The founder of a company that claims it helped Apple devise the iPod user interface has suggested Apple would have struggled to do develop it alone.

Pixo founder and ex-Apple employee Paul Mercer told Salt Lake Tribune that Apple approached his company asking for help creating an operating system that would run the iPod user interface.

Mercer said: "My engineers were able to pull off the project in a couple of weeks because they had already been working on user interface software for mobile-phone-makers such as Samsung and Nokia."

iPod has been applauded for its ease of use, and creating a user-friendly interface is not easy, according to Paul Saffo, director of Menlo Park's Institute for the Future. He said: "The fact that Apple went to Pixo suggests that they tried to do it inside, and failed."

He added: "I don't doubt that Apple would have been able to develop all of the software itself, but it would probably have required more money and more time."

An Apple representative refused to comment about Pixo's involvement, except to say that the company contributed a piece of technology in the iPod's development.

Pixo was sold to Sun Microsystems last year.