The timing of both a new Apple patent application and where I was in Isaacson's biography this past week seemed to coincide perfectly. While our report presents you with a brief overview of Apple's latest toy for Jonathan Ive, the heart of this report really touches on Apple's Magical Design Studio that mercilessly cranked out one hit after another for the past decade to the chagrin of their competitors.
Jobs' Little Piece of Heaven: Apple's Design Studio
In the bigger picture, while I may not have liked Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs, there were certainly some real gems to be found. Our report posted earlier this week titled "Steve Jobs Secret Meeting to explore an iPod Phone is Revealing" covered one such gem. Another one presented here today is found in chapter twenty-six titled "Design Principles."
In context, I thought it only appropriate to point out how important, if not sacred, the design studio was to both Ive and Jobs. It was Jobs' little piece of heaven each day and it was definitely one of the recesses of Isaacson's book that put a smile on my face when thinking back on the life of Steve Jobs. We all witnessed his passion and subtle electricity in every keynote that he gave.
Yet, leading up to every keynote, there was his time in the design studio that inspired him. Seeing Apple's roadmap in the form of a full table of prototypes energized him. He wasn't a normal CEO who reviews new products by reading long dry reports, case studies, CAD drawings and spreadsheets. No, Steve needed to first connect with Apple's product at every level before he could imagine how he would deliver them to the public.
The following excerpts from Walter Isaacson's biography of Steve Jobs captures the magic of Apple's Design Studio:
"The design studio where Jony Ive reigns, on the ground floor of Two Infinite Loop on the Apple campus, is shielded by tinted windows and a heavy clad, locked door. Just inside is a glass-booth reception desk where two assistants guard access. Even the high-level Apple employees are not allowed in without special permission."
Almost every day when Jobs was "in the office, he would have lunch with Ive and wander by the studio in the afternoon. As he entered, he could survey the tables and see the products in the pipeline, sense how they fit into Apple's strategy, and inspect with his fingertips the evolving design of each."
Ive described a typical scenario of the process that would take place in Apple's design studio:
"This great room is one place in the company where you can look around and see everything we have in the works. When Steve comes in, we will sit at one of these tables. If we're working a new iPhone, for example, he might grab a stool and start playing with different models and feeling them in his hands, remarking on which ones he likes the best.
Then he will gaze by the other tables, just him and me, to see where all the other products are heading. He can get a sense of the sweep of the whole company, the iPhone and iPad, the iMac and laptop and everything else we're considering. That helps him see where the company is spending its energy and how things connect. "
"Looking at the models on these tables, he can see the future for the next three years."
"Much of the design process is a conversation, a back-and-forth as we walk around the tables and play with the models. He doesn't like to read complex drawings. He wants to see and feel a model. He's right. I get surprised when we make a model and then realize it's rubbish, even though based n the CAD renderings it looked great.
He loves to come in here because it's calm and gentle. It's paradise if you're a visual person."
The reason that I call it Apple's Magical Design Studio is that we learn in Isaacson's book just how much detail he put into staging an event like Macworld. It's also because from this studio we got the Magic Mouse and the Magic Touchpad and products that seemed magical as they were first launching. I mean, who can't say that Steve Jobs' 2007 keynote introducing the iPhone wasn't magical. Yes, of course – and it was first conceived in Apple's design studio. That's magic enough for me.
Ive's Design Philosophy
To appreciate Jony's "New Toy," you must first understand his design philosophy. Sitting down with Ive, Isaacson captures his simple vision:
"Why do we assume that simple is good? Because with physical products, we have to feel we can dominate them. As you bring order to a complexity, you find a way to make the product defer to you. Simplicity isn't just a visual style. It's not just minimalism or the absence of clutter. It involves digging through the depth of the complexity. To be truly simple, you have to go really deep.
For example, to have no screws on something, you can end up having a product that is so convoluted and so complex. The better way is to go deeper with the simplicity, to understand everything about it and how it's manufactured. You have to deeply understand the essence of a product in order to be able to get rid of the parts that are not essential."
At one point in this chapter, Ive invites Isaacson into Apple's secret design studio and he recounts some of his general observations:
Beyond the main room of workstations is a computer-aided design studio that "leads to a room with molding machines to turn what's on the screens into foam models. Beyond that is a robot-controlled spray-painting chamber to make the models look real."
If you've never seen a 3D model prototyping machine, then check out this demonstration video starting at the 44 second mark. At one point you'll see a Black and Decker 3D model that is actually functional. This will provide you with an idea of the type of 3D models that Steve and Jony were working with when inspecting a prototype of such things as the iPhone.
As briefly presented above, we know that Ive absolutely loves to painstakingly grok over each and every intricate part of a future product so as to get Apple's cool products just right. It's the way we envision Apple's first phase of their legendary "holistic approach" to design to be. And, in order to get the prototypes of their products out on schedule, it takes very sophisticated precision machinery to make sure that these prototypes are measured as deadly accurate as possible before they're handed off to overseas manufacturers for assembly.
