The Innovation that Made the iPod

The death of Apple founder Steve Jobs today has everyone talking about his many accomplishments, especially in the last decade: the iPod (2001), the iTunes store (2003), the iPhone (2007) the iPad (2010). Each one was an incredible leap forward (iTunes alone ushered in an era of legal digital music).

But what I find so interesting is the innovation Jobs brought to Apple when he returned in 1996 that made all those other accomplishments possible. It started, perhaps, with 1997’s Think Different campaign. It was just an ad campaign (and not developed by Jobs), but the idea soon became a reality as Apple introduced the iMac in 1998. The iMac literally re-thought computers with an emphasis on out-of-the-box ease-of-use (“There is no step three!”) and, of all things, style. Later the same philosophy came to laptops with the iBook in 1999 and delicious color choices like tangerine.

And Apple Computers became cool again.

All of that innovation to their core product brought the company back from the brink and laid the groundwork for what was to come. Without the success of the iMac, there would be no iPod.

Unicorns and wheels, as Jason Kottke describes it. The lesson here is that if you want to create unicorns, you have to learn how to create wheels first.

(If you’re unfamiliar with Jobs’ 2005 Stanford commencement address, “How to Live Before You Die,” you should read or watch it. Good stuff.)

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