Game Publisher Unveils Gloriously Ugly iPod Prototype It Had In Its Closet

The iPod is 20 years old. This is what it looked like before Apple’s engineers made it beautiful and iconic.
Image: Panic photo

Video game publisher Panic has unveiled photos of the original iPod prototype it said was laying around in a closet. First released on October 23, 2001, the iPod catapulted Apple from an iconic but struggling computer company to a global behemoth. It revolutionized people’s relationship to devices. It’s earliest prototype is a startlingly ugly piss-yellow plastic box.



Image: Panic photo.

“There are a lot of mysteries in the Panic Archives (it’s a closet) but by far one of the most mysterious is what you’re seeing for the first time today: an original early iPod prototype,” Panic, which published the hit game Untitled Goose Game and which developed its own iPod-inspired gaming handheld called Playdate, said in a blog post. “We don’t know much about where it came from. But we’ve been waiting 20 years to share it with you.”

iPod inventor Tony Fadell confirmed that the pictures were, indeed, of an original prototype of the iPod. “This is a P68/Dulcimer iPod prototype we (very quickly) made before the true form factor design was ready,” he said on Twitter. “Didn’t want it look like an iPod for confidentiality - the buttons placement, the size - it was mostly air inside - and the wheel worked (poorly)”

The prototype is rather large and has four buttons for up, down, left, and right. There’s a tiny screen and a working scroll wheel. Inside the device is mostly empty, only a small circuit board and screen are present. According to Fadell, the gross shell was just to show off a proof of concept while engineers worked on the final design. It’s almost as tall as a laptop is long, and in a photo taken for comparison, it appears to be four times the size of a first generation iPod.

“It has always been my deepest dream to smoothly unzip a backpack on a flight, theatrically pull out this incredible beast, plug in some headphones, and use it as my actual ‘portable’ music player,” Panic said in its blog post. “Imagine the looks.”

Motherboard reached out to Panic to get the story behind the prototype. “Unfortunately, some parts of the story are shrouded in mystery,” a spokesperson told Motherboard in an email. “But it really has been in our closet for a very, very long time, and used to be in a display case in our lobby as a special treat for visitors.”

Apple did not immediately return Motherboard’s request for comment.