October 13, 2006: Apple launches its limited-edition iPod nano (Product) Red Special Edition music player, with 10% of profits going to fight AIDS in Africa.
Created in association with U2 lead singer Bono and activist/attorney Bobby Shriver, it’s the first of many Apple philanthropic products. “We’re ecstatic that Apple is giving their customers the choice to buy a red iPod nano and help women and children affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa,” Bono says in a statement.
(Product) Red iPod nano launch
The (Product) Red iPod nano was just the beginning of Apple’s efforts with Bono’s charity initiative. In the years since, the company created a range of products to benefit The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria.
For instance, a one-of-a-kind red Mac Pro sold at Sotheby’s for $977,000. A Jony Ive-designed (Red) Desk sold for $1,685,000. And more-affordable items like red leather iPhone cases also came out in limited editions. These days, Apple regularly sells iPhones, Apple Watches and other products in bold red colors, and (Red) has expanded its remit to fight pandemics including COVID-19.
After partnering with the nonprofit for more than a decade, “Apple has generated nearly $250 million for the Global Fund to support HIV/AIDS programs,” the organization said in a 2021 press release about the (Red) versions of iPhone 13 and iPhone 13 mini.
U2 and Apple’s special relationship
U2’s association with Apple goes back even further. A longtime friend of Steve Jobs, Bono and his band previously teamed up to launch a U2-themed iPod. Apple also used the band’s music in a memorable iPod commercial.
Bono even bought Jobs’ Central Park West apartment in New York City from the Apple co-founder for $15 million.
Despite this relationship, Jobs could be a hard negotiator. And he never seemed particularly interested in philanthropy. That made him less likely to aid Bono’s charity for the sake of Apple being a “force for good.” In particular, Jobs abjectly refused to let the (Product) Red iPod nano be released under the name (Apple) Red.
Steve Jobs and Bono argue over the name
Other companies let their names appear in parentheses for the charity. However, Jobs thought that would diminish Apple by making the brand appear like an afterthought. The argument between Jobs and Bono got heated — “to the F-you stage,” according to biographer Walter Isaacson — before they agreed to sleep on it.
In the end, they compromised. Jobs let Bono call the product whatever he wanted in his own ads, but Apple would not use anything with (Apple) Red written on it in Apple stores. In every case I’ve seen, the device was named the iPod nano (Product) Red Special Edition.
“Steve can be sparky,” Bono later recalled.
Remembering the red iPod nano
Did you own this red iPod or any other limited-edition Apple gear? Leave your comments below.