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Three Takes on Jony Ive Leaving Apple

posted by Tim Carmody   Jun 28, 2019

The first is by John Gruber at Daring Fireball:

Ive is, to state the obvious, preternaturally talented. But in the post-Jobs era, with all of Apple design, hardware and software, under his control, we’ve seen the software design decline and the hardware go wonky. I don’t know the inside story, but it certainly seems like a good bet that MacBook keyboard fiasco we’re still in the midst of is the direct result of Jony Ive’s obsession with device thinness and minimalism. Today’s MacBooks are worse computers but more beautiful devices than the ones they replaced. Is that directly attributable to Jony Ive? With these keyboards in particular, I believe the answer is yes….

It makes me queasy to see that Apple’s chief designers are now reporting to operations. This makes no more sense to me than having them report to the LLVM compiler team in the Xcode group. Again, nothing against Jeff Williams, nothing against the LLVM team, but someone needs to be in charge of design for Apple to be Apple and I can’t see how that comes from operations. I don’t think that “chief design officer” should have been a one-off title created just for Jony Ive. Not just for Apple, but especially at Apple, it should be a permanent C-level title. I don’t think Ive ever should have been put in control of software design, but at least he is a designer.

I don’t worry that Apple is in trouble because Jony Ive is leaving; I worry that Apple is in trouble because he’s not being replaced.

Stratechery’s Ben Thompson argues that Apple is simply too big now to have a single tastemaker in charge:

Apple sold 278,000 iMacs its first full quarter on the market, 125,000 iPods its first full quarter on the market, and 1,119,000 iPhones its first full quarter on the market. Today Apple sells the same number of iPhones approximately every 11, 5, and 45 hours respectively. That requires a staggering amount of coordination between industrial design, manufacturing design, and operations. It simply isn’t feasible to have any one of these disciplines dictate to the others.

And yet, I understand Gruber’s angst. It is precisely that sort of dictatorship, first and foremost in the person of Steve Jobs, that made Apple, Apple. Again, though, I think Ive is in part a cautionary tale: he did his best work under Jobs, while the last few years have been more fraught from a design perspective; if Ive was not entirely up to the task of being the ultimate arbiter of all things Apple, who can be?

That is why the conclusion I had after WWDC feels more applicable than ever: it is less that Jony Ive is leaving Apple, and more that Apple, for better or worse, and also by necessity, has left Jony Ive and the entire era that he represented. So it goes.

At Vice, Jason Koebler argues against Ive’s design approach altogether:

[H]istory will not be kind to Ive, to Apple, or to their design choices. While the company popularized the smartphone and minimalistic, sleek, gadget design, it also did things like create brand new screws designed to keep consumers from repairing their iPhones.

Under Ive, Apple began gluing down batteries inside laptops and smartphones (rather than screwing them down) to shave off a fraction of a millimeter at the expense of repairability and sustainability.

It redesigned MacBook Pro keyboards with mechanisms that are, again, a fraction of a millimeter thinner, but that are easily defeated by dust and crumbs (the computer I am typing on right now—which is six months old—has a busted spacebar and ‘r’ key). These keyboards are not easily repairable, even by Apple, and many MacBook Pros have to be completely replaced due to a single key breaking. The iPhone 6 Plus had a design flaw that led to its touch screen spontaneously breaking—it then told consumers there was no problem for months before ultimately creating a repair program. Meanwhile, Apple’s own internal tests showed those flaws. He designed AirPods, which feature an unreplaceable battery that must be physically destroyed in order to open.

Ive’s Apple has been one in which consumers have been endlessly encouraged to buy new stuff and get rid of the old. The loser is the environment, and the winner is Apple’s bottom line. Apple has become famous for its design, and Ive has become famous, too. Let’s hope the next great consumer electronics designer is nothing like him.

If these three agree on nothing else, let their arguments show one thing: even Apple’s biggest fans really hate the past few generations of MacBook keyboards. I feel like I hated them (and had endemic problems with mine) before it was cool.

Computer graphics circa 1968

posted by Tim Carmody   Sep 14, 2015

“The Incredible Machine” (not to be confused with the 1975 film) is a 1968 documentary about experiments at Bell Labs focusing on graphics, voice, and other art and media applications. Technicians draw circuits using an electric stylus, animate titles for a movie presentation, and look at sound waveforms of different words trying to replicate speech.

