Ive and his team of close-knit industrial designers have blessed the world with many iconic products, including the iMac, iPod, iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch over the last 20 years.
These are all devices that have changed the world. But in some ways, Ive’s obsession with stripping everything down to its purest form has also been the source of much frustration for users. Instead of products that provide the best form and function, in recent years, Apple products have felt too compromised.
Though many will view Ive’s departure from Apple as a turn for the worse — “The genius of Steve Jobs and Ive will never be matched; Apple is doomed!” — I see his leave as an opportunity for the company to embrace a new chapter of more sensible devices. Devices that are familiar, but better suit the many different kinds of users that have helped grow Apple into one of the most valuable companies in the world.
It’s unlikely Apple without Ive will vomit a dizzying lineup of new devices the same way the company did in the late ’80s to early ’90s under former CEO John Sculley. And I don’t expect Ive’s influence to suddenly disappear overnight.
However, I strongly feel Apple’s industrial designers are at inflection point where they can step out of Ive’s shadow and improve on existing products by breaking with some of the principles he was so unrelenting on.
A decade since the iPhone’s introduction, Apple’s most revolutionary product now faces fierce assault from every direction. The iPhone no longer has one main rival (Samsung), but myriad competition, especially from China (Huawei, Xiaomi, OnePlus, Oppo, etc.)
iPhone sales flatlined as prices became too high, hardware became more than good enough to last beyond two years, and Android phone alternatives have introduced irresistible mobile innovations such as notch- and hole-free displays, in-display fingerprint readers, and cameras capable of shooting ultra-wide photos and stunning night shots.
In comparison, the iPhone — as fantastic as the iPhone XR and XS/XS Max are — feel like they’re falling behind. This year’s new iPhones are expected to keep the same designs but add an ultra-wide camera inside of a big protruding bump.
New software and services, faster performance, and improved cameras are all great features, but consumers want more visible change for the iPhone.
Under Ive, the iPhone went on a diet until it became arguably too thin with the iPhone 6, which culminated in bendgate. Slowly, but surely, the iPhone has thickened with each new model going from the iPhone 6’s 6.9mm profile to 8.3mm on the iPhone XR.
I can’t speak for everyone, but anecdotally, I see more people with iPhone XRs than iPhone XS or XS Max. Not to mention almost everyone puts their iPhones in cases or carries battery packs or cases. This suggests to me people might not mind a thicker phone if the tradeoff’s for, say, a bigger battery or a camera that doesn’t jut out. It would be smart for Apple’s industrial team to take these use cases into consideration for any future iPhones.
“Consumers want more visible change for the iPhone.”
We’ve been hearing for years that the iPhone might switch to USB-C. It hasn’t happened under Ive’s watch. USB-C would mean one less proprietary cable to carry around. While it seems unlikely Apple would sever the healthy revenue it collects from third-party companies that license its Lightning tech, a thicker iPhone — even a millimeter or two — would allow physical room for USB-C to fit. USB-C would also endow the iPhone with iPad Pro-like functionality, like the ability to connect to monitors and USB-C flash drives.
A new smaller iPhone with a notch-free display and in-display Touch ID fingerprint reader could also compete with Android phones with the same features. Analyst Ming-Chi Kuo claimsa 5.4-inch iPhone is reportedly slated for 2020 and a Credit Suisse analyst says Apple’s working on an in-display fingerprint reader, despite insisting Face ID is the better and more natural biometric system for iPhones.
Future MacBooks and iMacs
I’ve outlined before what the death of the 12-inch MacBook could mean for future Apple laptops. Namely, this is Apple’s chance to kill its almost controversial “butterfly keyboard” and switch back to scissor-style keys with more travel. Similarly, Apple can dump the Touch Bar and bring back the row of function keys while still keeping Touch ID inside of the power button like on the MacBook Air.
Like the iPhone, I wouldn’t mind if Apple made the MacBook Air and Pro marginally thicker and heavier to add in a touchscreen (gorilla arm is such a myth), higher-resolution webcam with Face ID, a memory card slot, and MagSafe. These features would put MacBooks more on par with Windows-powered alternatives such as the excellent Surface Laptop 2 and Google Pixelbook.
And while Apple’s at it making MacBooks a few hairs thicker, why not make internal components like the storage, RAM, and battery user-replaceable again? Soldering the SSD and RAM is good for making thin machines, but terrible for upgrades, repairs, and adds to e-waste.
iMacs could also use a post-Ive revamp beyond a space gray colorway; the current design’s gone virtually unchanged since 2012. As a desktop — a computer that doesn’t move around much (if ever) — Apple has a lot more room to be bolder.
Who is the iMac for? What do people want it to do that it can’t? I imagine creatives would love an iMac that borrows from Microsoft’s Surface Studio 2 and has drafting table-like capabilities. A touchscreen with multi-touch and Apple Pencil support using a tilting stand would be neat.
