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苹果的设计还行不行?

Rick Tetzeli 2018年01月07日

苹果公司曾推出一大批杰出产品,也成为全世界市值最高的公司。如今有人开始质疑,过去在乔布斯时代引领潮流的“i系列”产品能否延续辉煌。别太在意质疑言论。

售价4999美元的新款iMac Pro。Courtesy of Apple

天一冷,维多利亚的iPhone 6指纹识别功能就不太好使。约翰的6s电池越来越不耐用,他总得跪着或坐在机场地上给手机充电,简直烦透。几个月前,亨利发现在iPhone上输入“I”时,有时会突然变成“A?”南希年级大了,最烦iPad升级“新格式”时不提供使用指导。亚当年纪小,他看不上苹果,选择了谷歌的Pixel 2 XL,因为更喜欢谷歌的设计和应用。托尼则认为iTunes不再是井井有条的音乐库,吵吵闹闹的,成了苹果音乐推广的工具,所以他改为用Spotify和Pandora。

我家里五口人,家里18台苹果设备,每天充电或连接其他设备要用二十多根线。其中有六根线严重磨损,只好用胶布裹着,感觉线材外面薄薄一层橡胶虽然颜值高,但不太能坚持每日密集使用。更糟糕的是,找线非常头疼,USB接口、Lightning接口、Thunderbolt接口还有USB-C接口对应的线都不一样而且互不兼容,每次“升级”后买的转接头又早都弄丢了,有可能塞在哪个沙发垫子后面,如果真去翻遍没准能顺便找到安雅小小的iPod Shuffle,还有塔尔弄碎的iPhone 6原装耳机。

The Touch ID on Victoria’s iPhone 6 doesn’t work well in the winter cold. John is tired of kneeling or sitting on airport floors to plug in his 6s, whose battery seems incapable of lasting through the day. A few months ago, Henry noticed that when he’d type an “I” into his iPhone, “A?” would sometimes show up on his screen. Nancy, who’s older, hates that Apple (AAPL, +0.03%) never provides instructions after upgrading her iPad to “new formatting.” Adam, who’s younger, has ditched Apple for Google’s Pixel 2 XL, because he prefers the design and uses Google apps. Tony, who thinks iTunes has gone from being a well-organized music library to a disorganized marketing vehicle for Apple ¬Music, has subscribed to Spotify and Pandora.

The five people in my home use two dozen cables to power and connect 18 Apple devices. Six are frayed and wrapped in duct tape—their thin, rubberized, and attractive-till-it-breaks covering doesn’t seem designed for the heavy use these cables obviously get. Worse yet, hunting one down takes ages, because the USB, Lightning, Thunderbolt, and USB-C cables are incompatible in a variety of ways, and the little adapters I purchased after each “upgrade” have been lost long ago, probably behind some couch cushion that’s also hiding Anya’s too-tiny iPod Shuffle and the earbuds that came with the iPhone 6 that Tal shattered.

9月,苹果公司首席执行官蒂姆·库克(右)跟首席设计师乔尼·伊夫在苹果公园组织的一次活动上查看新款的iPhone X。Justin Sullivan—Getty Images
 

如果你的朋友和家人也遇到过这些问题,可能已经听过不少对苹果设计的吐槽。实际上,现在全球各地都流行吐槽苹果设计让人不满意之处。只要上谷歌输入“苹果设计真烂”,就能发现无数抱怨,揭穿了表面华丽却很不实用的设计:苹果手表越用越迟钝;最新款键盘用着让人烦而且很容易坏;电容笔特别容易弄丢;自从iPhone后置镜头凸出表面就饱受诟病,iPhone X屏幕上冒出一截“眉毛”后骂声更多。嘲弄的标题频繁见诸报章:“苹果的伟大设计之谜”(《亚特兰大》月刊),“苹果无懈可击的设计到处出了什么问题?”(《The Verge》),还有“苹果真的不会设计”(The Outline网站),每次都引发网友议论纷纷。

