Apple started its Watch project in 2012 as a pivot from pocketable computers to “more personal and more accessible” technology, the company’s design chief Jonathan Ive said in an interview published today. Speaking with watch magazine Hodinkee, Ive revealed that the Watch was intended both to broaden Apple’s cultural relevance and set the stage for where technology is headed — apparently, into wearable, ever-present forms.
The original Apple Watch was released on April 24, 2015, representing Apple’s first major new product category since the passing of its founder, Steve Jobs. Ive disclosed that Jobs had no input on the device, as he didn’t really wear a watch and hadn’t discussed watches as an Apple product. Yet people on Apple’s design team had personal, long-term interests in watchmaking, including Ive, who brought on his “best friend” and watch designer Marc Newson to work on the project.
Arguably the most interesting detail in the piece came when Hodinkee asked Ive what “question or problem you were looking to answer with the Apple Watch?”
I don’t think there was a problem specifically. It was more a matter of optimization — of opportunity … Many of us have our phones with us all the time, but they aren’t connected to you. Imagine having something this powerful with you at all times, and what opportunities that might present to the user … Particularly when [you] don’t understand just where we are today in terms of technology and capability, but where we are headed.
Apple famously refuses to discuss future products, but this is an unambiguous suggestion that the Apple Watch — as originally and even recently executed — is in part training people to wear basic devices as Apple prepares for more powerful devices to fit inside that form factor. Though it’s possible that Apple’s ambitions for the Watch are more limited, Ive could easily be nodding to the future of phones, computers, health wearables, or all of the above.
Another interesting revelation came in Ive’s discussion of the gold Apple Watch Edition, which famously sold for up to $17,000, and its less expensive ceramic sequel. While the Editions haven’t been popular — “we did not have to make high quantities,” Ive said — their materials were selected to expand Apple’s cultural footprint, and taught the design team lessons that would apply beyond the Watch.
It was fairly clear early on that we wanted to design a range of products, without getting too convoluted, that would broaden how relevant we were. And working in gold and ceramic was purposeful — not only to expand who Apple is, but also from a materials science perspective … our material sciences team now understands these fundamental attributes and properties in a way they didn’t before. This will help shape future products and our understanding of what forms make sense.
The interview is worth seeing in whole, as it includes plenty of additional details, including Apple’s unusual decision to seek horology expertise from seven independent experts, and thoughts on everything from the utility of the Digital Crown to creating nearly one-size-fits-all bands to fit wildly different wrist sizes. On the flip side, it only modestly discusses the Watch’s health functionality — which has for many users become its biggest selling point — though the interviewer hints that the “where we are headed” reference is a reference to improvements in health technologies and capabilities.