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  • A Brief History of the Apple iPod

    In January 2001 we had a new American president, George W. Bush, I was working at Mentor Graphics, and Apple introduced an MP3 player called the iPod with a hard drive capable of holding 1,000 songs. In the previous decades we enjoyed portable music from tape-based, CD, or mini-CD devices like the Sony Walkman. The first several generations of the iPod used two ARM 7TDMI-derived CPUs, clocked at just 90 MHz to keep battery life reasonable. 1 The iTunes software helped you organize the music, but at first it only worked on Apple computers.

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    iPod, 1st generation, 2001 2

    Subsequent generations of the iPod continued to use ARM architecture chips, while the audio chip was either Wolfson Microelectronics or Cirrus Logic. iTunes supported the Windows platform in 2002, and the iTunes Music Store launched in 2003 with some 200,000 title to buy, so now how you bought music become easier and affordable. The iPod family began to branch out in 2004 with the iPod mini, achieving a smaller size by using the Microdrive from Hitachi and Seagate.

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    iPod Mini, 2004

    Just one year later in 2005 the iPod nano line basically replaced the iPod mini, and is best noted for its use of Flash memory instead of a hard drive, so now we had the first solid state music player by Apple driving the yield for Flash memory chips. The entry-level iPod shuffle debuted that same year, but had no display and continued to use Flash for music storage.

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    iPod Nano, 2005

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    iPod Shuffle, 2005

    Competitors to the iPod like Microsoft Zune tried to enter the market, however the Microsoft Zune first sold in 2006 but was out of the market 5 years later. 3 Microsoft just never had the marketing buzz, ease of use, or online store success that Apple created.

    2007 was the year that Apple announced both the iPhone and iPod Touch products, where the iPod Touch was similar to the iPhone in terms of size, glass display and multi-touch surface, but without a cell phone radio. All the cool kids in middle school could now own an iPod Touch and look like an adult without having to pay a monthly cell-phone bill.

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    iPod Touch, 2007

    Sales of the iPod family of products grew slowly from 2002-2003, then rose briskly in 2004. Volumes of the iPod peaked in 2009, caused by increased competition, market saturation, and the trend towards Smart Phones offered both by Apple and all of the growing list of Android competitors.

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    Semiconductors used inside of the iPod touch include: 4

    • Apple - ARM-based CPU (similar in iPhone)
    • Toshiba - NAND Flash (Samsung Flash in the iPhone)
    • Wolfson - audio chip (shared in iPhone)
    • Samsung - DRAM
    • Marvell - WiFi chip
    • Apple - Communications chip
    • Broadcom - touch screen controller chip
    • STMicroelectronics - motion sensor chip
    • Texas Instruments - video driver chip


    Notice how Apple has by 2007 started designed their own ARM-based chips, and is headed down the path as a fabless design company. Apple and ARM go together all the way back to 1990 when Advanced RISC Machines Ltd was created as a joint venture between Acorn Computers, Apple Computer and VLSI Technology.

    If Apple doesn't design their own chips in these high-volume, consumer-oriented products, then they often pit one semiconductor vendor against another for the commodity parts like: 5
    • Flash (Toshiba, Samsung, Hynix Semiconductor, Micron Technology)
    • DRAM
    • Audio
    • Radios


    Today you have four choices of iPod, each aimed at a slight different usage:

    • iPod shuffle - tiniest size, highest portability, lowest price.
    • iPod nano - small size, portable, small display.
    • iPod touch - largest display, like an iPhone without the cell phone.
    • iPod classic - greatest storage capacity, small display.


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    With all of the Apple success in designing their own processors for the iPod, iPad and iPhone devices you have to wonder if Intel's days of supplying processors for the iMac, MacBook Pro and Mac Pro computers are indeed numbered.

    Full Disclosure
    Our family household owns: iPod, iPad, iPhone, iMac, MacBook Pro and iTunes. We also enjoy: Kindle PaperWhite, Samsung Galaxy S3, Samsung Galaxy Note 2, HTC One, Google Nexus, HP laptop, Dell laptop and custom gaming PCs.

    References
    1. Wikipedia
    2. Apple
    3. Wikipedia
    3. IFIXIT
    4. Bloomberg Business week




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