以往很受尊敬的开发者和设计师受到很多指责。Tumblr联合创始人马可·埃蒙特向来欣赏苹果大部分设计,但也表示“乔布斯去世后,苹果的设计风格有些失衡。仿佛过于强调美感,不太注重实用。”曾在苹果设计团队工作的唐恩·诺曼(1993年-1996年)如今在加州大学圣地亚哥分校负责设计实验室,他认为苹果已经放弃用户中心的设计理念。“他们为了追求美感牺牲了简单易用,”他表示。

当然,也不是所有人都同意。在iOS平台开发最新应用的爱尔兰籍开发者史蒂夫·桑顿-史密斯表示,“我对苹果的历史非常了解,现在设计风格转变(跟史蒂夫·乔布斯离世)并无关系,苹果用户应该也不会觉得陌生。即便乔布斯在的时候,对USB线和iTunes的吐槽也有很多年,我还收藏着磨坏的30针接口线呢。”

“我认为苹果的设计风格一如既往,”苹果产品博主负责人约翰·格鲁伯表示。“看看最近的产品就知道了。2016年的AirPods,2017年的iPhone X,都是带有强烈苹果设计风格的产品。两款产品里都有强烈的‘真是好用’的气息。”

当然了,设计具有很强的主观性。对于iPhone X(X是罗马数字里的10),两位理性的用户很可能有截然相反的观点,而且关于苹果产品比起乔布斯时代是更好还是更差,人们也很容易吵起来。要说没那么主观的因素,可能就是简单的事实:苹果是家设计公司。苹果的未来并不取决于是否引领人工智能、虚拟现实或其他技术的潮流。苹果的未来在于设计。

多年来,苹果比其他公司强的一点在于,清楚认识到消费者真正需要怎样的技术,然后将各元素组合成为易用的产品,由此吸引了全球数十亿用户。虽然过程中也犯过几次错,但还是远超其他技术同行,而且长期在大众市场保持成功。目前全球用户在使用10多亿部苹果产品,有些疏漏也在所难免。

但近来对苹果设计的吐槽确实越来越严重。而且这种吐槽不能轻易忽略,因为如果苹果设计真的出现问题,就意味着全球市值最高的公司遇到了大麻烦。

苹果设计的核心理念一直是保持简洁流畅且易用,同时尽可能增加更多功能。苹果设计最强大,没错,最强大的一点在于,总能准确把握何时、怎样以及加入哪些最新技术。批评者称,苹果选择的眼光远不如以往。

拿2017年11月发布的iPhone X为例,苹果在电视广告之类推广时强调屏幕无边框和按钮,圆润的四角萦绕着红色和紫色的光芒。10月我为《Smithsonian》杂志采访乔尼·伊夫(苹果拒绝允许伊夫就本文接受采访)时,他表示新款屏幕体现了苹果设计的精髓。“设计团队一直努力做减法,”他表示,“我们不是想削弱实物的感觉,只是不想让外物阻碍用户与技术顺畅交互。”看上去X的屏幕一片空,显得很优雅,这也是苹果一直以来的追求,即消除用户与数字世界、娱乐和服务之间的隔阂。

X的屏幕之所以能如此简单,是因为苹果彻底取消了实体Home键。之前历代iPhone上,屏幕下方都有个实体的圆形小凹面,一按就能返回主屏幕,打开想用的软件。按下Home键,就能回到主屏幕。概念很简单,但唐恩·诺曼认为取消Home键没什么道理。“为了突出屏幕的简洁,增加了用户使用的难度,”诺曼说。“而且取消Home键后增加了更难理解的手势操作。”

现在如果想在iPhone X上回到主屏幕,就得从屏幕下方向上扫。之前的iPhone 7里从下方向上扫会召出控制中心,手电、计时器、照相等常用功能都在里面。但现在要在iPhone X里进控制中心就得从右上往左下斜扫。要想关闭打开的应用,就得从屏幕下方往上扫,然后长按屏幕。实际用起来倒是挺自然,我11岁的女儿安雅长期沉迷iPad,她告诉我说,“所有的手机都应该这么操作!”但并不是所有人都能用惯。感恩节时我向岳母南希解释多点触控的用法。“算了!”她气汹汹地说。“我学不会!”

