It's easy to overlook, but there's a very simple formula for Apple's success. It's the reason why you can take an iPhone or an iMac out of its box and it just works, and the reason why Samsung is secretly working on its own mobile OS: control. Steve Jobs summed it up perfectly during the 2007 Macworld keynote: "Now, you know, one of the pioneers of our industry, Alan Kay, has had a lot of great quotes throughout the years. And I ran across one of them recently that explains how we look at this. Explains why we go about doing things the way we do, because we love software. And here’s the quote: 'People who are really serious about software should make their own hardware.'"
On Steve Jobs' birthday last week, Tim Cook tweeted a remembrance of his friend and mentor that summed up Steve's genius in just a few words: "Details matter, it’s worth waiting to get it right."
Meanwhile, a few thousand miles away Samsung was getting ready to announce its newest "next big things," the Galaxy S5, along with a couple of Galaxy Gears, a fitness tracker and some refinements to its TouchWiz interface.
The overlapping dates were a happy coincidence. The choice of quote was not. Cook was sending a message to anyone criticizing Apple for bringing up the rear in the smartwatch race: Slow and steady is how we win.
I could write a month's worth of columns on my distaste for Samsung. From its petty Apple-bashing ads to its shameless and slavish implementation of every good idea it sees, Samsung is unapologetically unoriginal, slapping its name on anything it thinks can make a buck. Many of its products have no discernible value, often created to fill a seemingly underserved niche and sold to unsuspecting consumers who think they're getting something better than they are: cheap, compromised smartphones with crippled processors, low-resolution screens, and tiny batteries that force consumers into decisions they regret for the majority of their 24-month contract.
For years we've been trying to figure out what Steve Jobs meant when he dropped this juicy nugget to Walter Isaacson while being interviewed for his biography:
“I’d like to create an integrated television set that is completely easy to use. It would be seamlessly synced with all of your devices and with iCloud. It will have the simplest user interface you could imagine. I finally cracked it."
Through my tireless efforts to find new and interesting topics with which to entertain you each week, I happen across lots of patents. Some are absurd, many are dull and dense, but for the most part, the one thing they have in common is that they're nearly impossible to extrapolate.
Still, they make for fascinating reading. At the very least, it's a peek into the Cupertino development process, a rare chance to see what the company is working on between revolutions. For example, in December, Apple was granted a patent for a "Curved touch sensor" that consists of "depositing and patterning a conductive thin film on a flexible substrate to form at least one touch sensor pattern, while the flexible substrate is in a flat state and wherein the flexible substrate is a glass substrate." (Honestly, that was the clearest description I could find.)
Keyboard design isn't something that generally gets a whole lot of attention.
Back when they were our primary input devices, keyboards were mostly viewed as cumbersome necessities, plastic nuisances that extended ungracefully from the backs of our PCs, resting lifelessly on our desktops with little character or personality. Even on laptops, where the keyboard can make or break the design, they were often an afterthought: cheap, flimsy keys crammed into fixed spaces, with little attention paid to how they felt under your fingers or where the optimal position for the mouse might be.
Not too long ago, web apps were the saviors of the new world — rich, universal programs that needed little more than a browser to deliver their power. Steve Jobs believed in them so wholly he nearly bet the entire future of the iPhone on them, telling developers during its launch: "You’ve got everything you need if you know how to write apps using the most modern web standards to write amazing apps for the iPhone today."
And at least one developer still believes that's true.
Merriam-Webster's dictionary defines innovation as the act or process of introducing new ideas, devices or methods. But when we're talking about technology, that definition doesn't quite tell the whole story. It's not just the unveiling of some new or better design--it's making as big a splash as possible before anyone else can even get in the pool.
It was once a relatively slow process. Every few years an exciting new product would come along that indelibly altered the landscape: color televisions, VCRs, Walkmen, iPods. It was given room to grow and evolve until something inevitably better was born out of its influence.
You know, there's a reason why the iPhone is classified as a smartphone.
It's not because it has a touch screen or because it has more features than a flip phone. It has nothing to do with its design or LTE networking or sensors, nor is it because of its 64-bit chip. Quite frankly, it's not because of anything that it does, but rather what it can do — boundless capabilities made possible by hundreds of thousands of native apps, tiny programs running on a dedicated, independent operating system. They don't need any assistance; install them and they just work.
Back in 2007, some people questioned whether the iPhone was truly a smartphone since it lacked this basic ability, but today the term is applied much more loosely. Anything that can be controlled by an iPhone is suddenly a smart this or smart that, and we seem to have forgotten what actually makes these gadgets intelligent.
And that includes all those watches everyone keeps talking about.
It's been quite a year for iOS. Jony Ive's redesign shook things up, but developers once again stole the show, taking the Helvetica Neue Light ball and running with it. From slick, minimal buttons to beautiful fonts and menus, 2013 was the year iOS apps fully matured and finally left its iPhone OS roots behind. So without further ado, here are my favorite designs of the past 12 months.