This is it. The greatest thing mankind has ever made. The iPod mini became available on January 6 2004, meaning that it’s over a decade old now - a testament to its timeless design. For the sake of worshiping great design, I’ve decided to look back at this celestial object.
I still remember it like yesterday. It was sunny and my father went to the Future Shop at Park Royal in West Vancouver to buy me an iPod mini. The iPod mini proved to be an insanely popular device and was completely sold out with the exception of an open-box unit. My father bought it anyways knowing my impatience. This was the first unboxing experience I remember vividly. The smooth, white box opened in half, presenting the iPod on the right side, and a booklet simply marked “Enjoy” on the left. Then I held the iPod mini. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever held.
Even as a naive 12 year old, I realized that Apple had done something insanely great here. The device had a feeling of solidity that I had never experienced before and the aluminum had a silky texture that felt incredible. Even the click-wheel’s plastic surface had a beautiful super-matte texture that didn’t exist on other products. This experience changed my life - it was what made me want to become a designer.
In many ways, what impressed me with the device more than anything else was how it was constructed. Taking the iPod mini apart made me realize that design isn’t something that’s skin deep - beauty comes from within. Instead of being constructed like a sandwich like everything else, Apple used an extruded aluminum shell with guide rails to slide all of the components inside. So great.
Many people bullshit with minimalism as an aesthetic approach but Apple really got it with the iPod mini. This is minimalism in its truest form: stark, humble and beautiful from the inside-out.
By using an extruded design with rounded corners, Apple was also able to present one of aluminum’s greatest traits - its beauty when light hits curvatures.
I adore how the top and bottom surfaces terminate at sharp, dignified 90 degree angles. This is the second generation iPod mini (first generation didn't indicate capacity and only came in 4GB) with the 4GB Microdrive hard-drive.
Even a decade ago, Apple used custom headphone jacks because off-the-shelf ones weren't pretty enough. I find it amazing how everyone is still behind Apple in terms of hardware excellence.
The neon-orange hold switch has always been one of my favorite details on the iPods. It's like a grain of sea-salt on an expensive piece of chocolate.
At the bottom of the iPod mini is the recently terminated 30-pin dock connector port. There was a bit of controversy because of its proprietary nature but it allowed Apple to control the fit and finish of its device’s ports to an obsession. I love looking at Apple’s ports because they’re so beautifully executed, and though this isn’t as good as what Apple does today, it’s still pretty damn clean.
It's also pretty cool how the 30-pin connector's shape is a smaller, offset version of the iPod mini's silhouette.
I bought this mini off of Ebay last week and realized that I had completely forgotten how you had to eject the iPod before disconnecting. It seems like such a chore today.
The iPod mini tends to get lost in Apple’s history of products but I feel like it should get more credit. If you think about it, it’s the first portable product in their lineup to use aluminum. Yes, the PowerBook G4 predates it by a year but its primary manufacturing methodology was stamping. The mini is extruded and machined, a technique that enables basically every Apple product that exists today.
In my opinion, it wasn't until the iPhone 4 (2010) that we saw the next monumental step in Apple's device design. We'll see when the next paradigm shift happens.
There is a poetry to the click wheel that I find beautiful. The simple act of rotating your finger on the wheel allows you to skim through thousands of songs. Our electronic devices have gotten increasingly complex over the past decade and I think there’s something really appealing about the sheer simplicity of a uni-tasking device like this.
We often forget this but the iPod mini was the first product to use the click wheel. Every iPod previous to this had a scroll wheel but this was when buttons were placed underneath the touch surface allowing the simplification of controls. It can still be enjoyed on the iPod Classic which Apple sells to this day.
The click wheel was great for scrolling through long lists but also brilliant for simple interactions like the included game, Bricks.
This was the last product in Apple’s lineup to use a monochrome display and had a resolution of 138x100 pixels - about the size of a single icon on a modern phone.
Even the backlight of the iPod mini was attractive. Most products in this era either had blue or green backlighting so the white display made it that extra bit special. I also like how the pixels on the display turn a shade of purple when being backlit.
Like a lot of mp3 players, the iPod mini used to ship with a belt clip. I still don’t really understand why these were ever a thing - they just make you look socially inept.
Although quite harmonious when paired with the iPod mini, the belt clip’s molding craftsmanship is clearly a step behind anything Apple makes today. Flashing is everywhere.
It still seems weird how violently you need to snap the belt clip onto the iPod. I'm always worried about scratching the surface of the aluminum.
Along with the iPod mini, Apple also launched the infamous iPod Socks. I’ve always like the idea though I didn’t like the overly bright choice of colors. They came in a pack of six but I've lost all of them except this one.
This is honestly my favorite device Apple has ever made. Nostalgia is probably playing a big role here, especially since it was what sparked my interest in design. This was the first time Apple really began machining aluminum at a large scale, which ended up being extremely important for their future. The iPod mini is everything I look for in a product; gorgeous aesthetics, beautiful craftsmanship, ease of use, and most importantly, a sense of humility and quiet voice. These things denote a sense of excellence and respect from its creator that almost every product fails to express. We'll see when Apple will achieve this level of perfection again.