iPad Pro and the toaster-fridge

In 2012 Tim Cook answered a question about merging OS X and iOS by saying:

“You can converge a toaster and a refrigerator, but those aren’t going to be pleasing to the user.”

This year, at the BoxWorks conference, Cook was again questioned about whether OS X and iOS would merge. His response was similar:

“We don’t believe in having one operating system for PC and mobile…We think it subtracts from both, and you don’t get the best experience from either. We’re very much focused on two.”

The philosophy behind these statements is, of course, that the best user experience comes when the software is perfectly suited for the form of the device it will be running on. Devices intended to be put in one hand or two hands or on a lap or on a desk are radically different. Cook’s argument is that this requires that the OS itself be suited to the form of the device. Apple has consistently refused to make toaster-fridges. With one glaring exception: iPad. Continue reading

Everyone (but Apple’s) Wearable Problem

It’s widely believed that the next form of computing will be wearable computing, but the potential of this category has barely been scratched by any company. I’ve previously written multiple times and have podcasted about some challenges Google faces as it seeks to enter the wearable market, but these challenges are not unique to Google. Every company, including Apple, faces significant challenges as they try to crack the wearable market, but of the fitness, luxury, and technology companies vying for the space, Apple has the best chance at making a product that becomes mainstream. In fact, compared to the substantial market, cultural, and fashion challenges facing these other companies, Apple has the best chance of them all.1 Continue reading

Guest appearance on WatchAware podcast & expanded shownotes!

I am honored to have been the first guest on the podcast of WatchAware, co-hosted by Abdel Ibrahim and Julia Mayhugh. In it, we discussed a wide variety of subjects, including how China is the most important market for Apple Watch, how Apple approaches its products in a more human way than other tech companies, and how we see great potential in the form factor of Apple Watch. I’m biased, of course, but I thought it was a stimulating discussion and I highly recommend you check it out. If you like this site, you will like the podcast.

Listen to it on iTunes or in Overcast — and if you like it, be sure to rate it in iTunes or recommend it in Overcast!

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The Irreducible Reality of Form

In the second to fourth centuries, the philosophy of Gnosticism became popular. Though it had many variants, a key tenet was that matter was a lesser emanation of a kind of divine spirit. Human spirits were thus spiritual and good, but human bodies and matter were physical and evil, a limitation that had to be escaped in order to achieve true gnosis or enlightenment.

Why on earth do I start an article about technology–and this is an article about technology–with an ancient philosophy?1 Because good design of technology has to be based on an anti-gnostic notion that humans, fundamentally and irreducibly, are physical creatures and use physical products in a physical world. Those physical products, just as fundamentally and irreducibly, have a specific physical form that can be well or poorly suited to a human’s physical body or to the physical world.2 These forms both limit and enable functionality that is unique to that form. This interplay between a form’s function, it’s suitability to the human body and it’s appropriateness for the physical world is what design considers–and it is the interaction of these elements that has led to the success and failure of many technological products.3

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Apple Watch Week 4: A Foundation for the Future

This is part 3 in ongoing series of reflections on my experience with Apple Watch the first months its out. Other pieces are: Week 1: You Can’t Put Delight In a SpreadsheetWeeks 2-3: Its Form Is Its Function, & Week 5: The Future of Apple Watch (WWDC & beyond)

The expectations we have about a product immensely in shaping our evaluation of it, perhaps more than the quality of the actual product. If, we, as the Little Mermaid humorously did, think that the purpose of a fork is to brush one’s hair, then we will note that it frequently snags hair, has an uncomfortable handle, and is, on the whole, a failed product. If you expected Avengers to be a romantic comedy, you’d be sorely disappointed. And those who expected Apple Watch to replace their iPhone have been disappointed as well.

Can Apple Watch do everything now? No. Can it replace your phone? No. Is it bug-free? No. Is there room for improvement? Yes. Are any of those expectations appropriate for the first generation of any product? Of course not. Apple Watch is not a perfect product, but many people are forgetting that neither was the first iPod, the first iPhone, or the first iPad. Rather than evaluating whether the product is already mature, a better question is to ask whether Apple has laid a foundation on which Apple Watch can grow. The answer, I believe, is a resounding yes. Continue reading

Apple Watch Week 1: You Can’t Put Delight In a Spreadsheet

My thanks thanks to sponsor LongScreen, my favorite app for merging and sharing screenshots. Read why I like it so much.

I’ve had the privilege of being one of the first owners of Apple Watch and the last week has been a delightful one. This is the first of six weekly reviews in which I’m going to share my thoughts about Apple Watch. My goal is not to focus on whether you need Apple Watch, the limitations of the device, or how to use it. Instead, my goal is to write from the intersection of technology and liberal arts, that is, exploring how this technology impacts our lives in what it means to be human and to truly live.

I don’t think Apple Watch is a device you can evaluate in a week. It’s neither technology, nor fashion, nor both; it is something utterly different than we’ve experienced before. You won’t find a “pronouncement” about Apple Watch’s future in this piece and only as time goes by will I offer more of my opinion about Apple Watch and its strengths and weaknesses. For now, let me relate reflections on how Apple Watch has helped me be more fully human in the last week. Continue reading

Apple’s Vision of Computing

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Apple’s Spring Forward event and Apple Watch are not without controversy, much of it arising from Apple’s choice to release the expensive Apple Watch Edition and foray into “fashion.” Most analysts understand that fashion is important, but few actually understand why. The more observant have argued that, in order for Apple to built a computing platform of wearables, the form must first be attractive, and so Apple must care about fashion.

While this is true, it unhelpfully views Apple’s goal as being a platform and the means of achieving that goal as being fashionable products. A close examination of Apple’s marketing, however, suggests that fashion is not merely a means to an end, since a computing platform is only a part of Apple’s vision. Rather, the form and function of AppleWatch both serve a bigger vision: that the future of computing itself will be deeply personalized, even intimate. Continue reading

The Focus in Apple Watch

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When the Apple Watch was first announced, a popular critique in tech circles was that it showed a lack of focus, that it did too much, including things it was not well suited to do. One piece often referenced said this:

Messy.   Too many options.  This is such a huge blunder. Instead of a single, perfect product, we got a jumble of features and choices.   There should have been just The One.

For Apple that famously emphasizes focus, saying “a thousand no’s for every yes,” having so many options seemed odd. What had Apple said “no” to in the Watch? What could it not do? Why did Apple, a company so focused on focus, make the Apple Watch capable of doing virtually anything?

These questions are answered by deeply understanding what the product is: a personal, even intimate, computer. The more personal a product, the more its hardware and software together must reflect and adapt to the individual wearing the device. Continue reading