Recent events at and products from Apple suggest that there’s a re-emphasized focus on engineering.
Background: There’s been a lot of analysis lately about the impact of Sir Jony Ive’s departure from Apple. Much of it points to Ive’s tremendous and genuine contributions and then speculates that things might not be so bad after all in the future.
But there’s more going on.
What stood out for me in this discussion was the confluence of several events.
First, we got the 2019 Mac Pro. So powerful and brutish in its engineering design that it quickly earned the title “cheese grater 2.0.” Who would have thought that Apple would have the courage to return to this design given Apple’s recent emphasis on form over function? And yet, there it is in all its hardware and computational glory, function over form.
And then we got the cancellation of the MacBook. Engineering analysis suggests that the ultra slim case design couldn’t make the move into more powerful CPUs/GPUs/memory and storage. It had reached a technical dead end. Beloved, it had to go.
And just recently, there are hints that the ill-fated Butterfly keyboard may be on the way out. Digital Trends writes: “Evidence mounts that Apple will kill the MacBook’s butterfly switch keyboard.”
That Apple is reconsidering the scissor switch is an interesting thing to note, given its previous assertions that the butterfly switch provides “four times more key stability than a traditional scissor mechanism.” But it’s also not surprising, given the many, many times Apple has tried and failed to correct the problems plaguing the [butterfly] design.
Real, Pleasing Change
These real and surmised changes are something we have been unaccustomed to. Namely, Apple has recently lingered on with some uncomfortable design decisions and products that have mystified us. My feeing is that it was the result of design adamance by Ive versus more pragmatic thinking by COO Jeff Williams resulting in a standoff. See a MacRumors’s report.
One thing that may have helped the cause of COO Williams was his guiding of the Apple Watch into a health and fitness focus, which has been wildly successful, and away from the original Ive focus on fashion. That could explain why the US$10K solid gold model quickly disappeared.
These engineering decisions by Apple that I cited above are most welcome and suggest that the company we’ve loved for its legendary industrial design is back on track with a special focus on performance and product-line coherence. For more color on this, see Tim Bajarin’s excellent analysis. “Industrial Design And Operational Excellence Drives Apple’s Success.”
There’s a seemingly new atmosphere of engineering pragmatism, without sacrificing great design, and I suspect it’s being spearheaded by COO Jeff Williams.