Kane Kramer

Referencing the second item in this column:


I think Cecil’s answer is incomplete at best and probably misleading. I took Cecil’s advice and Googled Kramer’s name - one of the first items to come up was this news article:


The article discusses how Kramer testified on Apple’s behalf in a case Apple was defending against Burst.com (later settled out of court). Burst claims it had patented software for high-speed online delivery of audio and video, and previously had collected $60 million from Microsoft.

It’s not clear how Burst’s allegations, (which strike me as more about iTunes) related to Kramer’s invention of the iPod design. But the article states that “documents filed by Apple in a court case show the US firm acknowledges him as the father of the iPod.” Furthermore, in 2008 Kramer was “negotiating with Apple to gain some compensation from the copyright that he owns on the drawings.”

Calling Kramer’s patented item a “concept” and equating it to two-way wrist radios in Dick Tracy is really unfair. You don’t get a patent without a working model. Of course it wasn’t a practical product at the time, but that doesn’t mean Apple couldn’t have used Kramer’s documentation of his invention (necessarily made public in order to get the patent) as the basis for designing the iPod. Apple’s defense against Burst would seem to reinforce the idea that it based a lot of the design and technology of the iPod on Kramer’s invention. Let’s give the guy a little credit.

I also googled Kane Kramer, which then got me researching the history of ipods. Looks like there were over a dozen handheld mp3 players around before the Ipod, going back the the mid 90’s. Ipods only came about in 2001. While Apple may have used Kramer as an adviser, with technology advanced well beyond what available for Kramer’s prototype, it seems more likely the ipod was influenced a lot more by the existing models of the day than anything else.

Yes you can. Specifically, in the USA, the Patent Office stopped requiring working models in 1880, except for alleged perpetual-motion machines.

My error, I should have said “workable” model. A patent requires very detailed drawings and specifications that a professional with experience in the relevant field could theoretically make into a working model. The applicant has to show that the invention is useful even if it not commercially viable. Cecil doesn’t acknowledge that Kramer did anything more than “dream up a concept” on par with a comic strip drawing that happened to “looked like an iPod.”

Wasn’t the IPOD a more advanced Sony Walkman? The Sony Walkman’s came out in the early 1980’s and played cassettes. The compact design and earbuds were credited to Sony co-chairman Akio Morita who wanted to be able to listen to operas during his frequent transpacific plane trips.

Seems like Sony has pioneered personal stereo since the beginning. I bought my first Walkman around 1983. It had AM/FM and Cassette.

If anyone got ripped off it was Sony.

The first mp3 players came out in the late 90’s, before iPods. There was the Diamond Rio player, but actually the MPman was a few months earlier:

So I equate the development to the recent supreme court decision on electric brakes; it’s not innovation, it’s a logical progression of putting technology togther. We have portable music (Walkman); we have a recording format that uses very little memory, mp3; RAM is cheap enough to fit half and hour to an hour of music in a small box; and custom chips can be designed to decode and play this music easily. Who would not have thought of the portable mp3 player?

the concept of solid state disks replacing hard disk platters has been around for decades; it’s just recently become cost effective. The playing of digital music from a data file has been around at least since the CD, in the early 80’s. The concept of compression has been around forevr; zip, jpg, and mpg go back to the 80’s. The concept of small portable music and earphone(s) has been around for even longer (I had a portable transistor radio in the early 60’s.) I fail to see any “wow” moment in the evolution of the iPod.

I’m not suggesting that Apple “ripped off” Kramer or anyone else; only that Cecil’s answer was too dismissive of Kramer’s accomplishment and omitted information that any responsible answer should have included.

The differences between portable CD players and MP3 players are pretty significant. Kramer’s 1979 presentation to investors mentions the Walkman “portable replay unit”, which at the time must have been a cassette player. The presentation is an entertaining read, both in terms of what Kramer envisioned correctly and what he got laughably wrong.