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Innovation By Design

iPod Mastermind Tony Fadell On The Death Of The iPod: "You Can't Get Too Nostalgic"

After 13 years, the iPod Classic is dead. Google's Tony Fadell tells us what killed the iPod, and why we shouldn't be bummed about it.

[Image: Flickr user Freimut]

What does it feel like to lose your design child?

Ask Google's Tony Fadell. Before he started supercharging our thermostats, Fadell was mostly known for his work at Apple. His breakout success back in 2001 was the iPod, Apple's revolutionary digital media player, a product he oversaw as senior vice president until his departure from the company in 2008.

Last week, Apple killed off the iPod Classic, the last remaining iPod model that still resembled Fadell's original design: a big laptop hard drive full of MP3s with a click wheel on front.

Tony Fadell, father of the iPod. Photo: Pari Dukovic

"I'm sad to see it go," Fadell admits in a phone interview. "The iPod's been a huge part of my life for the last decade. The team that worked on the iPod poured literally everything into making it what it was." Eighteen months after launch, the iPod owned the portable media player category, and for the next decade, it continued to do so. "Products just don't come around like that often," laments Fadell. "The iPod was one-in-a-million."

At the same time, Fadell acknowledges that the iPod was born to die. "It was inevitable something would take its place. You know, in 2003 or 2004, we started asking ourselves what would kill the iPod," Fadell says. "And even back then, at Apple, we knew it was streaming. We called it the 'celestial jukebox in the sky.' And we have that now: music in the cloud."

But streaming music wasn't the only thing that killed the iPod Classic, Fadell says. The people who bought iPod Classics for their cars are now using hand-me-down smartphones instead. And for the people who want to have every single song they own with them at all times, the new iPhone 6 comes with 128GB storage, which is about the same amount of space the iPod Classic shipped with—and unlike the Classic, the iPhone 6 can pull any songs it can't fit on its massive drive from the cloud.

"I'll miss the iPod. I loved it," says Fadell. "But you know, that's just how it is. I also loved my Apple II, and also saw it come and go. You can't get too nostalgic. I mean, there are people out there who still want the Commodore 64 or the Amiga to come back. That's cute, but time marches on. It's better to be excited for the future."

As for the future of music: It's not iPods, iPhones, or iPads. It's apps that read your mind. "Now that we all have access to all the music we could ever want, discoverability is the new Holy Grail," Fadell says. "Using machine learning and AI to figure out context, so that the celestial jukebox knows the perfect song for every occasion."

Like, say, the perfect funeral dirge for the portable media player he created. But since that technology doesn't yet exist, Fadell joked that he plans on loading up the "Zoloft - Sad Music" playlist on his iPod instead.

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