苹果老款产品中也能体现出追求功能复杂和保持美感的矛盾,尤其是台式机和笔记本电脑。许多重度用户抱怨多年后,2016年末苹果终于发布了最新款MacBook Pro,键盘上方明亮的条形触摸屏取代了原先的F系列功能键,可根据当前使用的软件提供相应的快捷键。该功能叫Touch Bar,因为可以用手指操控,看上去视觉效果相当好,也体现出相当精妙的工程技术。

但如果功能使用过程太复杂,添加功能就失去了本意。博主格鲁伯向来是坚定的果粉,热爱苹果所有产品,但他表示,“对我来说,Touch Bar完全违背了史蒂夫·乔布斯的理念,即设计不仅关于外表,更重要是如何使用。”最初版本中,Touch Bar就像个半成品,只是将iPad部分触摸功能移植到笔记本电脑上。“苹果是不是一心迷着追求工程美学了,”埃蒙特说。“开发圈里我认识的很多人都用这款电脑,但没人喜欢Touch Bar。”

其实苹果设计团队大部分已共事多年,不太可能“迷着追求工程美学”。问题在于用户期望苹果每次都做出完美选择,如果做不到就很失望。“Siri风格变幽默后,我不少朋友很生气,”格鲁伯表示,Siri是苹果系统里的语音助手,很多人认为远远比不上亚马逊的Alexa和谷歌的谷歌语音助手。“如果想做饭的时候让Siri停止计时器,Siri不会老实说一句,‘好的,停止计时器,’通常她会开玩笑地说:‘好的,计时器会停止,要是鸡蛋煎糊了可别怪我哦!’这让用户很烦。我觉得幽默路子走偏了。设计师原本想添加人性元素,但做得太生硬。感觉Siri抓不住人们的意思,尤其是误会用户的问题还自作幽默的时候。”

Siri转向幽默跟iPhone X加不加Home键都是设计决策。这也是几乎当前所有产品开发公司共同面临的问题之一,因为现在流行万物互联,从玩具、洗碗机、火车引擎、酒窖到钥匙扣之类都在智能化。如果苹果做不好Siri,人们就忍不住要担心苹果的未来。技术的世界越发复杂,现在很多人开始认为新产品里亚马逊的Echo真正实现了简化生活。这势头可不太妙,是吧?

对很多批评苹果的人士来说,故事就此结束。Siri不够智能,Touch Bar难用,操作系统虽然华丽但让人容易犯迷糊,用得顺手的Home键又没了……还可以列举一大堆。总之,苹果很不完美。很有道理。

但有件事别忘了:回溯历史你会发现,苹果历次选择总会引发担心,经常看起来可能失败,即便是乔布斯重返苹果之后那些年月也一样。1998年苹果推出外形漂亮,胖嘟嘟青蓝色的iMac,但功能很有限,鼠标很不稳定,CD插槽没几个用户真正能用上。2000年推出经典的Power Mac G4 Cube,由于外形设计太赞还被收入现代艺术博物馆,功能仍然比较简单,没法满足重度用户的需求。2001年第一代iPad诞生,但并没有立刻火起来,因为滚轮不太灵活,而且只能连接Mac电脑使用,当时Mac还只占全世界个人电脑销量的2.6%。2005年,苹果首次涉足手机业务!当时苹果跟摩托罗拉合作开发了一款兼具音乐播放和手机功能的混搭设备,取名叫Rokr。2007年iPhone出现,只有少数几款应用,连接性能也不好。2011年发售iPad,我姐夫马克跟我说,“想不出谁会用买这东西用。”(后来他买了四个。)

事实上,苹果产品很少刚出现就完美。往往是新品推出之后花很长时间完善设计,将设计上的“失误”变为成功。

苹果手表是2015年发售的。推出之前外界预期很高:这会成为乔布斯去世后首款革新性产品么?“苹果的iPod之类产品实在太棒了,导致我们开始怀疑生活中其他物品是不是设计有问题,”纽约视觉艺术学院产品设计项目系主任艾伦·乔奇诺夫表示。“为什么温度调节器做不到苹果那么漂亮?”也许手表设计进化到iPhone水平的时候到了。

