Steve Jobs was undoubtedly a big force behind Apple’s decision to sue Samsung for patent infringement. He famously said he wanted to destroy Google and its manufacturing partners (including Samsung) for ripping off Apple’s products by fighting them in the courtroom.However, Jobs would probably be cringing right now if he had to watch Apple’s internal discussions about early prototypes for the iPhone and iPad dredged up for the world to see. These revelations take away one of the key things Jobs worked for at Apple: the mystery and magic of Apple’s design process.
In Walter Isaacson’s biography of Jobs, the former CEO describes Apple’s design process as an endless series of refinements that eventually take a product from good to great to magical. To illustrate this point, he uses the example of The Beatles’ song “Strawberry Fields Forever,” which evolved over the course of several demos to the song we know today:
It’s a complex song, and it’s fascinating to watch the creative process as they went back and forth and finally created it over a few months. They kept sending it back to make it closer to perfect. The way we build stuff at Apple is often this way. Even the numbers of models we’d make of a new notebook or iPod. We would start off with a version and then begin refining, doing detailed models of the design, or the buttons, or how a function operates. It’s a lot of work, but in the end it just gets better, and soon it’s like, ‘Wow, how did they do that?!? Where are the screws?’
The patent trial going on now is providing an answer to the question Jobs preferred to leave unanswered: how does Apple do it?
It’s now possible to trace the many iterations of the iPhone – from its early days as an iPod with numbers on the click wheel to the finished product that was released in 2007. We can see the missteps Apple made along the way, like considering a version of the device that’s way too tall and thin. Even worse, we can see the point at which Apple gave up, choosing to abandon plans to make the iPhone out of two curved pieces of glass because it cost too much.
Likewise, the earliest prototypes of the iPad show a super thick device that’s nowhere near as sexy as the iPad that was released in 2010.
In truth, seeing all the different ways these products might have turned out shouldn’t make the iPhone or iPad any less awe-inspiring. If anything, it’s just that much more impressive to consider all the tough choices Apple’s designers had to make to end up with the products they made.
What might be changing, though, is how we view Apple. The company and its team of designers did have some vision of what they wanted, but they often grasped at straws to get there, considering any and every idea under the sun.
For better or worse, Apple’s screws are starting to show.