Steve Jobs, an inspiration to artists and business leaders alike, had a hero of his own. According to this article from the New York Times, Edwin Land, the creator of Polariod was a role model for Jobs. Land was also a college dropout who developed great products, simply and elegantly designed to appeal to an enormous market. It’s an interesting read, as is the linked Fastcompany book review.
Like Jobs, Edwin Land had numerous technological and commercial achievements. However, the NYTimes article calls the Polaroid SX-70 folding camera Edwin Land’s ‘supreme achievement’.
I happen to have a vintage Polaroid SX-70. After reading the article, I pulled it off the shelf to take another look. It’s a really beautiful piece of design. It even came with this handsome leather case.
This camera was my father’s, and I’ve handled it hundreds of times since I was a child. Today, pulling it out the case I was immediately struck with a question:
Why does a 40 year old camera have an Apple 30-pin connector port on it?
There is a port, just above the lens, that seems ready for any iPod accessory. It’s not as obvious when the camera is open, but the port to connect the old fashioned ‘flash bar’ is very obvious when the camera is collapsed. In fact, the collapsed SX-70 looks like a piece of consumer electronics Steve Jobs would have created if he’d been born a generation earlier.
The port is not just similar. It’s almost an exact match in dimensions. You can even put the tip of a 30-pin connector in the Polaroid and it’s a snug fit. I know that this seems like Apple fanboi wishful thinking — that something could be this specifically thought through. After all, correlation does not equal causation. It could just be a coincidence that the ports are similar. So I tried other things that could be similar in size. An SD card. Close, but it doesn’t fit. You don’t get snug fit of the 30-pin connector.
Keep in mind that this is the only port on this device. And it’s designed to allow the camera to interact with accessories. And this isn’t just any device. It’s the ‘supreme achievement’ of the man Steve Jobs called a ‘national treasure’. Now, this port of nearly identical proportions is the common denominator among three devices that could each, along with the original Macintosh, contend as Steve’s ‘supreme achievement.’ And out of all of the sizes available for peripheral ports (micro-usb, etc), this is nearly an exact match, within micrometers (if I had the appropriate tools, I’d measure it for you).
Of course in terms of functionality,the internals and technology are completely different. But aesthetically the similarity is striking. And even my non-tech mother knows how Apple agonizes and obsesses over aesthetics. The size and look of this port were most certainly debated at length during it’s development.
Perhaps there was never an explicit intention to mimic the SX-70. Of course, if this similarity is by design, I am sure someone like Jony Ive would know. The port could have been a result of teamwork, but if Steve Jobs obsessed over Edwind Land’s creations the way we obsess over his, there is a reason that this could have felt like the right size for an accessory port according to Steve’s aesthetic sensibilities.
Edit: It occurred to me that someone might cite this article as evidence that Samsung didn’t rip-off the accessory port from Apple. I’ll just say that I think there is a huge difference between Apple emulating a product that had been off the market for decades, and Samsung trying to create confusion with a product it is directly competing against.
I’ve never given much thought to the 30-pin connector. It wasn’t any more interesting to me than a USB port. But now, I’d be very curious to know the background of the only physical trait that latest iPhone shares with the early iPods… and with a forty year-old camera created by a man Steve Jobs idolized.