By John Gruber
Ben Thompson’s take, published yesterday, makes several interesting points. He astutely observes that Ive’s newly-promoted lieutenants, Alan Dye (UI design) and Richard Howarth (industrial design), both were featured prominently in recent feature articles granting access to Apple executives:
The message again, is clear: when Ive took over software, Dye was there.
Indeed, taken as a whole, this entire episode is a masterful display of public relations: plant the seeds of this story in two articles — ostensibly about the Watch — that provide unprecedented access to Apple broadly and Apple’s design team in particular, and happen to highlight two designers in particular, neither of whom had any public profile to date (kind of — as John Gruber and I discussed on The Talk Show — Dye is a polarizing figure in Apple circles). Then, after a presumably successful Watch launch, announce on a holiday — when the stock market is closed — that these two newly public designers have newly significant roles at Apple.
A “masterful display of public relations” feels exactly right. With one exception, though: clarifying the degree of Ive’s ongoing involvement in Apple’s design work.
[A brief interpolation on Alan Dye as a “polarizing” figure within Apple: It’s not about his personality (a la Scott Forstall, or maybe even Tony Fadell), but rather Dye’s background in branding and graphic design. The Dye-led redesigns of iOS 7 and OS X Yosemite — and the new design of the Apple Watch OS — are “flat” in large part because “flat” is how modern graphic design looks. Suffice it to say, there were (and remain) people within Apple who consider this trend a mistake — that what makes for good graphic design does not necessarily make for good user interface design, and often makes for bad user interface design. Another way to look at it is that when Ive consolidated UI design under his purview, he and Dye more or less assembled a new team. This sort of thing invariably ruffled feathers from the prior UI designers in the company — especially those who worked under Forstall on the iOS team.
Anyway, personality-wise, I’ve heard nothing but good things about Dye — that he’s anti-political, pro-designer, and easy to get along with. End interpolation.]
There are two basic ways to read this news. The first is to take Apple at its word — that this is a promotion for Ive that will let him focus more of attention on, well, design. That he’s delegating management administrivia to Dye and Howarth, not decreasing his involvement in supervising the actual design work. The second way — the cynical way — is that this is the first step to Ive easing his way out the door, and that his new title is spin to make the news sound good rather than bad.
In short: is this truly a promotion for Ive, or is it (as Thompson punctuated it) a quote-unquote “promotion”?
One reason for skepticism is the odd way the story was announced, via a feature profile of Ive (and to a lesser degree, Tim Cook) by Stephen Fry. It was an odd article and an even odder way for Apple to announce the news. One line from the article caught many observers’ attention (boldface emphasis added):
When I catch up with Ive alone, I ask him why he has seemingly relinquished the two departments that had been so successfully under his control. “Well, I’m still in charge of both,” he says, “I am called Chief Design Officer. Having Alan and Richard in place frees me up from some of the administrative and management work which isn’t … which isn’t …”
“Which isn’t what you were put on this planet to do?”
“Exactly. Those two are as good as it gets. Richard was lead on the iPhone from the start. He saw it all the way through from prototypes to the first model we released. Alan has a genius for human interface design. So much of the Apple Watch’s operating system came from him. With those two in place I can …”
I could feel him avoiding the phrase “blue sky thinking”… think more freely?”
Jony will travel more, he told me. Among other things, he will bring his energies to bear — as he has already since their inception — on the Apple Stores that are proliferating around the world. The company’s retail spaces have been one of their most extraordinary successes.
From my own first take on the news:
Part of the story is that Ive is going to “travel more”, which I take to mean “live in England”.
That seems like an odd jump to make — from “travel more” to “live in England” — but it was based on two factors: the news being announced in a London newspaper, and the widespread speculation that Ive and his wife had been thinking about moving to England with their children since 2011. That speculation is entirely based on this Sunday Times piece on Ive’s compensation — behind a paywall, alas, but the Daily Mail summarized the Times’s report thus:
However, despite the ‘rock star’ status Essex-born Ive has in the design world, with his work lauded by peers and used by millions around the world, the newspaper said his desire to ‘commute’ from his £2.5million manor house in Somerset was being opposed by bosses at the technology company, who want him to stay in the U.S.
He and wife Heather, who met while they were studying at Newcastle Polytechnic, are said to want to educate their twins in England.
Ive, like all of his colleagues in Apple senior management, is intensely private. Neither he, nor Apple, to my knowledge have ever said a word confirming or denying the Times’s claim that he wanted to spend more time in England and send their children to school there.
[Update: I failed to remember this bit from Ian Parker’s recent New Yorker profile of Ive:
Ive told me that he never planned to move: he and his wife bought the house for family vacations, and sold it when it was underused. But he also connected the sale to what he called inaccurate reporting, in the London Times, in early 2011, claiming that Apple’s board had thwarted his hope of a relocation; he did not want to be shadowed by gossip.
So he has refuted it. File it under spin if you will, but it doesn’t make sense to me for Ive to say this to The New Yorker if his true intentions were to take steps to do just the opposite a few months later.]
