Courage

The year 2016 was a very interesting one for Apple, with its fair share of praise and controversy. Mostly, it seems that the company attracted negative attention for issues such as delayed product delivery, a failure to upgrade desktop Macs and the release of the apparently no-longer-pro MacBook Pro. The Mac is probably the biggest sore spot at this point in time.

Whilst I agree that it wasn’t Apple’s best year, I do think that as usual, Apple unjustifiably copped far more of a beating than many of its competitors, even with impressive product innovation and comparatively stellar sales. Consider the amazing design and engineering work involved in the AirPods, Touch Bar and wheelchair-focused fitness functions in watchOS 3, for example. In addition, Apple pushed its services even further, with a revamped Apple Music interface, differential privacy and the biggest release of iOS yet, opening up even more opportunities to developers in the form of iMessage apps.

Perhaps one of the most discussed topics of Apple’s business in 2016 was the decision to remove the headphone jack from the iPhone. Heated discussion developed online following the iPhone keynote, where Senior VP of Worldwide Product Marketing Phil Schiller stated that in making such a decision, Apple had shown ‘courage’. Schiller was mocked immediately for saying this, but I believe this to be the case. Like the removal of floppy disk and optical drives, Apple made a decision to drive a more wireless future.

In the Tim Cook era at Apple, I believe we now also see a reversal of the once-famous Jobsian ‘reality distortion field’. Whilst Jobs once apparently distorted reality around product launches, tech journalists now distort reality, praising companies such as Google and Microsoft for announcing products that either never get released, or that sell only a fraction of what Apple achieves. Remember when Microsoft’s bot turned into a Nazi online? Yep, people forgot about that. Remember when Google copied the external design of the iPhone 6 with its Pixel, leaving behind the not-so-successful Nexus line? Yep, people didn’t really care about that either.

The topic of courage and Apple’s different way of doing things was brought to my mind again after finding an excerpt from one of Jobs’s appearances at the D Conference, from back in 2010. In this excerpt, from the 2 min 15 sec mark, Jobs elaborates on what Apple believes it takes to make a successful, effective product. It involves making compromises and saying “No” to things that may seem crazy to exclude. Check it out below.

Apple has always made controversial decisions, and even the most devoted loyalists seem to forget this. Is the Mac being forgotten? No, of course not. The focus is instead on iOS, where the most consumer appeal and sales are happening. Entirely new input technologies like the Touch Bar do not occur in product categories that are being phased out. Likewise, whilst Apple is apparently exiting the display and router (AirPort) business, this is most likely another example of sharpening the company’s product focus. Remember when Apple used to make digital cameras, printers and even a gaming console? All of those products were given the chop, and when Jobs returned in 1997, he reduced the entire company’s product line to the famous consumer-pro matrix. In recent years, Apple has proudly stated that it is the company whose products all fit onto a single table.

What Jobs said in the video above remains true today. Indeed, the company can always listen to its customers more, and it should not ignore the interests of the pros and loyalists who kept it going in its darkest times. I do think, however, that more exciting things are still on the horizon. Apple continues to show courage in its design decisions, and is never afraid to do what may be unpopular for success in the long run.

Review: Designed by Apple in California

Well, this was unexpected…


A short time ago, Apple released a new product; no, it isn’t a computer, in fact, it isn’t electronic at all. It’s a book, and a beautiful book at that. Titled Designed by Apple in California, the book chronicles the last 20 years of Apple product design, with a suave introduction by none other than Chief Design Officer Jony Ive. The photos were taken by Andrew Zuckerman.


Upon hearing of the book, I knew that I had to have it. I already possess Iconic: A Photographic Tribute to Apple Innovation, by Jonathan Zufi, and that does a fantastic job of tracing Apple’s entire product history. A book by Apple, however, is unique and intriguing. It is both a product in its own right and an ingenious marketing tool.

Apple’s own effort, eight years in the making, is somewhat different from Iconic in the sense that it only focuses on the last 20 years. Apple doesn’t often look back, as many analysts have noted. In this case, however, it has looked back to the point of Apple’s metaphorical ‘rebirth’, with the return of co-founder Steve Jobs. The book is even dedicated to him.

