Apple has made many things over the years, but its process has remained essentially the same: Find something ugly and complicated and make it prettier and easier. Prettiness, in brushed aluminum, is more or less a permanent state. Ease, however, is constantly evolving, which is why a few days before the geek hootenanny known as Apple’s September Event, Jony Ive’s focus isn’t on a new version of Apple TV or an iPad the size of a doggy door, but on a feature. It’s called 3D Touch, and it makes using an iPhone even easier. “Ultimately, this is our focus,” says Ive, squeezing a new iPhone 6S. “This is what galvanizes our efforts right across the company.” And 3D Touch, he adds with emphasis, “is something we’ve been working on for a long time—multi, multi, multi years.”
The Apple design studio, like Stonehenge, is more mystical in the imagination than in real life. It’s open plan, with thirtysomethings of indiscriminate nationality, and very discriminate grooming, working quietly in front of desktop iMacs. There are long wooden break tables near a small kitchen with a gleaming espresso machine that appears more worshiped than used. The floors are concrete. The music is indie, the lighting crisp. The wall-length bookcase has the meticulously unarranged look of every design bookstore you’ve ever lost an hour in.
The only hint that this is Apple’s magic room is a curtain. Behind it, says Ive, is the industrial design studio, where there are explorations in progress, milling machines, and a few remarkable futuristic things that he cannot, alas, remark upon. 3D Touch came to life back there.
Several years ago the designers and engineers realized that phones contained so many functions—messaging, maps, apps, links, photos, songs—that people were wasting a lot of time retreating to the home button to bounce between them. This is the ne plus ultra of First World problems, but Apple exists, unapologetically, to eradicate even the tiniest bit of friction between its products and its users. “‘Inevitable’ is the word we use a lot,” says Alan Dye, Apple’s vice president of user interface design. “We want the way you use our products to feel inevitable.”
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