Design-wise, I’d love a Retina display that reaches closer to the edges with slimmer bezels like on the upcoming Pro Display XDR and does away with the iMac’s “chin.”
Face ID login, a new Magic Mouse that corrects this horrendous can’t-use-while-charging design, and user-swappable storage and RAM, or even a screen that rotates vertically like the Pro Display XDR would reimagine the iMac as a formidable modern all-in-one computer.
Apple Watch, Apple TV, HomePod, and beyond
The Apple TV could become the game console it’s always been meant to be with its own Apple-designed gamepad; it makes even more sense with the launch of Apple Arcade this fall. The Apple TV’s Siri Remote could also use tweaking — small changes so that it’s easier to know which side is up or down.
The sky really is the limit for the industrial design team Ive leaves behind. I’m not saying they should run wild and pull a Samsung with future iPhones or MacBooks that use unproven technologies like foldable screens or even release the rumored AR glasses. But bumping utility — real practical needs — higher up on the priority list could help ring in a new Apple era that’s less tone deaf.
Apple reportedly acquires VR startup ‘Spaces’
Apple has now acquired another startup, Spaces, which has a team specialized in virtual reality technologies (VR). The acquisition was announced today by a Protocol report citing its own sources.
Spaces was created in 2016 by DreamWorks Animation veterans, and the startup has been developing VR products since then, including a Zoom add-on that allowed users to hold virtual reality video conferencing using animated avatars.
The company discontinued all its services last week without further details. The official Spaces website just mentions that the startup is now “heading in a new direction.”
Thank you to our users and partners who participated in our awesome VR video conferencing product and the many people who enjoyed our VR location-based entertainment attractions found at theme parks, theaters, and more.
According to the Protocol report, both Apple and Spaces did not immediately respond to a request for a comment on the acquisition. The price paid by Apple on the Spaces startup is also unknown.
While it’s not certain that the team behind Spaces will join any VR related project at Apple, rumors suggest that Apple is working on AR and VR headsets for 2021 and 2022. Bloomberg says the headset will reportedly feature high-resolution displays and a “cinematic speaker system,” which should make it difficult for the user to notice the differences between real life and the virtual reality experiences the headset will provide.
As Apple continues to invest in its ARKit and new features such as the LiDAR scanner in the new 2020 iPad Pro, it’s plausible to expect that all of these technologies will be merged into a new product to offer advanced augmented and virtual reality capabilities.
Huawei Suddenly Strikes At Google With New ‘Fight’ To Beat Android
“The world has been suffering for a long time,” rotating Huawei chairman Guo Ping told employees during a pep talk this week, referring to the lock Google has on the Android ecosystem. And so ended the executive silence on President Trump’s latest salvo, cutting Huawei’s access to the chipsets powering its flagship smartphones. Guo admitted the new sanctions would “cause certain difficulties… especially for high-end mobile phones,” but assured employees that “I believe we can solve them.”
The focus of Guo’s remarks was Huawei’s answer to the loss of Google from those mobile phones. Its alternative has been in the works since last year—part HarmonyOS operating system that can run across phones and other smart devices, but mostly the HMS replacement for Google Mobile Services, the apps and underlying services that drive the Android ecosystem. Huawei now has 600 million users on its ecosystem. This is a change that impacts all of those who stay with the brand.
“The world is also looking forward to a new open system,” Guo said. “And since Huawei helped Android to succeed, why not make our own system successful?” The devil’s very much in the detail here. HMS may be bigger, brighter and bolder, as Huawei claims, but the timing of its full HarmonyOS deployment on a smartphone remains unclear. Reports that this would happen by the end of this calendar year, perhaps as soon as with the launch of the imminent Mate 40, have been denied.
“HMS must have a ‘Foolish Old Man Moving Mountain Spirit’,” Guo said to rally his audience, “no matter how high the mountain is, dig an inch or less, persist and fight for a long time, we will definitely succeed.”
There is nothing especially new in these bullish HMS remarks. What is new, though, is the idea that anything can still be on track despite the admission from the company that its stockpiled custom chipsets will only see it through the launch of the Mate 40, with analysis assuming depletion early-ish next year. And right now there is no Plan-B, given that Trump has cut access to third-party alternatives.
“Don’t waste an opportunity in a crisis,” Guo Ping said of the latest U.S. attack, telling his audience that Huawei will invest heavily in HiSilicon to overcome the impact of the U.S. ban, albeit that will take time. “HiSilicon will grow stronger in several years,” he said, suggesting that the U.S. had created a situation that would ultimately work in Huawei’s favour, as long as everyone seized upon it.
Guo described the company’s decision to launch HMS as “brave,” and that “it was not an easy decision for us, as a smartphone company, to develop our own Huawei Mobile Services ecosystem. It’s very difficult and very challenging. But we delivered a better-than-expected script for the first year.”
