Jony Ive: Why Experience Is More Important Than Megapixels

Jony Ive with Craig Federighi, Apple's senior vice president of software engineering. (Photo: Apple)

Jony Ive with Craig Federighi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering.

With the launch of two new iPhones, Apple’s top designer Jonathan Ive granted very rare back-to-back interviews with USA Today and Bloomberg Businessweek.

Having read everything he’s ever said in preparation for my book about him (due mid-November), I recognized the usual Jony Ive talking points; the striving for simplicity, the importance of caring, and so on.

But there are a couple of paragraphs in the USA Today that especially gave me a strong sense of Deja vu.

Here’s Jony Ive talking about the new iPhones, explaining why Apple isn’t touting the camera’s megapixels:

It’s just easier to talk about product attributes that you can measure with a number. Focus on price, screen size, that’s easy. But there’s a more difficult path, and that’s to make better products, ones where maybe you can’t measure their value empirically.

This is terribly important and at the heart of what we do. We care about how to design the inside of something you’ll never see, because we think it’s the right thing to do.

And here he is 1998, talking about the Bondi-Blue iMac:

[The computer industry] is an industry where there is an obsession about product attributes that you can measure empirically. How fast is it? How big is the hard drive? How fast is the CD? That is a very comfortable space to compete in because you can say eight is better than six.

“It’s also very inhuman and very cold. Because of the industry’s obsession with absolutes, there has been a tendency to ignore product attributes that are difficult to measure or talk about. In that sense, the industry has missed out on the more emotive, less tangible product attributes. But to me, that is why I bought an Apple computer in the first place. That is why I came to work for Apple. It’s because I’ve always sensed that Apple had a desire to do more than the bare minimum. It wasn’t just going to do what was functionally and empirically necessary. In the early stuff, I got a sense that care was taken even on details, hard and soft, that people may never discover.”

In both cases, Ive was discussing Apple’s philosophy of designing not products, but experiences. It’s a slippery concept, and hard to wrap your mind around because what you think you’re buying is a concrete product, like a gold iPhone 5s.

But when designing the product, Jony Ive and his team are focused on the experience of using the product, and that guides their design decisions. So, for example, as he explains in the interview, they don’t choose a sensor because it has more megapixels, but because it delivers better pictures.

Apple tried to articulate this in the recent “Designed by Apple” advertising campaign, which starts: “This is what matters. The experience of a product.”

The Designed by Apple campaign is a direct update of Apple’s famous “Think Different” campaign. With Think Different, Steve Jobs was sending a message to Apple’s staff about what mattered: returning to Apple’s roots of invention and innovation. It was a statement of the company’s values. Designed by Apple is a post-Steve Jobs attempt to do the exact same thing; articulate drives Apple’s internal culture.

Leander’s new book about Jony Ive and the Apple design studio is out in November. Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Products is available for pre-order on Amazon.

USA Today: Jony Ive: The man behind Apple’s magic curtain
Bloomberg Businessweek: Apple Chiefs Discuss Strategy, Market Share—and the New iPhones

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About the author

Leander KahneyLeander Kahney is the editor and publisher of Cult of Mac. He is the NYT bestselling author of Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple's Greatest Products; Inside Steve’s Brain; Cult of Mac; and Cult of iPod. Leander has written for Wired, MacWeek, Scientific American, and The Guardian in London. Follow Leander on Twitter @lkahney and Facebook.

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