Tuesday, May 26

The Promotion of Jony Ive

Normally when an individual ascends to a C-level position in a company it marks the beginning of a bright new era of leadership for the company. But Apple is certainly no ordinary company and as such, the tea leaves read a bit differently for their executive shake-ups. News yesterday of Jony Ive’s promotion to the newly minted Chief Design Officer position at Apple has birthed a gaggle of “this is the beginning of the end” takes across the web. My personal favorite, Ben Thompson’s Jony Ive “Promoted”, The Implications of Not Managing, What About Apple? is perhaps the most insightfully bearish look into how this move turns the page into Ive’s final chapter at Apple.

Me, I’m not quite so pessimistic, though I admit there’s a bit of “say it ain’t so” in my optimism. I disagree with Thompson’s assertion that Ive stepping away from management duties marks a shift in his approach to product development:

In my estimation, whether Ive intends it or not — and I think he likely does, for what it’s worth — this is the beginning of the end of his time at Apple. To give up “management” in exchange for “thinking freely” is, when it comes to business, akin to shifting from product-focused R&D to exploratory R&D.

Thompson goes on to cite a Steve Jobs quote that supports this philosophy. But Ive stepping away could easily be construed as a means to becoming more product focused and less day-to-day minutiae. As many recent profiles have highlighted, Ive’s design responsibilities spill over into all aspects of Apple the company and are not just confined to the products they make. His responsibilities are numerous and significant and the one thing that can’t necessarily be replicated through training and mentoring are his ideas. Besides, isn’t “thinking freely” basically how Jony Ive characterized his working relationship with Jobs?

If becoming Chief Design Officer means Jony Ive is beginning a slow walk out of the doors of Cupertino, then it’s certainly a great loss for the company and its ardent followers. If it just means he’s being rewarded and recognized for his great product vision with more time to spend with his family where he wants to spend it, well then I say bring it on. I’m sure the design studio in Cupertino is top notch, but I for one can’t wait to see what comes from a man of Ive’s great genius inspired by the home he longs for and the people he loves. You go do you, Jony.

Saturday, May 02

Watch Out for the Unexpected

Despite protests from my closest friends, family, and advisors I joined the herd of Apple sheep who have been obsessing over the Apple Watch the last few weeks. While I didn’t go so far as to pre-order or purchase one I did schedule a try-on appointment at a local Apple Store just to get a feel for what this thing is like to behold, or more accurately, to be beholden by it.

Apple Watch with Milanese loop bracelet (2015)
Apple Watch with Milanese loop bracelet (2015)

A few people have chimed in this week about how difficult it is to truly get a sense of the ramifications of a product like this in one, two, three days or even two weeks. Multiply that difficulty by a million for my brief ten minutes with a demo loop-only try-on model. But, I did leave with some impressions so here are a few quick hitters:

It’s not as big as the pictures make it seem and it’s not as heavy as you’d expect. I’ve read this many times in other people’s first impressions, but I never fully trusted them. I don’t expect you to trust me either.

The digital crown is way cool. I’m still trying to decide if I’d prefer for it to have really subtle clicks (more like bumps) or if I prefer the silky smoothness of it as it exists today. It’s hard to choose between what exists and what doesn’t, but the execution of what Apple chose is superb.

Stainless steel looks awesome, Space Gray aluminum looks less like a downgrade than I expected. Still looks like a downgrade, but the degree is lower.

It’s dumb, impractical, and almost 100% novelty for me. I could really become accustomed to having one.

I left with this basic sentiment: the try-on experience was great from a service perspective (quick but relaxed, no real pressure, just gentle questions). In terms of the impact on my decision it mostly just confirmed everything I was already thinking after months of following the commentary and two weeks worth of reviews. Trying on the demo unit neither heightened or lowered my desire to get one. I still want one, almost purely for the sake of having one. Only time will tell if reason triumphs over wistful abandonment.

One consequence of the try-on experience did catch me by surprise though. On the way out of the store I spent a little time with the new MacBook and that experience made the choice for next computer purchase a little less obvious than I expected. I was wowed by the new design and features of the new MacBook, but the price and power combo scared me a bit because I expected my next computer to be a desktop-level workhorse1. The shine of the new MacBook introduced some doubt – maybe I don’t really need computing power as much as I need a combination of non-battery hindered storage hub (lower-spec, cheap new or used Mac mini) plus cutting edge ultraportable.