Having thought about this some more, though, today, in 2015, we can maybe call bullshit on this aspect of the Times report. His twins are now 10 years old. They’re already being educated — in California. He’s clearly not bolting from Apple any time soon — even if this is a precursor to him leaving eventually, we’re talking about a few years down the road. And “a few years” from now his children will be even older. Again: Ive may be winding down, and he may, someday, return to England. But the time is running out — if it hasn’t already — that his family would return to England to raise their children there. I don’t ever expect Jony Ive to drop the “aluminium”, but he and his family are Californians.
A simpler way to look at this would be to see Ive having been promoted to, effectively, the new Steve Jobs: the overseer and arbiter of taste for anything and everything the company touches. One difference: Jobs, famously, was intimately involved with Apple’s advertising campaigns. Cook, in his internal memo, wrote: “Jony’s design responsibilities have expanded from hardware and, more recently, software UI to the look and feel of Apple retail stores, our new campus in Cupertino, product packaging and many other parts of our company.” But, still, it’s hard not to read Cook’s description of Ive’s responsibilities as pretty much matching those of Steve Jobs while he was CEO.
Lastly, a title can just be a title, but Apple has only had three C-level executives in the modern era (excepting CFOs, whose positions are legally mandated): Jobs (CEO, duh) Cook (COO under Jobs, now CEO), and now Jony Ive (CDO).1 It’s possible this title is more ceremonial than practical, but Tim Cook doesn’t strike me as being big on ceremony. Apple doesn’t exactly throw around senior vice-presidentships lightly, either, but a new C-level title is almost unprecedented.
I can see Cook-Ive as a sort of titular reversal of the Jobs-Cook C-level leadership duo. Cook oversees operations and “running the company”; Ive oversees everything else. So they created a new title to convey the authority Ive already clearly wielded, and promoted Dye and Howarth, his trusted lieutenants, to free him from administrative drudgery. I could be wrong, and we’ll know after a few years, but that’s my gut feeling today. ★
One small oddity. As of this writing it’s been over two days since Ive’s promotion was announced, but Apple’s “Executive Profiles” page still hasn’t been updated. Usually Apple has things like this staged and ready to go. Update: A few readers have suggested that Apple legally can’t update this page yet, because the new titles aren’t effective until July 1. Makes sense. So maybe file this entire footnoted “oddity” under “never mind”. ↩︎︎
If you press this button, these are the potential events that will transpire on your Watch’s screen:
- You’ll be taken to the “watch face” view.
- You’ll be taken to the “home screen” app view.
- You’ll stay in the “home screen” view, but it will re-center on the “watch face” app.
- You’ll move from a detailed view of a notification back to the notifications summary.
His proposed solution:
Fortunately there is an easy fix for this confusion, which is to streamline the Digital Crown so that it focuses exclusively on the Watch’s two homes. Pressing the Digital Crown should simply toggle you back and forth between the “watch face” and the “home screen.” (Its other functionality could all be achieved through other means; for instance, you can already re-orient the “home screen” simply by dragging your finger across the Watch’s screen.) That’s still more complicated than the iPhone home button, but it’s the kind of thing most users would pick up in a matter of minutes using the Watch. And it has a conceptual clarity that is sorely lacking in the current design.
His whole piece is worth reading, because it aptly describes, almost exactly, how I felt about Apple Watch after using it for just a few days. Several of his complaints, which I would have agreed with in my first few days of Apple Watch use, I no longer consider problems.1 And even now, with seven weeks of daily Apple Watch experience under my belt, when I first read his suggestion for simplifying the digital crown button, I was nodding my head in agreement. But when I sat down to write about it, I realized there’s really only one small thing I would suggest Apple change: the last of its four roles noted by Johnson — its function as a hardware “back” button while looking at the detail view for a notification.
Otherwise, I would keep the functionality of the crown button as-is:
That looks more complicated than it is. And I’m even leaving out at least one other scenario: when you’ve put your home screen into edit mode — where you can delete and rearrange the installed apps — pressing the crown takes you out of editing mode.
Here’s a better way to think about it — and without thinking about it, the reason why I think most people aren’t frustrated or confused by the crown button after a week or so. It’s best to think of Apple Watch as having two modes: watch mode, and app mode.
You do not need to understand this to use the watch. Most Apple Watch owners will never really think about this. But this idea of two modes is central to understanding the design of the overall interaction model.
Watch mode is where you take quick glances at information and notifications; app mode is where you go to “do something”. Watch mode is where most people will spend the majority — perhaps the overwhelming majority — of their time using Apple Watch. App mode is a simple one-level hierarchy for “everything else”.
If you think about Apple Watch as having these two modes, the role of the crown button is clear:
Consider: What happens when you press the digital crown button while in, say, the Weather app? The answer is: It depends how you got there. If you start from the home screen and tap the Weather app icon, the digital crown button returns you to the home screen. If you start from the watch face, though, and launch the full Weather app by tapping the Weather glance, then the digital crown button returns you to the watch face.
