â€œThis feels like crap!â€ Steve growled at the engineer from the industrial design department. He repeatedly plugged and unplugged the headphones from the pre-production iPod and looked as if he might fling it across the room. â€œ…these headphone jacks all have to be replaced by tomorrowâ€ he continued.
Tomorrow was October 22, 2001, one day before the introduction of Appleâ€™s new digital music player, known as P68, but soon to be christened â€˜iPodâ€™.
I sat quietly about six seats away, wondering how the unlucky engineer would respond. I could almost see his mind racing as he thought about the big stack of new iPods sitting in the adjoining room, waiting to be handed out to the press who would be there in just over a day…how could we possibly disassemble and modify all of them in time?? and even if we could, would it really improve the situation?? and is it really as bad as Steve makes it sound?? Will anybody really care what it feels like when the headphone plug â€˜clicksâ€™ into place?? But before he had time to form any kind of lucid response, Steve sent him away with the edict: â€œfind a way to fix it.â€
The ID guy left the room and everyoneâ€™s attention turned back to the stage. â€œThe iPodâ€™s screen looks awful on the video projector. Why doesnâ€™t it look like it did in the promo video?â€ Steve asked. The tech fidgeted with the Flexcam, trying to improve the picture. But every time they would move the iPod, the white case would â€˜foolâ€™ the auto exposure on the camera and the image of the screen would get very dark. The event manager suggested that perhaps the little Flexcam wasnâ€™t up to the job, and they could try a more professional camera with manual exposure control. â€œWhy didnâ€™t you think of that before? Get it done right away!â€ So the techs scurry away in search of a 3-chip video camera and some way to mount it upside-down and vertical above the iPod in a way that wasnâ€™t too ugly and that didnâ€™t get in the way of Steveâ€™s demo and that could all be made to work in the next two hours.
And so it went for the whole day and through the final rehearsal the next day. Everything had to be just right…no not â€˜just rightâ€™, it had to be great. This was the way of Apple, and the introduction of this new device was no exception.
I was there in my capacity as product manager for iDVD, and even though he had done it many times Steve wanted to go through the iDVD demo and choose new sample movies to use. The â€˜Digital Hubâ€™ concept was still new and he took every opportunity to refine the presentation.
The magic of Apple is that this stuff is largely invisible. At the unveiling on Tuesday, none of these details had the slightest impact on the response of those in attendance; at least not taken individually. But taken together, along with the countless other little details which had been considered and worked on and improved before the world saw the product, they contributed to the Apple difference. The iPod became the worldâ€™s best portable music player not because it has a scroll wheel or because it has white headphones or because it syncs with iTunes. Itâ€™s because all the pieces of the usersâ€™ experience have been thought about and refined and prioritized to create the product. Not just by Steve Jobs, but by the many people at Apple who work on each new product.
Today, the pre-production iPod on my desk (shown above) doesnâ€™t get much use (although it still works great); I tend to favor my Nano. But itâ€™s very gratifying to know that the way the headphones click â€˜just soâ€™ when you plug them in, was not an accident.