When I first saw the new Mac Pro, introduced by Phil Schiller at the WWDC Keynote, I had a vague feeling that I'd seen that design element before. The cylindrical tower of power. I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but my brain was nagging me. What was it?
At first, I thought of Apple's retail store, the glass cylinder in Shanghai.
Apple's reail store entrance in Shanghai. (Credit: Apple)
My brain said, no, that's not exactly what I was feeling.
Next, I thought about the original Cray I, I-A and II series of supercomputers. The Cray I was first installed at the Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico in 1976, and its iconic cylindrical design was no accident, according to Cray. "In order to increase the speed of this system, the Cray-1 had a unique "C" shape which enabled integrated circuits to be closer together. No wire in the system was more than four feet long."
By the way, if you're curious (I know you are) that Cray I supercomputer cost US$8.8M (back then) and was rated at 160 megaflops compared to the new Mac Pro's 7.5 teraflops, about 47,000 times faster.
And yet... and yet.... that still wasn't what the back of my brain was telegraphing to me.
I was thinking of something dark.
With access panels on the outside.
And low level indicator lights.
With spooky blue power exuding from its internal cylindrical aperture.
And then it hit me. I finally found it.
That's it! Of course, the actual Mac Pro is quite a bit smaller. But I suppose one could place a 4-inch action figure of Obi Wan Kenobi next it it on the desk, someday, and have the same effect.
From my own experience, I can see how these subliminal ideas percolate in the mind of a creator and get all mushed together. What comes out is something fresh and original, but the seeds may well have been in exposure to previous concepts. Then, they're combined with natural mathematical and engineering concepts to come up with something new, but subconsciously reminiscent of something else.
That's what often grants a certain je ne sai quoi feel to a great design. Jonathan Ive is brilliant that way.