Before even opening the packaging, it’s a product to behold. The outer packaging is in fact a part of the overall book product, acting as a protective cover and with an elegant Apple product decoration on the inside.

Apple’s signature pull-tab on the box, which tears cleanly down the middle of the packaging
Packaging that functions as part of the product
An elegant, ‘whole-book dust jacket’, so to speak…

The design of this book is very impressive, as it uses ‘specially milled German paper with gilded matte silver edges’. These page edges beautifully mimic the aluminium sheen of Macs’ unibody enclosures.

Even the ink on the inside has been considered, as certain product images act differently under direct light. Take, for example, the first product that is featured: the iMac from 1998. The computer’s translucent plastic body remains matte on the page, whilst holes in the body and chrome finishes reflect light as the page is turned. This is an outstanding effect, and one can’t help but think of the more skeuomorphic design that was used in earlier versions of OS X and iOS. These printed images behave like the real-world products that they represent, just as digital buttons, icons and finishes once represented the real. This style was eventually replaced with the more minimalistic, flat design that we know today, but it makes complete sense now in a book that attempts to showcase design, without the actual products in front of the reader.

The photo doesn’t do it justice, but notice the shininess of the blue in contrast to the matte white.

If you’re curious to have a closer look at this hardcover book, you’ll have to visit one of only a selection of Apple stores. I visited the Sydney store on George Street, where both the large and small versions were displayed on custom book stands close the Apple Watch tables.

The small version, which I purchased, cost AU$289. Whilst quite expensive, the price is ultimately reflected in the quality of the product. Check out the book online here.

Some analysts and fans are concerned about the amount of retrospection that Apple has been doing of late (e.g. the recent MacBook Pro reveal video). I’m not concerned, in fact, I’m excited. Apple’s strength has always been in communicating its brand and product stories, and this is another way of doing precisely that. The company is recalling its past and understanding where its successes (and failures) lie.

Looking back at this company’s past makes me even more excited about its future.

Interface @ the Powerhouse Museum

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of visiting the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney to check out the exhibition Interface: People, Machines, Design. Featuring both retro and recent consumer products (primarily from Apple, IBM and Braun), the exhibition focuses on the significance of consumer products in our lives today. More importantly, it illustrates the strong emotional connection that we develop with such products, due to the marriage of effective industrial design, iconography and typography. Ultimately, for a technological product to be successful, it must tell a story and be clear, simple and accessible to as many people as possible.

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My wonderful girlfriend, Natasha, was kind enough to attend with me and watch me giggle with glee as I surveyed the numerous exhibits. My Apple zealotry has (of course) infiltrated her life, and I’m pleased to say that she enjoyed it as well. 🙂

As we toured the rather small exhibition, it became clear that the space itself was constructed to reflect the products featured; everything was minimalist, considered and ordered chronologically, showing the influence of early democratic design by legends like Braun’s Dieter Rams through to today’s ubiquitous smartphones and tablets.

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The exhibition does a wonderful job of tracking the history of modern industrial design. Take for example the history of Braun: on the one hand, the Nazis’ Volksempfänger (people’s receiver) radio was used to restrict radio signals from outside Germany; in the post-war period, Rams’s Weltempfänger (world receiver) was a challenge to this former dark time, opening up to foreign frequencies and ushering in welcoming, open design.
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The original Macintosh ushered in a new era for personal computing. With the inclusion of a graphical user interface (GUI) and mouse (first implemented together by XEROX PARC), Apple popularised a new way of interacting with computers that was easier and inviting for everyday people. You didn’t have to be an enthusiast to use it.

It was fantastic to see the history of Apple laid out so well, obviously by people who understand the significance of the personalities involved beyond Steve Jobs. Jony Ive, Helmut Esslinger, Susan Kare… all were mentioned appropriately.

I would highly recommend this exhibition to just about anyone. If you own a smartphone (which you do), it’s amazing to look back and appreciate the immense change that occurred during the 20th century, and the change that continues to occur every day. We take our digital products for granted, along with the empowering connectivity they facilitate. There has never been a better time to be alive.

Rather than bang on forever, it’s best to give you some links to find out more.

To view more photos of the included products, head over to my Flickr page.

For even more information about the exhibition and the specific products, visit the museum’s website.