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Did this forty year-old camera influence the iPod?

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’.

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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.

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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?


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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.

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