NEW YORK— What helped spur Apple to make the iPhone?
A big part, said Apple design chief Jony Ive, “was the loathing that we had for the phones that we were using.”
But the iPhone, sold to more than 1 billion and credited with ushering in the era of the smartphone, hasn't been without flaws. When asked by The New Yorker editor David Remnick about the most-sold consumer device's biggest misuse, Ive noted that we users just can't seem to put the devices down.
“I think the constant use…I do think sometimes it’s just nice to have space. I think we sometimes we fill space because we can and not because we should.”
In on-stage interview at The New Yorker TechFest, Ive said a breakthrough moment for him was when Apple co-founder Steve Jobs retook the helm of Apple and shifted the focus toward creative design rather than product sales.
“Steve was very clear that the goal of Apple was not to make money. And we were very, very disciplined and very clear about how we configured our goals.”
Ive had joined Apple in 1992, a period of decline for the company when Jobs was in exile.
“It was an extremely painful time,” Ive recalls. “I got to live through a succession of CEOs whose focus was turning the company around, and that mainly meant make more money than we lose.”
Ive’s observation through the years is that companies design things that are built to a cost or a schedule, and not for people. It is hard to articulate, he said, but we as a species “sense care in the same way we sense carelessness.”
He and Apple’s CEO became close friends who had lunch together practically every day and who went on holidays together. “There’s something about the creative process that I still find remarkable. You know on a Tuesday, there’s not an idea, it’s just Tuesday. And on Wednesday there’s an idea. And it invariably starts as a very tentative and fragile thought.”
Ive says he “had the most wonderful teacher in Steve. I never met anyone with his focus.”
Ive didn’t give away much about the products Apple is developing for the future. “There are certain ideas that we have and we’re waiting for the technology to catch up with the idea.”
But he says he is excited about artificial intelligence and what new tools that can lead to. And he hinted that there are opportunities around displays.
Failure is part of the process
One thing he made clear is the role failure plays. Apple, for example, has been working on the upcoming iPhone X with Face ID facial recognition for five years.
He says 99% of the time in fact the things the company is working during the development cycle don’t work to Apple's satisfaction.
Ive sidestepped a final query from Remnick on what his most interesting failure has been. “I’m not sure if failure was interesting,” he joked while acknowledging that “we’ve made numerous mistakes.”
“But I am confident that the mistakes weren’t born from laziness or some self-satisfied belief that it’s inevitable that they will be successful...(We) generally assume it’s not going to work unless we can prove otherwise.”
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