Interesting piece by Robert Sullivan on Jonathan Ive – Apple’s design genius – in Vogue magazine (of all places). Ive rarely gives interviews and almost never speaks in public, so the fact that Apple specifically chose Vogue sends a clear signal.
It may be easier to sneak into a North Korean cabinet meeting than into the Apple design studio, the place where a small group of people have all the tools and materials and machinery necessary to develop things that are not yet things. Reportedly Ive’s wife, Heather Pegg, has never been—he doesn’t even tell her what he’s working on—and his twin sons, like all but a few Apple employees, are not allowed in either.
And yet: here is a reporter from Vogue wandering around in Apple’s secret workplace where all the magic happens.
“Feels nice, doesn’t it?” On my second visit to Cupertino, Ive has finally handed it over: the new Apple Watch. It is more watch than the computer geeks would ever have imagined, has more embedded software than in a Rolex wearer’s wildest dreams. When Ive shows it to me—weeks before the product’s exhaustive launch, hosted by new CEO Tim Cook—in a situation room that has us surrounded by guards, it feels like a matter of national security.
Hold on: this is not the first time Vogue has paid a visit? Not only has he apparently been there twice, he was allowed to actually touch and feel this closely guarded secret weeks before it was announced to the world.
Apple is clearly sending a signal here: they are not going after the gadget lovers like others have (Samsung Gear, Moto 360, Pebble, etc). Instead, by specifically choosing Vogue, Apple are obviously going after people who value, appreciate and have a sense for good design.
For the fashion-challenged, you may not know that Vogue is the most expensive of the fashion magazines. Not only are they famous for telling readers what will happen next, but where they lead, the whole fashion industry follows. Apple is also well-known for using “access” as a means to influence the media and ensure it gets positive coverage of its products.
Consider also the profile of Vogue’s readers: average age 34-39, and 87% women – these are not your garden variety geeks. They are people who have a keen eye for fashion and are quite prepared to spend money on good design. You could say these people are prominent exponents of conspicuous consumption.
Apple wants us to understand that their watch (note: not “smartwatch”, just watch) is not a gadget. When Ive first introduces the watch to Vogue the focus is completely on the materials – nothing at all to do with the electronics inside – a focus that will resonate with the quality and design conscious trendsetters of the fashion world:
Yet despite all the pressure, he really just wants you to touch it, to feel it, to experience it as a thing. And if you comment on, say, the weight of it, he nods. “Because it’s real materials,” he says proudly. Then he wants you to feel the connections, the magnets in the strap, the buckle, to witness the soft but solid snap, which he just loves as an interaction with design, a pure, tactile idea. “Isn’t that fantastic?”
By granting pre-release access to Vogue, and this interview with Jony Ive, Apple is signalling that this is not a gadget. This is something very different…
It’s a beautiful object, a device you might like even if you don’t like devices. “Everything we’ve been trying to do,” he says, “it’s that pursuit of the very pure and very simple.”