It’s a treat to see the state-of-the-art the year of 2001: A Space Odyssey, especially when one of the Bell Labs computers sings “Daisy Bell”/”A Bicycle Built For Two”.

Also, mind the rabbit hole: the related links bar on YouTube leads to dozens of similar vintage computing videos.

(Via @katecrawford)

Naming the machines

posted by Tim Carmody   Jul 29, 2014

Hi, everybody! Tim Carmody here, guest-hosting for Jason this week.

Not everybody gives their computers, smartphones, or wireless networks distinctive names. You’re more likely to see a thousand public networks named “Belkin” or some alphanumeric gibberish than one named after somebody’s favorite character in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

But many, many people do name their machines — and ever since we slid into the post-PC era, we’re more likely to have a bunch of different machines of every different type living together on a network, each needing a name. So, how do you decide what to call them? Do you just pick what strikes your fancy at the moment, or do you have a system?

About three years ago, I asked my friends and followers on Twitter this question and got back some terrific responses. I don’t have access to all of their answers, because, well, time makes fools of us all, especially on Twitter. But I think I have the best responses.

Most people who wrote back did have unifying themes for their machines. And sweet Jesus, are those themes nerdy.

As for me, I’ve switched up name systems over the years, mostly as the kinds of devices on my network have changed. I used to just have a desktop PC (unnamed), so I started out by naming external hard drives after writers I liked: Zora, after Zora Neale Hurston, and then Dante. The first router I named, which I still have, is Ezra.

Years later, I named my laptop “Wallace”: this is partly for David Foster Wallace, but also so I could yell “where the fuck is Wallace?!?” whenever I couldn’t find it.

Without me even realizing it, that double meaning changed everything. My smartphone became “Poot.” When I got a tablet, it was “Bodie.” My Apple TV was “Wee-Bay,” my portable external drive “Stringer.” I even named my wi-fi network “D’Angelo” — so now D’Angelo runs on Ezra, which connects to Dante, if that makes sense.

As soon as it was Wallace and Poot, the rules were established: not just characters from The Wire, but members of the Barksdale crew from the first season of The Wire. No “Bunk,” no “Omar,” no “Cheese.” And when the machines died, their names died with them.

The first one to go, fittingly, was Wallace. I called the new machine “Cutty.” I was only able to justify to myself by saying that because he was a replacement machine, it was okay to kick over to Season 3. Likewise, my Fitbit became “Slim Charles.”

Now, for some reason, this naming scheme doesn’t apply at all to my Kindles. My first one was “Tlon, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius,” and its replacement is “Funes the Memorious.” I have no explanation for this, other than to say that while all my other devices commingle, the Kindles seem to live in a hermetic world of their own.

Compubeaver

posted by Ainsley Drew   Sep 30, 2009

Kasey McMahon decided to combine an interest in taxidermy with her PC. Fearing that the natural world is being replaced by technology, the artist installed a working computer inside of an idle beaver. First, she crafted a computer from the motherboard up, tested it, then hollowed out a stuffed beaver and molded the two together using spandex spray, resin, and fiberglass. After three months of work, the result was Compubeaver, followed up by its accessory, Text-o-Possum, a stuffed possum that’s equipped with a laser in its back leg that projects a virtual keyboard. McMahon was generous enough to provide a 29-step guide for the rest of us, in the hope that we’ll each case mod a beaver and create our own animal-based data processor. Just imagine using a raccoon laptop at Starbucks. Perhaps that would inspire them to provide free WiFi.

Update: See also installing Linux on a dead badger. (thx, michael)

Man trades computer tech support (spyware &

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 30, 2005

Man trades computer tech support (spyware & virus removal mostly) for sexual favors from damsels in distress (via ads on craigslist, of course). One wonders if he’s receiving sexually-transmitted viruses in exchange for his computer virus removal services. NSFW if your boss is offended by tshirts with bad puns on them.

An old Powerbook and new Powerbook meet

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 15, 2005

An old Powerbook and new Powerbook meet.

A brief history of NeXT

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 06, 2005

A brief history of NeXT.