or nearly so if the product flops), not to mention retailers and distributers. Add to this the fact that the new product isn't as profitable as the old one, and doesn't reuse any existing parts or tooling.

    Oh, and did I mention they have to keep the whole thing under wraps until the big launch date?

    Believe me, for a manager in a big company, that took balls. I can only imagine what would happen if someone tried to do that where I work -- they'd probably have a mutiny.
  • by pomo monster (873962) on Wednesday September 14, 2005 @02:29AM (#13554673)
    "If Steve could charge 10K for the 'honor' of owning one of his machines, he'd do it in a heartbeat."

    Bullshit. Explain the Mac mini, then.

    You want arrogance? Arrogance is Microsoft's and Dell's satisfaction that their products are "good enough" for you and me, and expecting users to conform to their awkward designs. On the other hand you have Apple, whose eagerness to make its hardware and software accessible to everyone--i.e. intuitive "for the rest of us"--is the most meaningful sort of humility.

    And if this eagerness, nay, devotion leads the Mac to be more expensive than your average "good enough" PC, which I'll allow it very well may, then you're mistaken to characterize it as the result of some obsession with class or status symbolism.

    That's if you ask me, which I guess you didn't.
  • by zpok (604055) on Wednesday September 14, 2005 @06:43AM (#13555588) Homepage
    Call tech support or visit the store. A lemon is a lemon, whether made by dell or apple...
  • by Infamous Tim (513490) on Wednesday September 14, 2005 @09:43AM (#13556576)
    If this is your bag, you're better off going with last.fm [www.last.fm], who recently combined with audioscrobbler. Using a tiny plugin to your computer's music player, it uploads what songs you listen to, then builds an index and finds neighbors to your listening habits in the database. Then, get this, you get to listen to music straight off of those neighbor's profiles, so you can find new music reeeeally easily.
    From what I understand, there's work being done in getting it to work with an iPod, so when you plug in it checks to see what songs you've played and sends those up to your profile. Rockin!
  • by mtec (572168) on Wednesday September 14, 2005 @10:00AM (#13556742)
    I own a retail store, and you sir, are a shit.
  • Re:Huh? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by cowscows (103644) on Wednesday September 14, 2005 @10:19AM (#13556936) Journal
    Yeah, a lot of mac users got really defensive during those dark days. It was bad enough that our platform was suffering so badly in the marketplace, but it went further than that. We took a lot of grief from windows users. It was almost a sort of disdain. Oh, you use one of those mac things. I see. Not to mention that it got very difficult to use a mac at work or whatever, everyone wanted you just to shut up and use windows.

    To be honest, I never understood that. It's not like I was stuck using a mac because I couldn't afford or figure out a PC. I wasn't doing it because I was trying to rebel against The Man. And so I think us mac fans just chalked it up to jealousy. You stupid PC users pretend that MS is so great, but in reality it tears you up inside knowing that that huge company gets out-programmed and out-designed by tiny little Apple. That's probably not the case, but that's just sort of what we told ourselves.

    And it was really annoying, because, quite frankly, the mac experience was so much better. Windows had its benefits in terms of cost and software availability, but the MacOS was about a zillion times more pleasant to use. When I tried to convince someone to consider buying a mac, I wasn't doing it for financial gain, or to get them to join the "apple cult". I was doing it because I truly felt that they'd have a better experience with it, and maybe just be a little happier.

    But it really is great to see Apple's attention to detail take off with the general public. I guess even a simplified computer is still a bit complex and daunting to someone not technically inclined, but an mp3 player is straightforwards enough that you can really wrap your head around it, and appreciate the little things.
  • by IdntUnknwn (700129) on Wednesday September 14, 2005 @05:14PM (#13560862)
    So essentially you're willing to do the work yourself. Your player only has basic functionality, but you can extend that functionality through manpower.

    The iPod can do a large number of useful things on its own. For example, iTunes can automatically fill unused space with random songs of high ranking. The iPod can automatically play songs with higher ranking more frequently. While you're listening to a song, you can change its rating. Once its hooked up to the computer again, that rating will automatically be uploaded back to iTunes such that your library will slowly get a better idea of what you like to listen to. iTunes automatically downloads songs into appropriate folders, and the iPod automatically organizes music by id3 tags such that you don't need to worry about putting things into separate folders.

    I'm certain you can duplicate all of that functionality manually. I'm also certain that you can change all of your OS settings through a text editor. Now you might be willing to sacrifice functionality for cost, but I'd dare say that the majority of people prefer it the other way.

    Also, the iPod's physical interace runs circles around the NEX IIe's button. You need to put in effort to make NEX IIe's button work efficiently. On the iPod, even if you stuck all of the songs in a single list, you'd be able to get to it relatively quickly.

    I don't understand why you get so mad, it just boils down to personal preference anyway. You are willing to sacrifice cost for functionality, almost everyone else wants it the other way around. What's the big deal?

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