Touchscreen interfaces have weaved their way into the very fabric of our lives, from the device that connects us to the online world, through to the screen that controls the temperature within our homes. Whilst their uses are varied, they also cause a disconnect between us and the product… don’t we deserve warmer, more tangible interactions?
This was the motive for Sound Tool, a speaker that’s operation relies upon physical intuition, leading it to be emotionally stimulating! The main source of inspiration comes from the eccentric movement of a Conductor; as the volume of the orchestra increases, as too does the Conductors physical presence. This has been beautifully translated into Sound Tool by encouraging the user to increase the volume of the music by grabbing each end of the speaker and pulling them apart! It’s welcoming to see a product that encourages tangible interactions!
Designer: Ben Lorimore
Bigger = Louder
To increase the volume of Sound Tool, grab it and make it bigger. To decrease the volume, compress it. Fully collpase it to pause, Sound Tool will not play at 0% volume.
Louder = More Alive
When Sound Tool is louder, it feels more alive. When expanded, it opens up and gets brighter in color as a result of its pleated nature.
With Sir Jonathan Ive’s exit from Apple just days ago, it’s finally the end of an era that Steve Jobs envisioned back in the 90s. Ive left his design agency Tangerine to formally Apple in 1992, recruited by Jon Rubinstein at the time. It wasn’t until 1996, when Steve Jobs made a return to Apple (an almost-bankrupt company at the time), when Jonathan Ive’s career really took off. Along with Ive’s eye for design, and Jobs’ attention to need, detail, and usability, the two formed one of the most successful creative alliances in recent history, taking the company to a valuation of $665 billion in 2011, around the time of Jobs’ demise, and finally to the trillion dollar mark in 2018.
Ive’s journey at Apple can be distinctly broken down into these phases, that roughly fall into the decades too. We’re here to look at the work of Jobs through the lens of time, as he went from product to product and strength to strength with each passing decade. The video above provides a very rare look into Ive’s and Apple’s elusive design process, while the products below aim to codify and categorize Ive’s 27-year-long design journey with one of the most innovative companies on earth. Here’s a look at Jonathan Ive’s 27 years at Apple, in products.
1992-96 Jonathan Ive leaves Tangerine for Apple. Steve Jobs hasn’t made his comeback yet.
There honestly isn’t much to look at here. This was pre-Jobs comeback, when Apple was facing financial difficulties. Ive made his way from Tangerine to Apple, only to realize that most of the design team was being let go of. Rumor has it, he almost tried to quit around the same time, but was pep-talked into staying by Jon Rubinstein. Ive, under Apple, designed a few not-so-successful products at the time… like the Newton MessagePad, shown above. However, his experimentation with transparency (top right) led to a few breakthroughs later when Steve made a comeback.
1997-2011 Apple’s renaissance period under Jobs and Ive. Apple Design follows Dieter Rams.
Design flourished when Steve Jobs made a comeback in 1996. The iMac G3 and the iBook explored curves, and the use of transparency and translucency. Jobs was adamant that the insides of the computers be beautiful enough to showcase to the world, rather than make more white boxes. Ive’s design efforts went into making ‘computers sexy again’.
Ive’s obsession with transparency evolved further, while products that were previously curved, started taking on a more slick appearance. Shown above are the Apple Cinema Display, the iMac G4, and a rare non-Apple product, Harman Kardon’s Soundsticks that were designed by Ive!
Nothing put Apple more on the map than the iPod. It revolutionized everything, and truly made Jobs stand out as a visionary, and cemented Ive’s role in the company. The iPod also owed a big debt of gratitude to Dieter Rams, who’s design language at Braun truly began influencing Ive’s work. The circular jogdial, the no-nonsense design, the philosophy of “Form Following Function”, and the liberal use of white, all were owed to Dieter Rams. While naysayers saw this as Apple ‘not being original enough’, iPods flew off the shelves, and Apple finally became a household name.
As iPods grew popular, Ive strived hard to make them sleeker too. As a result, the Nano and the Shuffle were born. With an iPod for everyone, these came in a variety of formats, stored as many as 2000 songs, and now came in color! Another subtle innovation was that Ive discovered the material that would change the consumer tech industry forever… aluminium.
