Posted by Guest on June 01, 2017 in Blog

Tony_Fadell_2_.jpgBy Haley Arata

Does the phrase, “iPod: 1,000 songs in your pocket!” sound groundbreaking to you? Maybe not today, but it was in 2001 when Apple released the first generation iPod. And you have Arab American Tony Fadell to thank for the development of that first sleek music player (authenticity you can now purchase for the low price of $20,000 on eBay). 

Known as one of the “fathers of the iPod,” Fadell is a gadget whiz. A product designer, entrepreneur, and investor, Fadell is a one of the most revolutionary innovators in Silicon Valley. But Fadell didn’t skyrocket directly to the Silicon Valley big leagues—in fact, he only had $400 in his pocket when he moved from Michigan to California in the early ‘90s. Born in Detroit, Michigan, Fadell grew up in a diverse family. Fadell’s Polish mother comes from Detroit, and his Lebanese father from Toledo. He began learning mechanical skills from his grandfather who, against the disapproval of Fadell’s parents, taught four-year-old Fadell how to change electrical plugs around the house. These mechanical skills, paired with an interest in computer programming, served Fadell well as he attended and graduated from the College of Engineering at the University of Michigan.

With only a BS in Computer Engineering, Fadell began his career working for the Apple spinoff General Magic in the 1990s. There, he collaborated with Sony, Philips, Toshiba and other electronics firms to make a line of personal handheld communication devices. Fadell later joined Philips Electronics in 1995, where he co-founded the Mobile Computing Group and served as Chief Technology Officer and then Director of Engineering. 

8244231774_5235c24004_b_2_.jpgIn 2001, Fadell joined Apple, Inc., where his design for a digital music player became the famous first generation iPod and would also play a key role in developing the first iPhone. Fadell later served as the Senior Vice President of the iPod Division at Apple Inc. until he left Apple in 2008 to pursue his own business.

In 2010, Fadell founded Nest Labs, a producer of self-learning, sensor-driven devices for the home such as thermostats, smoke detectors, and security systems. The Nest Learning Thermostat, Nest Labs’ first product, is an electronic, Wi-Fi enabled thermostat that adjusts temperatures to conserve energy. The thermostat, or The Nest, can create a schedule based on people’s habits of adjusting heating and cooling throughout the day. The Nest can sense when people are home, based on built-in sensors and the location of users’ phones, and then shift into energy saving mode if it senses a house is empty. Now teamed up with Google, Nest hopes to create a truly smart home by improving everyday appliances like smoke alarms and outdoor cameras.

10723373936_ecd2ffec7b_b_2_.jpgIn a recent TED talk, Fadell said that his product designs target the habituation of life. So often we find ourselves locked into the routines of our daily lives, and end up accepting things the way they are. As an innovator, Fadell tries to identify these patterns and to solve the problems that almost no-one sees. “It’s seeing the invisible problem, not just the obvious problem, that’s important,” Fadell says. “There are invisible problems all around us. First we need to see them. To feel them. Then we can solve them.” So, although a handheld music player and a self-sufficient thermostat are very different devices, they both serve to bring ease to parts of our lives that we didn’t know were strained.

Fadell’s cutting-edge, visionary approach to his innovations and business entrepreneurship has earned him much recognition. In 2012, Business Insider recognized him as one of the Top 75 Designers in Technology; in 2013, Fortune added his name to its list “Trailblazers: 11 people changing business” list; and in 2014 he made Time’s list of the 100 Most Influential People in the World. 

And to all the aspiring product designers out there, Fadell’s advice is: to look broader, look closer, and think younger.

Read more stories about Arab immigrants and their descendants on the "Together We Came" main page.


 By Haley Arata, a 2017 Summer Intern at the Arab American Institute