This sounds confusing. And if you’re expecting Apple Watch’s digital crown button to work like iOS’s home button, it is not the expected behavior. But in practice, I think it works very well. I suspect this arrangement wasn’t designed in advance but was instead the result of many months of play-testing by the designers on the Apple Watch team.
Again, I agree with Johnson that if you’re looking at a notification detail view, the crown should take you all the way back to the watch face. You have to tap on screen to get into a notification detail view, and they all have a large “Dismiss” button at the bottom if going “back” is what you want. “Back” just doesn’t feel right for the digital crown button. It should simply mean go home in the current mode, or, if you’re already home, switch to the other mode.
I don’t mind the “re-center and re-zoom on the clock app” extra action for the digital crown button. To me, it’s directly analogous to the way the home button takes you back to the first home screen in iOS. More importantly, you don’t have to go back to the watch face (or, as I’m referencing it here, watch “mode”). That just happens automatically when you lower your wrist and stay away from the watch for 30 seconds. You don’t have to “clean up” and go back to the watch face manually. It just happens automatically when you stop using the watch. A few special apps behave otherwise — Workout and Remote, so far — but in both of those cases that makes sense. And, yes, there is a setting (General → Activate on Wrist Raise → Resume To) that allows you to always return to the last-used app, but I don’t see why anyone would use that unless they stubbornly insist upon treating their Apple Watch like a miniature iPhone. Another way to think of this option is as a toggle between treating “watch mode” and “app mode” as the primary mode.
Another insight: the side button exists outside either mode. It behaves the same way no matter which mode you’re in, no matter what you’re doing. One press of the side button brings up your Friends circle. A double-press initiates Apple Pay. In either case — Friends circle or Apple Pay — pressing (or double-pressing) the digital crown button dismisses the side button mode you entered. ★
For example, the idea that you should be able to swipe up from anywhere — not just from the watch face — to see glances. A lot of people seem to have this complaint early on. The thought had occurred to me, too. But it clearly wouldn’t work. In other contexts, swiping your finger up on the display scrolls the content, including the home screen, where you need to pan around to see all your apps. Apple would only enable glances globally if they forced you to use the digital crown for scrolling, or, if they enabled glances only as a swipe up from the very bottom edge of the display. Notification Center and Control Center work that way on iOS, which allows them not to conflict with regular old scrolling and panning. But I’m nearly certain that the watch display is too small to make that distinction. You’d find yourself scrolling when you wanted to bring up Glances and bringing up Glances when you wanted to scroll. It’d be maddening. The Watch OS “back” shortcut — swiping from the left to go back in a view hierarchy — is an edge gesture, but that’s OK because if you miss the edge, nothing happens. ↩︎
As more people get their news on mobile devices, we want to make the experience faster and richer on Facebook. People share a lot of articles on Facebook, particularly on our mobile app. To date, however, these stories take an average of eight seconds to load, by far the slowest single content type on Facebook. Instant Articles makes the reading experience as much as ten times faster than standard mobile web articles.
A few thoughts:
This looks beautiful. Clearly it’s built by the team that did Facebook Paper, with things like the way you tilt the phone to pan around large photos. The knock against Paper is that it only “works” if your friends and family post beautiful, well-crafted content to their Facebook feeds, and, well, that’s not the case for most people. Instant Articles, on the other hand, is all about professionally-produced content.
I’m intrigued by the emphasis on speed. Not only is native mobile code winning for app development, but with things like Instant Articles, native is making the browser-based web look like a relic even just for publishing articles. If I’m right about that, it might pose a problem even for my overwhelmingly-text work at Daring Fireball. Daring Fireball pages load fast, but the pages I link to often don’t. I worry that the inherent slowness of the web and ill-considered trend toward over-produced web design is going to start hurting traffic to DF.
There’s also a convenience advantage over per-publication native apps. People are already checking Facebook many times a day on their phones. When they encounter these Instant Articles, they’re one tap and a moment away from reading them. People just don’t check many apps — check the New York Times, check National Geographic, check BBC News — that just isn’t how people use their phones. At best, standalone per-publication apps can get our attention through notifications, but notifications are bothersome in a way that something scrolling through your Facebook feed is not. And an aggregator of content from multiple sources — like, say, Flipboard, to name one obvious competitor — is asking users to check an extra app every day. There are only so many apps people will check for “new stuff” every day.
Like Paper, Facebook Instant Articles is iPhone-only, and from what I can tell, Facebook hasn’t said a word about Android support. (Paper is even
North America US-only — Instant Articles are supported worldwide.) Many are presuming it’s forthcoming, but Paper remains iOS-only. For the moment at least, Facebook isn’t really treating “mobile” as their first-class target platform — they’re treating the iPhone as their first-class target platform. (Instant Articles isn’t even available on iPad yet.)
I’ve been skeptical about this whole thing from the publishers’ angle. Seems dangerous to cede control over your content to a company like Facebook. But it sounds like the business aspects are very favorable. Publishers can use their own ads and keep 100 percent of the money; if Facebook sells the ads, they use a 70/30 App Store-style split of the money. And there’s no exclusivity. ★