Apple's top secret iPod: the truth revealed

Tired of waiting for the new James Bond film to arrive? Well, a bizarre yet intriguing tale has arrived to keep you going until November, and it features all the hallmarks of a classic spy story: government secrets, drama and, er, iPods.

Indeed, all eyes might be on the upcoming iPhone 12 (no doubt bound to join our our best camera phones list), but the iPhone's MP3-playing predecessor is enjoying a return to the spotlight this week. A gripping new account details how an Apple employee was tasked with helping to create a "top secret" iPod for the US Government in 2005 – and even Steve Jobs didn't know about it.


The 'top secret' iPod was a modified 5th generation model (Image credit: Apple)

Writing for Tidbits, ex-Apple employee David Shayer describes how he was instructed to help two non-Apple engineers to create a 5th generation iPod that was modified with extra hardware "in a way that couldn't easily be detected". In a scene straight out of M's briefing room, Shayer was told by the director of iPod hardware: "I have a special assignment for you. Your boss doesn’t know about it. You’ll help two engineers from the US Department of Energy build a special iPod. Report only to me.” 

So what exactly did Shayer help the two engineers add to the iPod? A lock pick? A safe cracker? A tiny flame thrower? Lasers? Alas, the invention is slightly less exciting. The iPod needed to secretly capture mysterious data and record it to a hidden partition on the device. Shayer never found out the exact purpose of the hardware, but he has a theory – he thinks it was to turn the iPod into a Geiger counter for secretly measuring radiation levels.

While not quite the exploding pen level of gadget we were hoping for, it's still pretty, well, spy-ish. "You could walk around a city, casually listening to your tunes," says Shayer, "while recording evidence of radioactivity—scanning for smuggled or stolen uranium, for instance, or evidence of a dirty bomb."

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After a few months, the two engineers wrapped up the project, never to be seen again by Shayer. He says that Apple "honestly" has no record of the project, because only four people knew about it internally: himself, the director of iPod Software, the vice president of the iPod Division, and the senior vice president of Hardware. But some former Apple employees have taken to Twitter to confirm that the story is probably true, with some even remembering the two engineers (above). 

The whole story sounds made for film or TV – perhaps Apple should snap it up for Apple TV+? Not that we ever expect the famously secretive company to admit to a plot like this. If you fancy getting your hands on some brilliant, modern Apple tech in the meantime, the iPhone 11 Pro can do pretty much anything except measure radiation – check out the best deals below. 

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Daniel John
Senior News Editor

Daniel John is Senior News Editor at Creative Bloq. He reports on the worlds of art, design, branding and lifestyle tech (which often translates to tech made by Apple). He joined in 2020 after working in copywriting and digital marketing with brands including ITV, NBC, Channel 4 and more.