This now brings us to Apple's revelation this week, via a new patent application, that Jony has a brand new toy to assist him with advanced welding processes in the assembly of two antennas to a frame of a portable product such as an iPhone or a future MacBook. Just this week, Apple was granted another Telephonic MacBook patent which would likely require such a welding station for internal testing in Apple's design studio.
Apple's Patent Background
To understand Jony's new toy, Apple provides us with a brief overview. Apple states that the design of a portable computing device could involve complex tradeoffs. A few factors that could be considered in the design process are cosmetic appeal, weight, and manufacturability including quality control, durability, thermal compatibility and power consumption. A component that is selected on the basis of its positive contribution to one of these design factors could have an adverse impact on one of more other design factors.
During manufacture of a portable device one or more components could be welded together. For instance, during assembly of an antenna system, one or more components of the antenna system could be welded together. After two parts are welded together, for the purposes of quality control, it could be desirable to assess whether the weld was successful and whether the weld meets some quality criteria. A weld assessment could be desirable because an unsuccessful weld or a poor quality weld could result in failure of a component or affect the performance of its associated system during operation of the device.
The Problem with Visual Inspection of Welds
In the past, weld joints have been tested using methods such as visual inspections and a mechanical stress testing. Using visual inspection, it's possible to determine whether two parts are joined by a weld. Nevertheless, because the components of a portable computing device could be tightly packed or a welded component sealed within a casing or surround by a material, portions of the weld may simply not be visible or easily seen. Therefore, it could be difficult to visually assess the quality of the weld.
The Disadvantages with Mechanical Testing of Welds
Mechanical testing could be used to assess a quality of a weld. For example, a mechanical stress could be applied to two welded components where a magnitude of the mechanical stress is selected such that a poor quality weld will break under the mechanical stress while a weld of sufficient quality will not break under the applied mechanical stress. A break during stress testing indicates some problem with the weld. For instance, the weld may have not been implemented over a sufficient area during the welding process.
A disadvantage of mechanical testing is that it could be time consuming. Another disadvantage is that applying a sufficient mechanical stress could risk damage to other device components. Thus, in a mass production environment, mechanical testing of a weld may not be practical.
Therefore, it would be beneficial to provide method and apparatus for weld quality assessment that are fast, non-damaging and applicable in a mass production environment suitable for manufacturing a portable computing device.
Apples' patent application describes various embodiments that relate to systems, methods, and apparatus for assembling portable computing devices. within the portable computing device, one or more weld joints each including multiple weld points could be utilized to join various components.
Apple's list of possible portable computers that could utilize their new welding solution includes a laptop, netbook, smartphone, table computer and a portable media player. It's interesting to note that this is the second time this month that Apple has referenced this new category of table computer. The first reference described it as a "table-top computer." This may or may not be associated with Apple's Next Great Thing.
Apple's patent states that "one or more weld joints could be used to join two components in an antenna system or two components used in a housing used in the portable computing device. Apple's patent relates to methods and apparatus for efficiently checking and assessing a quality of the weld joints used in the portable computing device."
Ive's New Toy comes with Action Figures!
As multiple antennas become more complicated for future iPhones and/or future MacBooks with built-in cellular antennas, it's important that Ive's team could test out various antenna configurations on devices speedily. Ubiquitous computing will continually push the boundaries of future products.
As a side note, it should also be noted that Apple was granted a patent this week relating to GPS and location technologies dating back thirteen years ago. Noteworthy, is the fact that the father of ubiquitous computing, Mark Weiser, is listed on this patent. Mr. Weiser was associated with Xerox PARC.
To the general public, Ive's new toy is a "who-cares-machine;" but to Ive and company, it's a phenomenal new precision welder station that will greatly assist them in designing future prototypes of some very complicated telephonic antenna-sets for future products of one sort or another.
Steve Jobs on Jonathan Ive
In closing, I thought it only appropriate to quote just one more thing from Isaacson's book: What Jobs thought of Ive:
"The difference that Jony has made, not only at Apple but in the world, is huge. He is a wickedly intelligent person in all ways. He understands business concepts, marketing concepts. He picks stuff up just like that, click. He understands what we do at our core better than anyone. If I had a spiritual partner at Apple, it's Jony. Jony and I think up most of the products together and then pull others in and say, "Hey, what do you think about this?" He gets the big picture as well as the most infinitesimal details about each product. And he understands that Apple is a product company. He's not just a designer."
And to that we say, Amen.
New Patently Apple Category Archive: MacBook - Telephonic
What Future Products was Jobs Thinking of Most? Isaacson gives us a peek in this New York Times (Bits) interview.
Here are a Few Great Community Sites covering our Original Report
MacSurfer, nothingButMac, Twitter, Facebook, Apple Investor News - AAPL Financial News , Google Reader, Macnews, Tech Buzzing, Aapl Central, Applegnome, iPhone World Canada, MacDailyNews, iDevice Romania, and more.