Home Tech iPod inventor Tony Fadell talks Apple, advice and a**holes in new book

iPod inventor Tony Fadell talks Apple, advice and a**holes in new book

Tony Fadell is the co-creator of the iPod and the iPhone (Credits: Tony Fadell)

Tony Fadell is a man you might not have heard of, but his creations have very likely influenced your life.

As a designer, engineer and entrepreneur, Fadell is responsible for co-creating the very first iPod as well as the first three generations of iPhone.

After leaving Apple, he went on to create Nest Labs, which led the way in smart home gadgety and was eventually acquired by Google.

Now 53, and with decades of experience under his belt, Fadell has decided to produce a decidedly un-techy product: a book. You know, one of those things made of paper and ink that doesn’t require charging and will never receive a software update.

But even with this centuries-old format, Fadell is looking to innovate.

Joining a Zoom call with Metro.co.uk, he shows the last page of the book, which is a detailed breakdown of the climate-based sustainability information that went into making it.

Throughout its pages are little underlined links to other chapters. It’s got diagrams and pictures in it. In essence, it can either be read front-to-back like a traditional book or by bouncing round it in snippets like you were browsing Wikipedia.

‘Everything on the web gets papered over in seconds, so it was “let’s go back to the traditional format but let’s innovate on the format” and it took almost nine months to get the format figured out,’ Fadell says.

‘I really want it to be an encyclopedia of mentorship,’ Fadell, a self-confessed non-writer, told Metro.co.uk. 

Tony’s first book, Build, is out now (Credits: Harper Business Books)

‘It was innovating on that and innovating on the end product that made me feel like it’s not just a book but it’s something I could re-think and deliver. And, hopefully, it’s something that would live well past the typical lifespan of an electronic software or hardware product.’

The book itself, titled Build: An Unorthodox Way to Make Things Worth Making is far from just a checklist of Tony’s accomplishments. It’s more like life and business advice framed against the backdrop of his own career and experience of change within the tech industry. 

For instance, there’s a chapter titled ‘Assholes’, guiding the reader through how to deal with the kinds of assholes they’re likely to run into during their career.

There’s politically-motivated assholes with an ego to satisfy and then the perfectionist assholes that just want to get the best out of everyone for the good of the product.

Fadell is the latter.

But it’s love for products and seeking out the special something to elevate a piece of gadgetry beyond just a tool that clearly guides Fadell’s writing and his life as whole.

‘The beginning [of the product life cycle] is fun, but then it’s the whole journey I really enjoy,’ he says. ‘Because you never know what you get wrong or what you assumed improperly until you’re in it. 

‘You get some interesting discoveries that you wouldn’t have thought of at the beginning until you walk through the thing and you go “oh, I didn’t consider that”‘.

Take, for example, the oft-cited debate around Apple’s proprietary charging methods. According to Fadell, the decision to go a certain way often comes down to what’s best for the product.

The original iPod featured a 30-pin connector that Apple developed from scratch to function as both a data transfer and a charging device.

‘We had to tell people we wanted to put this on and had to convince Steve [Jobs] that we should have it,’ Fadell recalls.

‘There was no 30-pin connector like that at the time. Or anything like it. Nobody was doing it. There were power connectors and video connectors but we wanted one connector that does everything and makes it really easy. That was a necessity of invention.’

Apple introduced the Lightning port for the iPhone 5 in 2012, and it’s still in use today (Credits: Getty)

Apple’s 30-pin connector gave way to the Lightning port that now sits at the bottom of every model of iPhone. Despite the industry-wide shift to USB-C, Apple has remained firmly committed to its Lightning port and defended it against calls to standadise from, most notably, the EU.

‘Sometimes proprietary just turns out to be proprietary because at the beginning there was no other option. So you propose an option,’ contends Fadell.

‘And then, over time, then you can go to more standards-based stuff. USB-C looks awesome on paper, but if you actually try to use it and the different types of cable, it becomes confusing.

‘They all look the same, but there are different charge rates. Is it data or not data? Does it do power distribution? It [USB-C] is so bad. 

‘It may look the same but it actually is this everything-but-the-kitchen-sink specification. It makes it incredibly confusing for the customer.

And how does he feel about the iPod, his baby, finally being discontinued by Apple?

‘The drumbeat of technology keeps pounding away,’ he tells us.

The original iPod was co-created by Fadell back in 2001 (Credits: Apple)

‘And I used to get too attached. Like my Apple 2 when it died, I was devastated. But at the end of the day the iPod is a cornerstone of Apple just like the Mac and the Apple 2 was. It may be gone but it’s not ever going to be forgotten.’

Tony’s book, Build: An Unorthodox Way to Make Things Worth Making is out now. All proceeds from the sale of the book are going into the Build Climate Fund – a climate-focused investment fund to help companies that Tony thinks will contribute to solving the climate crisis.

All the proceeds from those investments will be reinvested into the fund and, ultimately, into climate-focused philanthropic charities.

Furthermore, Tony has committed to personally matching up to 5x (up to $25 million) of those funds himself.

If you want to find out more, you can find Tony’s website here.

MORE : Apple discontinues the iPod after 20 years

MORE : When is the iPhone 14 coming out? Latest release date leaks and rumours


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