Notes On Apple’s New ‘Mothership’ Campus

This is an insightful cover article on Apple’s new headquarters by Steven Levy (@stevenlevy) from the WIRED magazine. The campus was Steve Jobs’ dream and his finest design creation which has transformed into a futuristic architectural marvel today (and fondly identified as the ‘Ring’). Some quick notes from the write-up below.

  • The new campus was built according to Steve Jobs’ vision, he idealized California and based many of his ideas on his favorite features of the Bay Area in his youth. Jobs wanted to create a new campus ‘where the border between nature and building would be blurred’.
  • Steve Jobs dedicated a large amount of his last two years of life in the design of the building, where he would swoop down on the details he demanded and the meetings would often last 5-6 hours!

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Apple Is Changing User Behaviour, Not Just User Experience

The iPhone 7/Plus launched without the standard 3.5mm audio jack creating a storm on the Internet. The problem isn’t about the missing elements from a traditional user interaction perspective with a device such as the iPhone as it is about changing a user’s perception. It’s indeed very courageous of Apple to remove the audio jack completely replacing it with the lightning connector which means you cannot listen to music while charging (it’ll require a new $40 accessory). Simply put, we can’t charge AND listen to music or take calls simultaneously and we have to keep the iPhones charged. Suggesting that Apple wants the AirPods as your default hearing device regardless. Apple’s users have often had to reluctantly change the way they interact with devices based purely on how Apple defined its product line so ‘courageously’ and regardless of how frustrating it was. The astonished fans complained but eventually caved in. Now, this isn’t the first time that Apple has done something ‘courageous’ with its product line by removing a standard feature or software – the iPads didn’t support Adobe Flash (they still don’t even today), and yet if the sales numbers are correct the audience seems to have loved the iPad! From a product design standpoint with its power to innovate Apple really at the helm of changing user behaviour of this generation unquestionably. Perhaps Apple did contemplate the backlash of its decision to remove the 3.5mm audio jack from the iPhones and the ‘courageous’ comment from Phil Schiller is proof of defending itself from its perched place. So if there’s one product company which is going to affect our lives within the realm of technology and design innovation it’d be Apple.

Here’s Steve Jobs explaining ‘courage’ perfectly with Apple’s products.

Cleaning Up My Calendar And The Chaos

I signed up for a 1-hour webinar for creating a Business Model Canvas in November 2015 and I accepted a calendar (.iCal) invite for the event from my email account. It’s always convenient as a reminder with the event details now etched for eternity in my Calendar on Mac and Google. Soon after, the organizer wrote back saying there was a mistake from their side. The platform used to send the invites “wasn’t meeting the standards for a smooth broadcast”. I thought how serious could this be. My calendar displayed some unidentified entries, such as meeting invites from John Doe, also the host of this webinar, and I deleted them steadfastly. It was chaotic and I falsely thought that my tragedy has ended here.

I’m an infrequent Calendar user on Mac. But ever since this November incident, I started receiving a server connection error every time I would open it. I only realized today that this silly server mishap had rained a deluge of personal entries from John Doe’s calendar onto my calendar entries, right back up to 2011! Apart from the many recurring meetings, there was a court appearance for a traffic offense, some haircut schedules, details on flights, itineraries, and hotel stays, dinner meetings with executives, and more. Not to mention the calendar displayed time and place particulars as well. Much embarrassing as it was for me to know such intimate information from John’s personal schedule, he would be horrified to learn about this rather bizarre leak to more than 20 participants of this seminar!

I began a clean-up operation lasting about an hour, painstakingly glancing and deleting every single entry I could find until 2011 so far. Unfortunately, some of the deleted entries would have sent email notifications causing inconvenience to its participants but it doesn’t matter to me. My calendar was mutilated and my privacy has been wrecked and it led to unimaginable turmoil, thanks to some web platform broadcast which went awry. Now I only hope that John Doe doesn’t have a long-winded career and his entries don’t go far back in time. This incident has taught me an invaluable lesson, that convenience is sometimes costly.

