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It’s the gadget so nice, Apple’s launching it twice.
Later today, Apple will finally fill in the blanks on the Apple Watch. Back in September, when the company unveiled it as a coda to the iPhone 6 event, there were plenty of big unknowns: battery life, availability, price range, functionality.
While we think we know some of those things now, those details are still based on leaks, rumors, and speculation. Today, Apple chief executive Tim Cook and a coterie of his fellow execs will take the stage to persuade us that the Apple Watch will be the next gadget we can’t imagine living without.
However, the person with the most riding on this launch likely won’t appear on stage: Apple design guru Jony Ive. Though here’s betting that he’ll be starring in his usual slick, seductive video explaining many of the features and the design philosophy behind the watch.
Ive’s reputation as one of history’s great industrial designers is secure thanks to the remarkable string of products he’s produced, from the iMac to the iPhone to the iPad. But, of course, those products were all also developed under the guidance of Steve Jobs.
As the recent, remarkable New Yorker profile of Ive made clear, the Apple Watch is more Ive’s product than any Apple gadget that has come before. In the profile, that notion was confirmed by Apple exec Jeff Williams.
Indeed, while there had been talk of an Apple Watch for some time, it only officially became a project shortly after the passing of Jobs in 2011.
Ive, the story noted, is an avid watch collector. But more importantly, Ive has been gravitating more toward luxury design. Yes, many people insist that Apple products come with a premium price. But premium is different from luxury. Luxury is when you design a single product or small set of products for those with the deepest pockets.
In the New Yorker profile, a friend of Ive’s claimed he was considering early retirement about seven or eight years ago, buying a house in England, and working exclusively on the very highest end of luxury goods. But the explosive success of the iPhone and the death of Jobs put those plans on hold.
“The iPhone just seemed to change the entire world,” Ive’s friend said. “I think he is burdened by it. He’s got no choice, the poor guy. He really has to see it out, and I know it wasn’t his plan.”
New Yorker writer Ian Parker asked Cook the next logical question: Is the Apple Watch “a way for Apple to thank and secure Ive: handcuffs in yellow gold and rose gold.”
In reply, Cook insisted: “I never thought of that, to be honest.”
And yet, in the run-up to launch, we have a massive, unprecedented profile of Ive that includes access to Apple insiders granted on a scale we’ve never seen. As the marketing of the Apple Watch has evolved, it has turned away from Apple’s mythology as a company that democratizes technology, and instead has embraced its status as a fashion item.
The gold Apple Watch Edition has people speculating that it could cost $10,000 or more. Then there’s the hiring of Burberry’s Angela Ahrendts to run Apple stores, along with other fashion industry veterans. The Apple Watch has been featured in a 12-page spread in Vogue, and it appears Apple is creating a mini-store in Paris’ exclusive Galeries Lafayette to sell to the upscale shoppers of the world.
This all seems to reflect a careful new balance between Apple and its iconic designer’s interests. If the Apple Watch succeeds, Ive may be catapulted into a unique position in the firmament of designers. But if it flops (something that seems impossible to fathom), then Ive will likely carry most of the weight of its failure.
While his successes will remain, he will likely be dogged by the notion that it was only under the wing of Jobs that Ive could truly flourish.
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