Aluminum allowed Ive to truly explore Apple’s new aesthetic of beautiful, premium, and sleek products. Aluminum was abundant, could be machined to precision, and Ive even devised a way of utilizing spare aluminum parts from the Mac Pro to make the MacBook bodies (discussed in Gary Hustwit’s Objectified). Ive pushed the limits to how beautifully sleek products could be made, and in 2008, Steve Jobs walked out on stage with a Manila envelope, carrying the world’s thinnest laptop within it… the iconic 19.4mm MacBook Air!
One more thing… arguably the three most important words in Apple’s history. The iPhone is considered to be Jobs and Ive’s magnum opus. So much is owed to the birth of the iPhone. Industries, companies, technologies, materials, the iPhone created them all. The first iPhone, introduced in 2007 was the first true smartphone. It came with a touchscreen you could use with your fingers, and boasted of Apple’s iOS and the birth of the app marketplace. Further iterations only grew better. The iPhone 4 came with a glass front and back, but a slick aluminum frame that made it one of the thinnest phones of its time. It was the perfect size (some still believe so even today) and had Siri, Apple’s voice AI. In 2012 came the iPhone 5, a reiteration of its successful predecessor, with a standard-setting aluminum unibody, a revolutionary 16:9 display, and the world’s first fingerprint sensor on a phone. The iPhone 5 was considered to be the last iPhone co-created by Jobs and Ive.
The iPad debuted in 2010, just a year before Jobs’ demise. Ive designed it to be the sleekest tablet on the market, following the footsteps of the iPhone and the MacBook Air, although the idea for the iPad came to Jobs much before the iPhone. Jony developed a device so iconic that it remained the only strong contender in the tablet market with practically no competition for roughly seven years.
2012-19 Apple finding its post-Jobs identity, & becoming a trillion dollar company.
The 2013 Mac Pro came at a time of uncertainty. Two years since the death of Jobs, Apple was looking for its next great product. The iPhone and the iPad proved to show how great Jobs was at envisioning new products. Apple hoped a redesigned Mac Pro would show people that Apple was still capable of innovation. Jonathan Ive’s redesign didn’t receive much praise, and was often referred to as the trashcan Mac, for its dustbin-shaped appearance. For the people that bought it too, the Mac Pro had quite a few problems, ranging from its heat issues, to the fact that it wasn’t easy to upgrade… a pretty necessary feature considering how much the 2013 Mac Pro cost.
The following year was one of redemption. Apple’s recent recruitments to the design team included designer Mark Newson and CEO of Yves Saunt Laurent, Paul Deneve. These two stalwarts aided Ive in building consumer electronics that were comparable to fashion items, with their sheer sense of style (and even a price tag to match). The Apple Watch was born, kicking off a wearables market. It featured a small screen, a touch-sensitive UI and a rotating crown, all encased in a remarkable aluminum body. The watch came with wireless charging, and featured a built-in heart-rate sensor… a feature that would soon define the Watch’s use-case. As a consumer-friendly medical wearable.
Among other noteworthy design achievements, Apple acquired Beats by Dre., a company that considered Robert Brunner’s Ammunition as their design partners (Brunner was an ex-Apple design lead). Alongside that, Ive’s team even designed the iPhone 6, a smartphone with an incredibly slick design that received mixed reviews, while also being one of the most sold smartphones in the world. Ive’s obsession with slim devices finally led to what became the Bendgate. The iPhone 6 was so thin, it would bend if kept in your back pocket. Apple eventually fixed the problem in the iPhone 6S with a stronger chassis and a harder aluminum alloy. The 6S also gave birth to the era of Rose Gold, a color that Apple debuted in 2015 which became a standard in almost all subsequent iPhones and even in the new MacBook Air.
Later in 2016, Apple announced the iPhone 7, which infamously ditched the headphone jack. The absence of a 3.5mm jack on the phone meant the release of the Airpods, Apple’s incredibly small truly wireless intelligent earbuds. Perhaps not the most consumer-friendly decision, the Airpods were a runaway business success. The Airpods were convenient, incredibly well-paired with the iPhone, and came with touch-sensitive surfaces that let you control playback as well as the iPhone’s core features without taking your phone out. The Airpods were sleek, well-built, and came with their own charging case that you could carry around with you. 2016 was also the year Apple killed ports on the MacBook, leaving just a USB Type-C port and a headphone jack (a strange decision there) on the side. The 2016 MacBook also ended the tradition of having glowing Apple logos on MacBooks.
