The television ads showed the iconic silhouettes dancing to songs picked by Jobs, Clow, and Vincent. “Finding the music became our main fun at our weekly marketing meetings,” said Clow. “We’d play some edgy cut, Steve would say, ‘I hate that,’ and James would have to talk him into it.” The ads helped popularize many new bands, most notably the Black Eyed Peas; the ad with “Hey Mama” is the classic of the silhouettes genre. When a new ad was about to go into production, Jobs would often have second thoughts, call up Vincent, and insist that he cancel it. “It sounds a bit poppy” or “It sounds a bit trivial,” he would say. “Let’s call it off.” James would get flustered and try to talk him around. “Hold on, it’s going to be great,” he would argue. Invariably Jobs would relent, the ad would be made, and he would love it.
Jobs unveiled the iPod on October 23, 2001, at one of his signature product launch events. “Hint: It’s not a Mac,” the invitation teased. When it came time to reveal the product, after he described its technical capabilities, Jobs did not do his usual trick of walking over to a table and pulling off a velvet cloth. Instead he said, “I happen to have one right here in my pocket.” He reached into his jeans and pulled out the gleaming white device. “This amazing little device holds a thousand songs, and it goes right in my pocket.” He slipped it back in and ambled offstage to applause.
Initially there was some skepticism among tech geeks, especially about the $399 price. In the blogosphere, the joke was that iPod stood for “idiots price our devices.” However, consumers soon made it a hit. More than that, the iPod became the essence of everything Apple was destined to be: poetry connected to engineering, arts and creativity intersecting with technology, design that’s bold and simple. It had an ease of use that came from being an integrated end-to-end system, from computer to FireWire to device to software to content management. When you took an iPod out of the box, it was so beautiful that it seemed to glow, and it made all other music players look as if they had been designed and manufactured in Uzbekistan.
Not since the original Mac had a clarity of product vision so propelled a company into the future. “If anybody was ever wondering why Apple is on the earth, I would hold up this as a good example,” Jobs told Newsweek’s Steve Levy at the time. Wozniak, who had long been skeptical of integrated systems, began to revise his philosophy. “Wow, it makes sense that Apple was the one to come up with it,” Wozniak enthused after the iPod came out. “After all, Apple’s whole history is making both the hardware and the software, with the result that the two work better together.”
The day that Levy got his press preview of the iPod, he happened to be meeting Bill Gates at a dinner, and he showed it to him. “Have you seen this yet?” Levy asked. Levy noted, “Gates went into a zone that recalls those science fiction films where a space alien, confronted with a novel object, creates some sort of force tunnel between him and the object, allowing him to suck directly into his brain all possible information about it.” Gates played with the scroll wheel and pushed every button combination, while his eyes stared fixedly at the screen. “It looks like a great product,” he finally said. Then he paused and looked puzzled. “It’s only for Macintosh?” he asked.
THE iTUNES STORE
I’m the Pied Piper
At the beginning of 2002 Apple faced a challenge. The seamless connection between your iPod, iTunes software, and computer made it easy to manage the music you already owned. But to get new music, you had to venture out of this cozy environment and go buy a CD or download the songs online. The latter endeavor usually meant foraying into the murky domains of file-sharing and piracy services. So Jobs wanted to offer iPod users a way to download songs that was simple, safe, and legal.
The music industry also faced a challenge. It was being plagued by a bestiary of piracy services—Napster, Grokster, Gnutella, Kazaa—that enabled people to get songs for free. Partly as a result, legal sales of CDs were down 9% in 2002.
The executives at the music companies were desperately scrambling, with the elegance of second-graders playing soccer, to agree on a common standard for copy-protecting digital music. Paul Vidich of Warner Music and his corporate colleague Bill Raduchel of AOL Time Warner were working with Sony in that effort, and they hoped to get Apple to be part of their consortium. So a group of them flew to Cupertino in January 2002 to see Jobs.
It was not an easy meeting. Vidich had a cold and was losing his voice, so his deputy, Kevin Gage, began the presentation. Jobs, sitting at the head of the conference table, fidgeted and looked annoyed. After four slides, he waved his hand and broke in. “You have your heads up your asses,” he pointed out. Everyone turned to Vidich, who struggled to get his voice working. “You’re right,” he said after a long pause. “We don’t know what to do. You need to help us figure it out.” Jobs later recalled being slightly taken aback, and he agreed that Apple would work with the Warner-Sony effort.
If the music companies had been able to agree on a standardized encoding method for protecting music files, then multiple online stores could have proliferated. That would have made it hard for Jobs to create an iTunes Store that allowed Apple to control how online sales were handled. Sony, however, handed Jobs that opportunity when it decided, after the January 2002 Cupertino meeting, to pull out of the talks because it favored its own proprietary format, from which it would get royalties.
“You know Steve, he has his own agenda,” Sony’s CEO Nobuyuki Idei explained to Red Herring editor Tony Perkins. “Although he is a genius, he doesn’t share everything with you. This is a difficult person to work with if you are a big company. . . . It is a nightmare.” Howard Stringer, then head of Sony North America, added about Jobs: “Trying to get together would frankly be a waste of time.”
Instead Sony joined with Universal to create a subscription service called Pressplay. Meanwhile, AOL Time Warner, Bertelsmann, and EMI teamed up with RealNetworks to create MusicNet. Neither would license its songs to the rival service, so each offered only about half the music available. Both were subscription services that allowed customers to stream songs but not keep them, so you lost access to them if your subscription lapsed. They had complicated restrictions and clunky interfaces. Indeed they would earn the dubious distinction of becoming number nine on PC World’s list of “the 25 worst tech products of all time.” The magazine declared, “The services’ stunningly brain-dead features showed that the record companies still didn’t get it.”