大家或许还记得,发售后媒体很失望。说失望都算客气的。当时的批评包括,手表用户界面一团乱,层层叠叠混乱难用。只看手表还挺漂亮,但如果戴着去健身房就会发现,跟Fitbit之类市场上流行的健身追踪器相比一点也不方便。只有iPhone在身边手表才能弹出提示信息,必须轻抬手腕才能看时间,我觉得还没斯沃琪手表好用,人家还比苹果手表便宜近300美元。

If your friends and family are anything like my friends and family, you’ve been hearing a lot of complaints about Apple design recently. In fact, enumerating the ways Apple design fails consumers seems to have become an international pastime. Google “Apple design sucks,” and you’ll find a never-ending litany of the seemingly infinite ways that this ostensible paragon of design excellence misses the mark: The Watch isn’t out-of-the-box intuitive; the latest keyboards are annoying and fragile; Apple Pencils are easy to lose; the iPhone has been flawed ever since Apple introduced that camera lens that juts out on the back, and things have gotten worse with the “notch” on the screen of the iPhone X. Belittling headlines abound: “The Myth of Apple’s Great Design” (The Atlantic), “What Happened to Apple’s Faultless Design?” (The Verge), and “Apple Is Really Bad at Design” (The Outline), a recent screed that generated a lot of online chatter.

Highly respected developers and designers have weighed in with damning criticism. Tumblr cofounder Marco Arment admires most Apple design, but says, “Apple designs in the post-Steve era have been a little off-balance. The balance seems too much on the aesthetic, and too little on the functional.” Don Norman, a former member of the Apple design team (1993–1996) who now heads the Design Lab at the University of California, San Diego, beats the drum that Apple has abandoned user-centered design principles. “They have sacrificed understandability for aesthetic beauty,” he says.

Not everyone agrees, of course. Says Steve Troughton-Smith, an Irish developer of sleek iOS apps, “I have enough historical context to understand that these things have no relation to [Steve Jobs’ departure], and are not a new aspect of being an Apple user. Things like USB cables and iTunes were bad for many years under Jobs too, and I have a collection of frayed Firewire-to-30-pin cables to remind me of that.”

“I would argue that Apple design is as good as ever,” says John Gruber, the dean of Apple bloggers. “Look at the most recent products. AirPods last year, and the iPhone X this year, are quintessential Apple products. There’s a huge ‘it just works’ factor to them both.”

Design is subjective, of course. It’s entirely possible for two intelligent people to have diametrically opposite views on the iPhone X (“ten” in Roman numeral form), and it’s entirely possible for intelligent people to argue about whether Apple’s product design is better or worse than when Steve Jobs was CEO. What’s not subjective, however, is this simple business fact: Apple is a design company. Its future doesn’t rest on being first in artificial intelligence, virtual reality, or any other technology. Its future rests on design.

For years now, Apple has done a better job than any other company of discerning what technologies will really matter to customers, and assembling those into remarkably intuitive products that appeal to millions and millions of people around the world. No tech company has ever had such a long and consistent run of mass-market success, even if there have been a few clunkers along the way. With perhaps a billion or more Apple products in active use, there are bound to be some that miss the mark.

But the volume of grumbling about Apple design has been loud of late. And the chatter can’t simply be dismissed—because if Apple design is truly in trouble, then the world’s most valuable company is in trouble.

A central design tension at Apple has always been keeping its products clean, streamlined and easy-to-use while adding more, and more powerful, features. The best Apple designs—the best product designs, period—navigate this tension by making astute choices about when, what, and how to incorporate new technologies. Critics argue that Apple is making more poor choices than in the past.

