The enduring magic of the iPhone is that it can be a different device for every single person who owns one, thanks to the ever-growing universe of apps for everything you may possibly want to do.
Not I, but we
Achieving this has taken a huge team effort, not just among Apple and its developers, but also across a much wider field, extending from the factory worker to people sitting on standards bodies building digital infrastructure that enables future technologies to grow.
This colossal army always existed, but the nature of the effort is at once both public and personal, that’s why iPhone was called iPhone, the device reflects its user. That need to reflect the user is inherent in the product, just as it is in most Apple products.
Because Apple has always demanded that the products it does ship are products that even the people who design them cannot live without.
Traditionally, Steve Jobs was the chief user experience critic at the company, and nothing got announced until the UX was deemed more or less satisfactory. That’s what went so wrong when Scott Forstall let the company down with the first iteration of Maps – releasing the product too soon was an error that continues to reverberate, just take a look at any Maps coverage from the poison pens of so many echo chamber occupants.
Another side of the iPhone spell is simplicity. The focus on the end user may seem individualistic, but it demands a high degree of focus all across Apple’s design, development and manufacturing teams and partners.
This is easy to see when you open the products up – all those custom-designed elements and advanced process and manufacturing technologies may exist to support a device that’s perfectly focused on your needs, but each one of those jigsaw pieces have demanded a lot of work from a lot of people.
Each one of these components are incredibly complex: think about the dual lens camera inside the iPhone Plus 7 or the A-series processors that make these smartphones the best in the business. Each one reflects months or even years of development, and many of these are Apple-owned technologies, rather than off-the-shelf components. Yet, for all this inherent complexity, each of these together create simple, intuitive, user experiences.
The human chain
You see, when you use an iPhone you are using something that has demanded hundreds of thousands of hours of toil. Tens of thousands of people build these things and the components used inside them, many thousand more are involved across the human chain of design, development and manufacture, both at Apple and outside the firm.
That chain extends into the future, because innovation is both incremental and endless, and also provides a pathway into the past, to the artists, alchemists and philosophers who first identified some of the scientific realities we now take for granted, such as the conductivity of gold or the nature of magnetism and electricity.
The innovation that makes these things happen reaches all across human history and transcends the prejudices of color, creed, sex and sexuality. The consumer electronic marvels we take for granted today are perhaps the finest fruits of the shared, collective, stateless, human struggle to master our environment.
Science without borders
As the US faces its election day and the UK endures the incompetence of its own unelected Brexit Tory government, it seems appropriate to reflect that those things we most take for granted, such as an iPhone, are produced through international cooperation and intellectual achievement that transcends petty party politics.
They stand at the intersection of technology and the liberal arts, with roots across history and forward to a future never before seen.
These bicycles of the mind are the product of an international human struggle, ushering in great transformation to the benefit or detriment of every person on the planet.
There is no I in iPhone.
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