The Real Genius Behind The iPod

Back in 1979, it occurred to Kane Kramer -- this was back in the days before CDs -- that there was a fundamental problem with tapes and records for entertainment companies. If a large amount of records by a well-known artist bombed, there would be a whole lot of albums that had to be melted down along with profits. On the other hand, if an unknown artist came on the scene and met with success, the record company could be in trouble if it pressed very few copies.

Kramer thought that clearly the business needed a solution and set out to build a device that could send music down a telephone line and record it to tape.

"And then I thought, 'That idea is rubbish, it would sound terrible because it would be in analog,'" Kramer said.

Instead, the 23-year-old, with no formal technology education, worked on getting music to be sent to a device with compression techniques, and reassemble it when it arrived so the sound would be of original quality. Kramer went on to patent the idea with his 21-year-old development partner, James Campbell.

Kramer patented the IXI system in 1981, and wanted to market the product to professional outlets, such as record companies and radio stations. Kramer ended up getting backing from a number of sources, but his first investor was Paul McCartney, who later introduced him to Richard Branson. However, the mega millionaire ended up passing on making an investment, wanting to stick with his plans to develop LCD technology for consumer products.

To get financial backing, Kramer made presentations about the potential of the IXI system. It sounds awful now, but back in 1991, the IXI system had a revolutionary 8 megabytes of memory that recorded three-and-a-half minutes of music signal.

The credit card-size portable system included memory for storage of digital data, especially of sound analog signal which was digitally encoded, including, according to his patent: a "decoder means for converting the memory output into analogue form, preferably several decoders each for one sound band, a control register for controlling input and output of data from the memory and which is responsive to control data present in the input and output stream, and input and output for the data entering and leaving the card system."

Unfortunately, a messy company fall out with the IXI company board left Kramer without resources to renew the patent on his player; subsequently it went into public domain.

But according to court documents from 2007 in a patent lawsuit with over MP3 player technology, Apple did acknowledge Kramer (which he said they hadn't previously).

Apple entered his patent into the court record and paid him to testify about his original design, according to documents in the lawsuit in U.S. District Court in San Francisco. Kramer's idea of a futuristic iPod-style store complete with listening stations (pictured at left) was not included.

And while Kramer would not buy an iPod, he said he would gladly have one if it was a present. When Apple flew him from the U.K. to California, he finally received that iPod. Eight months later it broke. Kramer said he tried to get it fixed at Apple's iPod store in London, but apparently they could not revive it. Kramer said he told the salespeople he invented the iPod, and if they could just give him some of the player's "bits" he could fix it. Sadly, he was denied. To add insult to injury, he also did not get to meet Steve Jobs.

Apple did not return messages asking for comment.

Cat Stevens is no longer known as Cat Stevens, and IXI is no longer known as, well, IXI, but Kramer keeps inventing. In the media, he has been erroneously referred to as the owner of a struggling furniture business, a characterization that he laughs at. He is currently the chairman of the British Inventors Society, and is working on two new inventions, Monicall and Bully Button. He lives in Hitchin, Hertfordshire, the U.K. with his wife and children.

"I have a good life," he said.