Take the iPhone X, which was released in November. In its marketing of the X, Apple makes much of the beauty of a screen without bezels or buttons—in television ads, for instance, great swirls of red and purple color caress the rounded corners of the screen. When I interviewed Jony Ive in October for Smithsonian magazine (Apple declined to make Ive available for this story), he described the screen as an embodiment of a key Apple design principle. “As a design team, we’re trying to get the object out of the way,” he said. “We’re not denying that it’s material, but we want to get to that point where it is in no way an impediment to the technology that you care about.” The spare and elegant screen on the X is as close as Apple has come to erasing the barrier between you and the world of digital data, entertainment, and services.

One reason the X has such a simple screen is that Apple chose to eliminate the Home button. The Home button is that small concave circle at the bottom of all prior iPhones that you press at any time to get back to your Home screen, where you can access all of your most important apps. Press the Home button, return to the Home screen. It was a simple concept, and, if you ask Don Norman, there was no good reason to abandon it. “They made it harder for people by their emphasis on the utter simplicity of the screen,” says Norman. “They took away the Home button, and they added even more mysterious gestures.”

In fact, to conjure the Home screen on my iPhone X, I swipe up from the bottom of the screen. On my old iPhone 7, that same gesture took me to the Control Center, with its icons for my flashlight, timer, camera, and other basic features. But to get to the Control Center on my X, I swipe down in a diagonal line from the top right. And if I want to see and close all those apps I’ve had open for some time, I swipe up from the bottom, but press down on the screen at the end of the swipe. In practice, this all comes quite naturally: My 11-year-old, Anya, who has spent more time than makes sense with an iPad, told me, “This is the way all phones should work!” But it’s not for everyone. I tried to explain multitouch gestures to my mother-in-law, Nancy, over Thanksgiving. “That’s it!” she snapped. “I’m done!”

The tension between complexity and aesthetic streamlining is especially evident in Apple’s oldest product lines—its desktop and laptop computers. After years of complaints from heavy users who rely on its most powerful computers, Apple released a new MacBook Pro laptop in late 2016, with a brightly lit digital touch screen strip that replaced the F keys at the top of the keyboard. The strip changes as you work, offering up shortcuts to features that might be relevant to whatever is up on your screen. Called the Touch Bar, because you manipulate it with your finger, the strip looks great and is a marvelous feat of engineering.

But adding functions isn’t really an addition if the process of using those functions is confusing. “To me,” says blogger Gruber, usually a reliable supporter of all things Apple, “the Touch Bar is the ultimate violation of that Steve Jobs axiom that design isn’t about how something looks, but about how it works.” In this first iteration, the Touch Bar seems like an unsuccessful, half-baked effort to bring some of the iPad’s touch control to Apple laptops. “Apple may have just gotten caught up in how cool the engineering is,” says Arment. “I know lots of people in the developer community who use these machines, and I have heard from zero people who are really taken with the Touch Bar.”

It seems unlikely that the design team, composed mostly of veterans who have been together for many years, got “caught up” in “cool” engineering. But we expect Apple to make perfect choices, every time, and when it doesn’t we’re dismayed. “I have friends who are driven to absolute anger when Siri tries to be funny,” says Gruber, referring to Apple’s digital voice assistant, which is widely seen as inferior to Amazon’s Alexa or Google’s eponymous version. “If you tell Siri to cancel the timer you asked her to start so that you could cook something, instead of just saying, ‘I’ll cancel the timer,’ she usually says something like: ‘Okay, I’ve cancelled this, but don’t blame me if your egg overcooks!’ It drives people nuts. I think it’s the wrong way to go. They’re trying to humanize her, but it falls so flat. It just feels like they’re tone- deaf, especially when she does something like that and misinterprets your question.”

Siri’s attempt at humor is as much a design decision as whether to include a Home button on the iPhone X. It’s an example of the complex new choices that designers at any company now face when developing a product with an Internet connection—toys, dishwashers, train engines, wine cellars, key chains, and more. So when Apple doesn’t get Siri right, it makes people worry about Apple’s future. The world of technology is growing increasingly complicated, and many people think that new product that most simplifies our life is the Amazon Echo. That can’t be a good sign, right?  

For many Apple critics, the story ends right here. Siri’s not great, the Touch Bar’s kind of a mess, the operating systems are pretty but somewhat confusing, and the reassuring Home button has been killed … the list goes on. Apple’s far from perfect. Point made.

