Who Is the Godfather of the iPod?

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Tony Fadell, the ex-head of Apple's iPod division. Photo by Wired/Robyn Twomey
Tony Fadell, the ex-head of Apple's iPod division. Photo by Wired/Robyn Twomey

The New York Times this morning calls Tony Fadell the “godfather” of the iPod (he’s leaving Apple for greener pastures). But the title should probably go to Jon Rubinstein, the former head of Apple’s Mac and iPod divisions and now CEO of Palm.

The history of the iPod’s development is told here and here, but the short story is:

1. In late 2000, Steve Jobs asked his executive team to look at gadgets people were attaching to the Macs. Perhaps Apple could do a better job of designing them. Videocameras were an obvious candidate, but they were already pretty good. Jobs wasn’t sure Apple could do better. But early MP3 players were a different story — they were horrible.

2. Jon Rubinstein, the head of hardware, hired Tony Fadell to look into making some prototypes, but the project didn’t go into high gear until Toshiba showed Rubinstein a tiny 1.8-inch hard drive it had just developed. They had no idea what to do with it, but Rubinstein did.

3. Rubinstein called Jobs to tell him he’d found the perfect technology for an MP3 player, and he kept Fadell on to oversee the early protoypes. Fadell did such a good job, he went on to become head of the iPod division and eventually took Rubinstein’s job.

As Steven Levy says in his writeup of the iPod’s development, The Perfect Thing:

There is no single “father of the iPod.” Development was a multitrack process, with Fadell, now on staff, in charge of the actual workings of the device, Robbin heading the software and interface team, Jonathan Ive doing the industrial design, Rubenstein overseeing the project, and Jobs himself rubbernecking as only he could.

However, I give credit to Rubinstein, who was at the heart of the development process. He had the initial technological insight, put together the team to develop it, and led the charge to keep improving and updating the device. If there’s a godfather of the iPod, it’s Jon Rubinstein.