Jony Ive, Still King of Design
Jony Ive let us know that we should expect "new materials" in "future stuff." In an interview with The New York Times, Sir Jony said that he's been working with some new materials for several years, though he didn't offer any specifics.
"I would love to talk about future stuff," Sir Jony said in the interview. "They’re materials we haven’t worked in before. I’ve been working on this stuff for a few years now."
The context for the comment is Apple's holistic approach towards design, an approach that takes into account the properties of the materials it uses.
"Form and the material and process," he said. "They are beautifully intertwined, completely connected. Unless we understand a certain material—metal or resin and plastic—understanding the processes that turn it from ore, for example, we can never develop and define form that’s appropriate."
The Ops Guy
He also noted that Apple CEO Tim Cook has been involved with Apple's design team for as long as he's been with the company. From the interview:
I remember clearly a time when we made plastic portable computers, and Steve and Tim and I sat down and said we wanted to build an incredibly thin and light portable computer. There was a whole range of challenges from an engineering point of view: How it worked in a new material, titanium. That meant we had to completely redesign and discover new partners to work with, hire a whole new organization. [...] Tim is fundamentally involved in pushing into these new areas and into these materials.
This really hearkens back to his point about working with a material throughout the design process. Tim Cook is the mastermind behind Apple's supply chain, and any time Apple develops a new manufacturing process, that involves the supply chain. In that light, it makes perfect sense that Mr. Cook would be involved with design, even if that's not a trait we normally associate with him.
What New Mats?
The first unknown new material that springs to mind is synthetic sapphire, a substance Apple is working with GT Advanced Technologies to produce in unprecedented quantities in Arizona. The company is expected to use it for the next two iPhones as well as the iWatch, though Apple hasn't confirmed its plans for the substance.
Apple has also been rumored to be working with Liquidmetal, a material it could use with cases. Again, Apple hasn't confirmed such rumors, and there is no known deal to acquire the material, but it's something we could see soon.
One of the more subtle aspects of Jony Ive's comments is what he didn't say. Unlike most companies, Apple is very quick to kill off products very early in the development process. The flip side is that once a product hits a critical point, it will almost assuredly ship.
So, when Sir Jony says that he's been working with a new material for several years, you can be absolutely sure it's something that Apple intends to deliver to market. In this case, I suspect that it also means will be seeing it in the near future, certainly within the next 18 months. That's pretty exciting.
The full interview is very interesting, though it was published in transcript form and is somewhat raw. I recommend it as a great read.