Jony Ive is an alchemist. His Apple gathers a rich mix of ideas, technologies and raw materials in order to filter them to their most basic element. It then seeks ways to combine these elements into new forms.
The sci-fi sweet spot
Think of the iPhone. On introduction the device tickled the sweet spot because it was in tune with science fiction musings about personal communicators. Success wasn't based on display size or market share, but on its function as a perfect expression of such fantasies.
"I want to know what things are for," Apple designer, Jony Ive, told the Sunday Times this weekend. "(I want to know) how they work, what they can or should be made of, before I even begin to think what they look like," he added.
If you think about it, there's a thousand years of history inside iPhone. The properties of the raw materials used reflect research begun by early alchemists, while its component advances drew from diverse research efforts since.
The result? The kind of product you might have found in an Omni Magazine story in 1989. It's a synthesis of ideas and technologies within an expression so near perfection competitors have been unable to come up with anything unique to counter it.
Distillation of ideas
You only need to read the way Ive talks about his products to understand the intense effort Apple puts into these expressions. He'll joyously explain small details that turn out to reflect months of painstaking work:
Ive once discussed the spring-loading technology inside a PowerBook;
He tells the Sunday Times that the chamfers on the iPhone 5S are cut with diamond-tipped cutters, but that Apple had to develop a way to mass manufacture those cutters in order to make the product.
Transmuting fantasy into reality is a hard act to follow. You need to think different. To help him think different, Ive has worked with confectionery manufacturers, incredibly skilled metalworkers, watchmakers and experts from across a multiplicity of fields.
Revolution in the valley
Perhaps Apple's single-minded passion for what it does fosters the hostility thrown against it. Direct competitors imitate ("steal", says Ive) its ideas while critics instinctively know it is far easier to say something can't be done than it is to try anything new.
The amount of time and care Apple puts into its devices gives its critics an easy target. "The company promises us great products every few weeks or so," they will say, "but does it still have the talent to gather together technology advances and combine them within products that reflect the unspoken zeitgeist of the time?"
Ive seems to think it can. He thinks the enthusiasm -- Apple Store queues and more -- that greets new Apple products reflects a pretty key zeitgeist: an emerging feeling that leads an increasing number of people to reject "thoughtlessness and carelessness". We want better.
Apple is working on new products, Ive confirms. The company isn't talking about them yet, but its designer drops a hint that we can expect more, rather than less: "We are at the beginning of a time when a remarkable number of products will be developed," he says.
A "remarkable number" suggests the company is on the edge of opening up in whole new product categories, likely to have connectivity, mobility and personal technology at their core.
It is not just about the money "We don't take so long and make the way we make for fiscal reasons," Ive tells the Sunday Times. Apple does it because it can.
Got a story? Drop me a line via Twitter or in comments below and let me know. I'd like it if you chose to follow me on Twitter so I can let you know when fresh items are published here first on Computerworld.