2017 saw the release of the HomePod, Apple’s foray into the smart-speaker market. Ive pretty much revived the cylindrical design (of the Mac Pro) to create a powerful speaker capable of throwing out high-fidelity sound in all directions with equal intensity. The smart-speaker featured a touch-sensitive upper surface, and could respond to “Hey Siri”. Available in white and black, the HomePod came perhaps too late, with Amazon beating Apple to the smart-speaker market by three whole years.
Towards the end of 2017, Apple announced the AirPower, a tray capable of charging all of Apple’s wireless devices… simultaneously. The announcement was perhaps a little premature, considering two large things. A. The Airpods didn’t charge wirelessly, and B. The technology wasn’t perfected yet. Ive’s design showed how easy it was to lay your products on the AirPower mat and have them charge, but Apple’s engineering team couldn’t get it to work without heating up tremendously. The AirPower was finally shelved in 2019.
2017 also marked a full decade since the launch of Apple’s greatest product ever, the iPhone. Alongside the iPhone 8 (which was due at the time), Ive designed the anniversary iPhone, titled the iPhone X. With a stellar dual-lens camera capable of clicking portrait images with computational blurring, the iPhone X actually sold more than the 8, even with its $999 price tag… and its notch! The notch became a standard detail for almost all other smartphones to follow, as Ive’s vision for a truly bezel-less smartphone became more and more possible. It also meant saying goodbye to the good old TouchID and hello to Apple’s new FaceID, its revolutionary facial recognition system. The new iPhone was also a departure of sorts from Ive’s love for aluminium, since the metal wouldn’t support wireless charging.
The 2018 iPad Pro was the tablet every creative professional needed. With an incredibly powerful processor (as powerful as the Xbox One), a great camera, a redesigned stylus (that charged wirelessly), and virtually no bezels, the iPad Pro became a standard for the creative industry. It also came with a Type-C port, showing users exactly how versatile the tablet was designed to be, as it could be connected to pretty much any other device, and not be inhibited by Apple’s lightning charger.
As Apple’s hardware sales slowed down (nobody wanted to buy a new iPhone every year), the company finally made a pivot to services. The Apple Card was one of them. Machined out of titanium, the card was an exercise in sheer minimalism, thanks to Ive and the design team. it came with a machined Apple logo, and an etched name on the card… that’s it!
Ive’s last product at Apple, the Mac Pro sent quite a few mixed messages. At the time of his death, Jobs made it clear that Ive’s work was not to be interfered with, and he was answerable to no one. The Mac Pro 2019 was proof of Ive’s free reign. It came with a dual-machined airway system that gave the Mac Pro an appearance of a glorified cheese-grater, with an incredibly hefty price-tag. Apple’s trillion-dollar valuation, and Ive’s ability to design without any constraints resulted in one of the most talked about designs of the year so far… that’s until Ive finally put in his resignation along with Marc Newson to form LoveFrom, an independent design outfit that considered Apple as one of its top clients. Let’s see what the 2019 Apple October event has in store for us!
As far as giving children access to smart technology goes, there are two broad schools of thought. One is that children shouldn’t be introduced to screens, apps, and media at a young age because it has a major effect on their attention span, while another approach is that children should be gradually introduced to technology because it holds the potential to enhance everyone’s lives, while also giving them the tools of (digital) discovery from an early age. Novus was a product designed for the latter school of thought. A small watch-shaped smart-device, Novus is a modular computer that is capable of being your child’s first smartphone, smartwatch, or even their smart-speaker.
The Novus is basically a distilled version of a smartphone, built for a child. Its small form-factor allows it to dock into a variety of Novus’s accessories, allowing it to be used as a phone, a watch, or even an AI-aided speaker. The smart-device comes with a touchscreen and a user-interface built for child-use. Children can text, voice and video-call each other as well as parents, click pictures and selfies, or even use the Novus as their fitness wearable, thanks to the internal pedometer and activity tracker. It has an in-built GPS, SOS feature, and most importantly, a day’s worth of battery. Novus offers most of the features we look for in our smart-devices, without the addictiveness of apps, media, and social networks. Kids can even use Novus as a smart-speaker by relying on the device’s inbuilt Google Assistant, giving you all the child-friendly power-features of cutting-edge tech.
