The iPod was not invented in 2001 in Cupertino, California. It was invented in England in 1979, by “serial inventor” Kane Kramer.
This is not a story of intellectual property theft, or of big companies putting the screws on the little man.
Instead, it is just the retelling of another old story – the story of a lone, visionary inventor and his inability to market a product that appeared way before its time.
Kramer came up with the idea for a pocket-sized, portable solid state music player with a friend, James Campbell. Kramer was 23, Campbell 21.
The IXI System had a display screen and buttons for four-way navigation. In a report presented to investors in 1979, the IXI was described as being the size of a cigarette packet. Is this sounding familiar yet?
Back in 1979, a memory chip would store a paltry three and a half minutes of music. Kramer fully expected this to improve, and confidently foresaw a market for reliable, high quality digital music players which would be popular with both consumers and the record labels.
It could actually be argued that he was still ahead of Apple after the firat iPod went on sale – that had a hard drive and Kramer had moved onto flash memory years earlier.
But the really surprising part of Kramer’s invention is not the hardware but the infrastructure behind it. It eerily foreshadows the iTunes Store and pretty much any modern online music store.
Content was to be stored on a central server and distributed to music stores vie telephone line (remember – in these days there was no internet and almost no home computers). Customers would take their players into the store and buy music which would be loaded onto the IXI chips inside (the chips were removable, like a tiny cassette).
Photo by Steve Nicholson.