In a story shared by the CEO of Stripe, Patrick Collison, Tony Fadell describes the timeline of the original iPod. Fadell says he joined Apple in late January to run the iPod project but that when he joined, the iPod wasn’t an iPod — Apple wanted to make a hard-drive-based MP3 player but that was essentially it. “No team, prototype, designs, nothing”.

Incredibly, the product was completed before the end of the year. Fadell pitched a design prototype to Jobs in March, the team found manufacturing partners in April, and Apple started shipping the first devices to customers in November.

This rapid turnaround is not an entirely new revelation, but it’s still striking to see it written out in a single screenshot.

Other retellings of the iPod story suggest that the idea of Apple making an MP3 player had been swirling inside the company for some time, basically as soon as Apple acquired SoundJam and started it converting into the iTunes app. iTunes was released publicly on January 9, 2001.

Jon Rubinstein, then head of Apple hardware engineering, had become aware of a small-form-factor 1.8-inch hard drive from Toshiba. This became the central component of the first iPod. Reconciling with Fadell’s timeline, the hard drive discovery must have happened in early January.

Whatever way you slice it, the efficiency of the timeline is incredible. However, something like this would probably be unfeasible at Apple’s modern scale. The sheer size of the company means developing a supply chain to support millions of units of production per month; this is something that is basically impossible to achieve this quickly. The complexity of technology has also increased dramatically since 2001.

A ‘fast’ turnaround of a new mainstream Apple-designed product these days is between two and three years. Apple released the first iPhone about 2.5 years after seriously beginning the touch-screen phone project, although that’s not counting a couple of years of exploration and R&D before it.

Apple began development of the iPad mini in early 2011 and that device ultimately shipped in November 2012. The Apple Watch project was spun up in mid-2012. Apple’s wearable was announced in September 2014 and shipped in April 2015. Although timelines are less clear for product revisions, most indicators suggest that Apple is always working on iPhone models two to three years ahead of the currently shipping model.

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About the Author

Benjamin Mayo

Benjamin develops iOS apps professionally and covers Apple news and rumors for 9to5Mac. Listen to Benjamin, every week, on the Happy Hour podcast. Check out his personal blog. Message Benjamin over email or Twitter.