Huawei has maintained throughout its time on the U.S. blacklist that it wants nothing more than a return to normal—where normal is Google restored to its new devices. But the longer this situation continues, the more one can assume Huawei isn’t going to backtrack on HMS, not given that it secures a future for the company’s smartphones that’s not reliant on U.S. tech.
Until now, Huawei execs have been notably diplomatic over the loss of Google and their preference being to restore the relationship between the two organizations. That’s why these comments are so remarkable—it’s a surprisingly hard stance with surprisingly emotive language to take over Google and the competitive landscape that may now emerge.
As hard as replacing Google is—and many analysts suggest it is near impossible, the chipset issue is much worse. But Huawei looks intent on playing a long-game, with the balance sheet to do so. As reported by China’s state-controlled Global Times, Guo “compared cultivating HMS as a protracted war that Huawei is destined to win in the end,” telling his audience (and Google) that “it’s plausible to have two systems in a world. And Huawei will be able to survive and take the lead even in an extremely hostile environment.”
Facebook now lets you customize your Watch video feed with #Topics
Facebook’s video destination, Facebook Watch, is introducing a new feature called “Your Topics” that will allow you to tailor its feed to include more of the content you want to see. Currently, Facebook leverages its existing understanding of each viewer’s interests to personalize the Watch Feed. Topics, however, will allow users to more explicitly tell Facebook what sort of things they like by exploring and subscribing to various content categories.
The feature has been quietly rolling out to Facebook users in recent days, and now some portion of the user base already has the feature in their own Facebook app.
Among the first to notice the new addition was Twitter user @whimchic, who regularly spots updates and changes to mobile applications before they’re made public.
— whimchic (@whimchic) August 31, 2020
They were alerted to the feature through a pop-up within Watch on the Facebook mobile app, we’re told. Here, a message explained that Facebook will now focus on showing more of the videos related to the #Topics you follow.
“Due to the many different ways your Watch feed is determined and how videos get categorized, you may see videos in your Watch feed that you aren’t interested in,” the message also warned. “Some videos related to the #Topics or Pages you follow may not appear in your Watch feed,” it noted.
If you have the feature, you can access it for yourself by clicking on the Profile icon in the Facebook Watch tab on mobile, then clicking on the link to “Your Topics” to browse the available categories.
The subcategories which you can actually follow or unfollow are grouped underneath broader category pages, like Animals, Art & Design, Books, Business, Education, Fashion & Style, Food, Games, History & Philosophy, Home & Garden, Music, Performing Arts, Science & Tech, Sports, Travel & Leisure, TV & Movies and Transportation.
However, you can’t follow these high-level categories themselves — you have to click inside them to follow the individual topics. These can be very specific. For example, within Animals, you could follow #EndangeredSpecies or #GoldenRetrievers. Within Travel & Leisure, you could follow #TravelOceania or #WinterActivities. And so on.
But the subcategory listings are not comprehensive. Upon testing the feature within the Facebook app on my iPhone, a search for many other possible topics yielded no results. (What, no #Corgi videos?!) This, of course, could change in time as the feature is expanded.
Once you follow a topic, a message will confirm your choice and then the topic will appear under “Topics You Follow” in the Your Topics section of Facebook Watch.
From here, you can choose to unfollow the topic later if you decide you want to see less of it in your feed. And if you want to watch only videos from a given topic, you can tap the topic to delve into a customized feed.https://platform.twitter.com/embed/index.html?creatorScreenName=sarahintampa&dnt=true&embedId=twitter-widget-1&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1300640943331258369&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Ftechcrunch.com%2F2020%2F09%2F02%2Ffacebook-now-lets-you-customize-your-watch-video-feed-with-topics%2F&siteScreenName=techcrunch&theme=light&widgetsVersion=219d021%3A1598982042171&width=550px
— whimchic (@whimchic) September 1, 2020
The feature is now one of several ways users can personalize and filter their broader Facebook Watch feed.
You can also filter the feed by Live, Music, Following, Shows, Gaming and more, by tapping on the buttons at the top of the screen or from the What’s on Watch category picker that shows up as you scroll further down the Watch Feed.
Facebook also adds groupings like its editorially curated “Get Caught Up” section with videos from paid partners, or those groupings that are more algorithmically sorted, like the one with videos that got the most “HaHa’s” or “Loves” this week, or those that are popular with friends.
The new feature could make Facebook Watch more competitive with YouTube, where there’s historically been a heavier focus on connecting users with individual channels to subscribe to. But YouTube has also embraced Topics in its own way, with broad categories like “Gaming” and “Fashion & Beauty” that are now a part of its main navigation. And it puts personalized topics at the top of the home page directing signed-in users to categories of videos they tend to watch.
Twitter, of course, has its own Topics feature, too, which showcases top tweets that match a particular interest. These may or may not contain videos, however.
Reached for comment, a Facebook spokesperson confirmed the addition of Topics, saying “we’re working on more ways to connect people with videos that match their interests.” No further details were provided.