But here’s the thing: Pick just about any time in Apple’s history, and you’ll find a similar set of worrying choices and seeming failures—even during those halcyon days of Steve Jobs’ triumphant second tenure at the company. 1998: that beautiful, bulbous, Bondi Blue iMac is actually an underpowered computer with an unreliable mouse and a CD slot that few consumers could use productively. 2000: The Power Mac G4 Cube, so gorgeous it becomes part of the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, doesn’t deliver the power and features heavy users demand. 2001: The first iPod is released, but it’s not really ready for primetime, since the scroll wheel is clunky and the device works only with Macs, which account for just 2.6% of worldwide PC sales. 2005: Apple’s in the phone business! With something called the Rokr, a kludgy music player/cell phone that the company developed with Motorola. 2007: The iPhone is introduced, with few applications and poor connectivity. 2011: The iPad is introduced, and, as my brother-in-law Mark told me at the time, “I can’t imagine anyone ever using this for anything interesting.” (He’s bought four since then.)

In fact, Apple rarely gets it perfect at first. But over the years, the company has developed a long-term design process that regularly turns design “mistakes” into successes.

The Apple Watch was introduced in 2015. Anticipation was high: Would this be Apple’s first Next Big Thing since the death of Jobs? “Apple introduced products like the iPod that were so great and worked so well that we started to question the design of other things in our life,” says Allan Chochinov, chair of the products of design program at New York City’s School of Visual Arts. “Why isn’t my thermostat like that?” Perhaps the time had come for a watch that was as great as an iPhone.

As you may remember, the press was disappointed. To say the least. The user interface was a jumbled, layered, and unintuitive mess. The watch itself was attractive, but those who wore it to the gym found it clunky compared to established fitness trackers like Fitbit. Since it served up notifications only if your iPhone was nearby, and since it showed you the time only if you flicked up your wrist just so, I found it less useful than a Swatch—and about $300 more expensive.

苹果前首席执行官史蒂夫·乔布斯介绍iPad。2011年乔布斯去世后,苹果市值一路上升,也越发依赖iPhone销售。Justin Sullivan—Getty Images
 

再看现在,新款手表已是3代,可以脱离iPhone单独工作。新款手表内置移动通话功能,所以完全可以不带iPhone,日常生活中所有数据和通讯功能都能完成同步。界面更简化,使用智能手表真正擅长的功能,包括计时、健康追踪、文本、电邮、日历、音乐、苹果支付、电子票券,甚至语音拨号都很方便。迅速回复简单文字信息非常实用,虽然不太适合深入交流。苹果手表里没有塞入小键盘,而是准备好一些标准回复内容(“谢谢”,“一会回来”,“马上到”,“在开会。一会打给你?”),可以轻点选择,如果要回复别的内容也可以用手写板。现在手表上的功能没有让人摸不清的了,设计上完全符合功能需求。

或许这正是近来手表销量可观的原因。调研公司Asymco创始人贺瑞斯·德第乌在最新发布的博文中估计,苹果手表年销量达1600万块。德第乌相信手表销量还会继续增长,超越巅峰时期的iPods,意味着手表可能变成苹果历史上第二受欢迎的产品。

为什么手表能如此迅速改进?第一代和第三代之间的两年发生了什么?11月在华盛顿特区赫胥鸿博物馆采访伊夫时,我问到这个问题。“基本上我们所有精力都花在改进方面,”伊夫回答说。“有时我们知道有些技术还不成熟,也了解产品的发展趋势。但有些事只有大规模做出产品,各种用户使用之后才能发现。”在手表方面,苹果用户的激烈批评显然影响了伊夫和团队改善产品的走向。iPhone X则是设计团队在非常成功产品的基础上,结合新技术打造出的全新产品。

Touch Bar刚发布时的种种缺陷并不能代表苹果设计水平。(MacBook Pro的买家可能并不同意,但这些一般是热爱尝鲜的用户,所以都很清楚抢先体验并不一定能用着舒服。)更重要的是接下来几年苹果如何改进技术。