Free The Apple Watch

The Apple Watch was perfectly poised to sweep the industry. It had the goodness of the iPhone/Mac kitty, mainly the apps, the amazing product design and the indisputable quality of the Apple brand. Reasons which are enough for a device like the Apple Watch to own the industry which hadn’t seen much innovation in some time. Some of the early entrants to this arena were no match to the promise of experience and the technology which only Apple could deliver with its first wearable device. Sadly when it arrived it wasn’t the product we had anticipated, it wasn’t an ‘independent’ product. And let me explain.

The rich product basket of Apple including the iMac, the iPod, the iPad, and, the iPhone have existed as sovereign personalities with its own audience. The iPad, iPhone and iPod need the Mac/PC only for syncing content and are pretty much independent devices. Apple with its vast design experience curated an entire domain of great product design with hardware and software. Beginning with the unibody design and later with Yosemite by transforming the skeuomorphic UI with the flat design language. Other features such as HandOff and Continuity, and introduction of Maps, Notes, and Notifications on OSX which brought about a wonderful cohesion of OSX/iOS environments. All this and yet it did not take away the freedom of its users to work independently with these devices. Until the Watch came along. The graphic depicting the Apple devices isn’t honest to the Watch which can’t work without the iPhone.

The Watch as a wearable gadget with a small form factor meant that it would not naturally transition the rich cohesion of experience of the OSX/iOS devices. Although this does not make it an exceptional case when it comes to making it self-reliant within its functions and features. There are other watch devices today which do not need the phone support for offering a better user experience. And sure they may not tote a rich app ‘garden’ like the App Store. For now, let’s free the Watch from the clutches of the iPhone.

Apple’s product design cycle is unclear, if one is to understand that the earlier design iterations of the iPhone and iPad missed some essential features that were common to the devices of its kind. Considering this, the Watch isn’t freewheeling so soon until about a few more design iterations. Let’s hope the wait isn’t too long and painful.

Apple Reinvents the Pencil

Apple’s Chief Design Officer Jony Ive was in conversation with the Editor-in-Chief of Wallpaper magazine Tony Chambers on Apple Pencil, and spoke at length about the design of the device as well as Apple’s design philosophy in general.

I had declared before that the Pencil was going to take the world by storm with its innovative UI and multi-functionality design along with the iPad Pro. At the core of the design philosophy for Pencil, Jony says, was the ability to use a device to paint and draw:

What we found is that there’s clearly a group of people that would value an instrument that would enable then to paint or draw in ways that you just can’t with your finger. And I suspect that this isn’t a small group of people. I don’t think it’s confined to those of us who went to art school.

For some time after the Pencil’s announcement the world was up in arms quoting Steve Jobs on introducing a so-called “stylus”.  Apple was fundamentally violating a design principle because Steve Jobs famously considered using a stylus as a sign of product “failure”. In reality the Pencil augments the finger as Jony Ive describes it vividly in this quote:

the Pencil is for making marks, and the finger is a fundamental point of interface for everything within the operating system. And those are two very different activities with two very different goals.

Suggesting that the Pencil is more than just a stylus and not replacing the finger interaction which Steve Jobs implied. The Pencil is in fact a successful merger of human dexterity with innovative technology. In which the Pencil not only identifies hand pressure but also the tilt angle on the screen to offer a seamless screen interaction. We often discuss Apple being an organization in the forefront of using design-thinking methods for developing innovative products:

We do this a lot when we are working on things like the trackpad or new keyboard on the MacBook. To develop those sorts of devices requires an incredible amount of observation and measurement and it means that you need to ask the right questions and know what to focus on. This is part of the value of being a design team that’s been together for many years. We’ve been working on these problems for 20-plus years, so it’s an interesting area. And I think we are gaining experience, we are learning.

Jony also brought up Apple’s design method which does not involve Focus Groups which is a well-known fact again. Here’s his take on whether the feedback from his young kids proved useful in the design of the Pencil:

Apple does not do Focus Groups – So far, anecdotally – you know we don’t do focus groups – but anecdotally, certainly from what I’ve seen, with my children and friends’ children, they are captivated.

And finally, he left a valuable tip for aspiring designers to inculcate design culture in their work:

The design team at Apple uses sketchbooks and do lot of sketching – Yes, we all do. The whole team use sketchbooks. I think it’s a mixture of drawing either by yourself or when you’re with people flitting between conversation and drawing.