Phil Schiller invented the wheel

Leander Kahney on the birth of the iPod:

The idea for the scroll wheel was suggested by Apple’s head of marketing, Phil Schiller, who in an early meeting said quite definitively, “The wheel is the right user interface for this product.”

The Macalope’s not sure he buys all the elements of the story. Toshiba built those little hard drives and didn’t know what to do with them? Does that make sense?

  • Jim Dovey:

    It’s quite possible that Toshiba knew exactly what they could do with those drives, but simply chose to not mention them to their – potential – competitor.

    Then again, if Toshiba is in the business of manufacturing hard disk drives, and they’re based in Japan, well, it’d probably be stranger if they *weren’t* looking at ways to make them smaller. Small is beautiful, after all (as I keep trying to impress upon my wife), and nowhere is that maxim more strenuously applied to the future of technology than in Japan. Got some cool new product? Excellent. Now make it smaller.


  • John Muir:

    I’m with Jim!

    Quite often, looking around the perhipherals market especially, products get released rather speculatively … just to see if they catch on. Apple of course tend to do this strange thing called design first, but that is definitely not the general rule!

    Miniaturisation is actually one route to neatness that the stylistically challenged are free to take. Doing it at the component level is in fact to be applauded. I mean, is it only me around here who remembers when floppy disks still existed, were floppy, and the 5.25″ ones were the neat new mini model? (Actually, I got my hands on some of that antique kind and a drive in the 80’s, not when they were new, but man what a horror! Small can definitely be beautiful.)

  • John Muir:

    The kind I found:

    8″ baby! Certainly an instance when less became more…

  • I’ve actually heard multiple times that Phil Schiller suggested the scroll wheel. I can’t remember where I heard it, but doing a quick google search shows people back in 2003 mentioning that Phil Schiller came up with the scroll wheel. I have no reason not to believe this.

    sometimes I wish my tv remote had a scroll wheel.

  • Andy:

    Actually, it’s very common for companies that are strong on R&D to make stuff they “don’t know what to do with”. There is/was a similair trend with different types of displays (OLED/eInk/etc) where the semiconductor companies simply make them with a vague idea what they could be used for (eBooks? mobile phones? energy efficient laptops? who knows!) The same is currently happening with hydrogen fuel cells.

    That’s basicallyt the point in R&D.

  • aestheticmonk:

    Check out “The Innovator’s Dilemma” by Clayton M. Christensen for a more detailed analysis of just why this might exactly be what happened for Toshiba R&D, and his research about the same situation arising at Hard Drive manufacturers time and time again.
    Seems like Toshiba found the right customer in the end though. Christensen’s conclusion is that many companies are never able to see past the noses of their current biggest clients and therefore never recover when the paradigm (in this case predominant hard drive sizes) shifts. (8″ to 5.25″ to 3.5″ to 2.5″… now potentially being disrupted by NAND).

  • huxley:

    HP built the predecessor to these drives the 20/40 MB Kittyhawk microdrive, they really didn’t know what to do with it either … other than vague hopes of putting them in hand-held computers and maybe phones. I suspect Toshiba had similar vague hopes,but convinced themselves that a hope was a business plan.

    I had heard that Phil suggested a scrollwheel but my sense was that it was one like the kind on Microsoft mice.

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