Google TV 78-Button Remote and Apple's Design Process

Ever wondered why the remote for the Apple TV has just three buttons? According to an inside look at Apple University by The New York Times' Brian Chen, Apple's team started with the idea of what a remote control does. Then they pared it down until it was stripped to its purest form, an aluminum stick with three buttons.

Compare that to one of Sony's remotes designed for Google TV. 78 buttons. It's a mess. According to The Times' sources, Apple makes just this comparison in a course called "What Makes Apple, Apple" (note the lack of a question mark in that title). The company uses this example to drive home the differences in its approach to designing products.

We aren't sure which remote was shown, but here's one that Business Insider found in an unrelated ABC report:


Let's compare that to Apple's three-button remote:

1 button to play and pause, 1 button to select.
1 button to take you home and in the darkness watch TV.

The lesson Apple is driving home with this comparison is that one of these products is the result of every engineer getting what he or she wanted. The other is the result of a process where people are ruthlessly saying no.

In another class, Apple employees are treated to a discussion of Picasso's The Bull project, a series of 11 lithographs that deconstruct (or construct, depending on which order you go) a bull from its entire form to its purest stick-figure essence. You can see some of the lithographs in the series at The Times's website.

The article is a rare look inside Apple University, the internal training program for employees that is designed to institutionalize the Apple way of doing things. It was one of Steve Jobs main focuses in the final years of his life, and it's one of the reasons I have argued that people claiming Apple's best days are behind it are dead wrong.

Bullet points that are new information about the program:

  • Apple University is offered year-round.
  • Some instructors are university professors who are moonlighting at Apple.
  • Apple tailors course packages for your job.
  • Apple "may" have put together a course specific for Beats employees.
  • Apple has courses designed for the executives of acquired companies.
  • Courses are mainly taught at buildings called "City Center," and classrooms are trapezoids.
  • Instructors are sometimes flown to other locations around the world to teach people on-site.

If you find this topic interesting, read the full article for more insight.