For the parents, Novus is the best way to give the children a smartphone without actually giving them a smartphone. It allows you to stay in touch with your kids, via voice or even video. It keeps the children engaged with its features (and a pretty neat front-facing camera), but doesn’t distract/addict them or, as my mother says, turn their brains to mush. The SOS and GPS feature is a heaven-sent for parents too, letting them keep track of where their children are, and parental controls within Novus’s guardian app give parents overriding controls over who their kids can voice-call or video chat with. Designed to support most 4G networks, Novus runs on a sim, giving it great range too… so you’re always in touch with your young ones, and they won’t clamor for the iPad because they’re bored!
You’ve heard of 2.1 audio, 5.1 audio, even perhaps 7.1 audio… but have you ever heard of 12.1 surround sound? That’s what the Actinia speaker is about. Inspired by the tree-shaped sea anemone, the Actinia Speaker has 12 tweeters on its radially symmetric top, and a woofer right at the base. With a gradient-tinted glass body, the Actinia is virtually see-through, bringing an element of transparency to the uniquely shaped organic speaker body, almost reminiscent of how curvy Harman Kardon’s Soundsticks were, back in the day.
I don’t imagine the Actinia has smart-speaker abilities, but with 12.1 audio, I doubt you’d really choose to hear Alexa’s voice over some good old, immersive Hans Zimmer or Ramin Djawadi soundtracks… am I right?
Designer: Lingsong Jin
Most people know Google to be an extremely popular customer-facing company, but a large part of Google’s empire lies in its enterprise solutions. From Google’s productivity tools to its business suite that unlocks the power of the drive, the email dashboard, calendar/organizer, all to streamline your business and your meetings, Google’s services play a very integral role in fostering collaboration, increasing productivity, and enriching businesses, both large and small… however, Google’s enterprise solutions have always been limited to just software.
The Google Us is a conceptual smart assistant designed to aid teleconferencing. Made to look like a part of Google’s existing smart hardware family, the Google Us is black, and shaped like a Home Mini, with a touchscreen. It runs a stripped down version of Android, and uses Google Hangouts to enable meetings and collaborative conversations by pairing with other smartphones and Us speakers running on the Hangouts platform. You can simply make group calls and conduct structured, timely meetings through the touchscreen interface on the device, much like a smartphone, but with a better focus on maintaining daily schedules and delivering crisp audio to both parties, thanks to Google’s efforts in audio engineering and far-field microphone technology. You can carry the Us speaker around with you, thanks to its in-built battery, and it even comes with a nifty wireless charger to juice it up!
The Google Us is a conceptual piece of work and is in no way affiliated with the Google brand.
Nearly one in every four homes in the United States of America has a smart speaker in it. That’s a real statistic, not a guess. I’d say roughly the same amount also own a tablet, like an iPad or a Surface. So why not mash the two products together? Weilin D’s AI Assistant is a combination of a tablet and a smart speaker… and its framework is pretty familiar. In fact, it looks a lot like an Amazon Echo Show, or a Google Home Hub, but with a couple of key differences.
Weilin’s AI Assistant comes as a smart-speaker with a display, but here’s where things get interesting. The display is completely detachable. Designed to be used as a tablet you’d have around the house, the AI Assistant’s detachable display is great for watching content, viewing recipes, checking the time, or having as an ambient, ever-changing photo frame. The display detaches off the dock, which is the smart-speaker. Built with a wireless charger, the dock can juice up the tablet’s battery when idle, and has a far-field microphone that allows you to use the AI Assistant as a smart speaker to command it to play music, answer or reject calls, set reminders, control smart-home products, or order stuff online. Housed within the dock is also a sliding camera that conveniently stays blocked by the tablet. When you’re in the mood for a video conference, the camera slides up and allows you to do video-chats with other people, quite like Facebook’s Portal device, but with a stronger focus on privacy. Once you’re done, the camera slides back into its enclosure.
Designer: Weilin D