  1. I define desktop-level as iMac 27“, top spec Mac mini or close to it, or high-spec 13” MacBook Pro with Retina display.  ↩

Monday, March 02

Understanding Apple Watch

I don’t know everything there is to know about the Apple Watch, but we’ll all know a lot more after Apple finishes telling the story they started last September at next week’s Spring Forward event. If you have even an ounce of interest in what they might announce next week, but you haven’t been following along as bits, pieces, and theories1 emerge from the tech blogosphere, then there is something very important you need to understand in order to temper the sticker shock you’ll undoubtedly experience: the Apple Watch is not Apple’s entry into the wearables and smartwatch space, it is their entry into the luxury watch space and that entry just happens to include a heavy dose of smartwatch features. So much more could be written, but if you haven’t been reading up to this point then you probably don’t care.

The key take away is this – selecting among the various versions of the Apple Watch will be akin to selecting among a Timex, a Citizen, and a Rolex, except all contained within a single line of watches made by the same manufacturer. All three versions of the Apple Watch will have the same basic function – and nothing substantially more technologically advanced than anything that has preceded it – but they will vary widely in their materials and craftsmanship required to produce them. Accept that notion and let it sink in and it will help you absorb the impending shock that’s headed your way.

  1. I included this one mostly for fun. Kudos to him if he’s right. Shame on him if he’s wrong for failing to realize that Apple just has to sell an Apple Watch to 1% of the people who bought an iPhone in the most recent holiday quarter in order to (supposedly) match all of 2014 Android Wear sales.  ↩

Tuesday, February 17

Inside Out

If Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography left you wanting more – more insight into Steve Jobs the man and more insight into Apple the company – then Ian Parker’s recent profile of Jonathan Ive for The New Yorker just might fit the bill. Parker seems to have gained unprecedented access not only to Ive, but to his studio of designers, as well as other Apple executives like Tim Cook and Bob Mansfield. Parker builds his narrative around the period leading up to and following the announcement of the Apple Watch and on to the present developments with Apple’s still-under-construction Campus 2, a project in which Ive is intimately involved.

If you’ve ever been curious about anything Apple-related I highly recommend Parker’s profile. It’s a great read with revelations that practically supplant any outsider perspective of the company I’ve ever read. One thing the profile makes clear – Ive’s design team has a significant role in all aspects of product development at Apple; from hardware – internal and external components – to software and all the way down to how a product is manufactured.

Update: On this week’s episode of the Accidental Tech Podcast, John Siracusa notes that Parker’s profile borrows liberally from Leander Kahney’s book about Jonny Ive. That might make my statement about the significance of Parker’s profile a little bit of a reach, but if you’ve read Kahney’s book (I haven’t), then maybe you can think of Parker’s profile as a bit of an update.

Monday, December 22

Waiting for Apple TV

The past few months, the primary feeling I associate with Apple TV is waiting: Waiting for it to come up when I turn it on; Waiting for content to load when I select an item (from the main menu or within an app); Waiting for new content or channels; and worst of all, waiting for new hardware.

When I piece together the various rumors and executive side-stepping over the last few years, I come to one clumsy conclusion: that Apple is, indeed, planning something revolutionary for the living room, but something is holding up that vision. The primary culprits are technology and content owners, and given Apple’s recent decade of success with hardware, I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that it’s the latter – difficulty working out deals with content owners and creators – that’s causing the Apple TV to languish.

That Apple is possibly shooting for the moon doesn’t bother me, but what does bother me is that they’re letting the moonshot play ground their otherwise serviceable and perfectly adequate existing technology. Recent hardware releases from competitors Google (Chromecast, Android TV) and Amazon (Fire TV, Fire Stick) aren’t revolutionary, but they are evolutionary enhancements over Apple TV and, by some accounts, they’re eating Apple TV’s lunch in the marketplace. Longtime contender Roku is also benefitting from the lull in Apple TV’s lifecycle.

My wife and I recently wanted to watch a Christmas movie that we only have on gasp DVD. My TV only has two HDMI ports, so I had to choose between temporarily disconnecting the FireTV or the Apple TV. The decision was harder than I thought. I’m an Apple loyalist, and I’m well entrenched in their eco-system, but I’m not an idiot. Apple TV works well-enough for me to get by, but in my recent experience, Amazon’s Fire TV works better and it feels faster – experiences I usually associate more with Apple products. I ultimately chose to disconnect the FireTV, a fortuitous decision because I ended up buying the movie we planned to watch on iTunes when the damage done to the DVD by our two-year old proved too much for the DVD player to overcome.

I am all in on the moonshot, but let’s not forget about what we already have and what it needs in order to maintain its place in the marketplace. Apple innovates most successfully when they iterate rather than leap. I wish they would apply that strategy to their hobbies as relentlessly as they do their core business.