创新过程向来是苹果最高机密。基本目标是同步实现创新和改进,不仅要维持年年更新的频率,也要经常推出全新产品。但以苹果庞大的体量,技术革新又如此迅速,没有几家公司有苹果做得好。乔奇诺夫认为耐克和《纽约时报》算比较接近苹果创新水平的两家,但采访中很多人表示找不到堪比苹果的公司。“苹果的设计水平超出别人很多,”埃蒙特表示。“苹果有太多经典产品,各种服务和软件,大部分都很优秀,至少可以说很不错。之所以像我这样的用户喜欢挑三拣四,无非是被惯坏了。”

如果你也相信苹果的设计在走下坡路,原因可能是乔布斯2011年去世后让苹果分心的事有点多。乔布斯去世六年里增长十分迅速,变化不断发生。在首席执行官蒂姆·库克领导下,苹果年销售额翻了一倍多,亚洲销量增至近三倍。除了开发出手表和蓝牙耳机AirPods,苹果还新开了160家门店(其中45家在中国),收购了几十家公司(包括几家做人工智能的,最近收购了一家做音乐识别软件的Shazam),还成立了内容生产部门。

一些外部观察家发觉,苹果急速扩张似乎已对内部资源造成不小压力。“看起来苹果还没完全适应庞大的规模,”特劳顿-史密斯表示,“而且苹果缺乏足够的工程设计力量支撑如此大的体量。”不过近几年一直在改善,他表示。

伊夫个人方面也经历了重大转变。乔布斯生命里的最后七年,库克曾代理不少首席执行官的职责,让乔布斯专心与伊夫研发新产品。11月伊夫在赫胥鸿博物馆告诉我,“你知道有时人与人之间心有灵犀的感觉么?(乔布斯和我)看待世界的方式都很怪,但出奇一致。如果你感觉奇怪,身边有朋友同样感觉奇怪,那就挺好的。”现在伊夫的故友已逝,肩上的重任却比以往更重。伊夫一直是工业设计师,现在还要负责软件设计。他就是苹果产品设计的核心人物。

还有件事严重导致苹果分心,也是乔布斯去世前不久开始的项目。打造新办公室地点——苹果公园过程中,伊夫一直承担重要任务,要负责打磨所有细节。9月我参观时,向导就努力介绍了很多点:跟苹果笔记本上同样铝制的内凹型电梯按钮,意大利石灰岩楼梯栏杆上的圆形边角,还有新咖啡厅里隔离食物的一次成型防护罩。

11月底,就在苹果发布一系列操作系统更新修复漏洞后,《华盛顿邮报》一篇专栏文章里也提到修建苹果公园可能是伊夫设计不力的原因。“苹果应该有足够资源同时建好新总部,也保证研发软硬件不受影响,”该报前个人科技专栏作家表示,“但苹果用户感受到的情况并非如此。”

并没有足够证据表明苹果公园建设牵扯了伊夫过多精力,影响正常的产品开发。但确实有些背景因素可以参考:伊夫2013年担任首席设计官时,两个负责工业设计和软件设计的手下开始直接向库克汇报。今年12月初,一向不愿讨论公司内部变动的苹果发布声明,让观察者吃了一惊。苹果称,“随着苹果公园建设完工,设计团队负责人和相关团队将恢复直接向乔尼·伊夫汇报,伊夫仍将主管设计业务。”

这份声明透露的意思很明确:即便之前有让伊夫分心的事(苹果肯定不会承认),现在都没了。

史蒂夫·乔布斯去世后有一点从没变过——科技行业的权力架构。Facebook、亚马逊、谷歌(现在叫Alphabet)和苹果2011年就掌控整个行业,现在还是一样。

当时根据传统经验,人们预测四大巨头之间会出现争斗,每家都会攻击对方实现自己增长。然而现在看来,各家巨头只是各自发展,不断巩固最擅长的领域。谷歌仍然是在线搜索广告巨头。Facebook不惧任何社交媒体方面的挑战,移动领域广告收入日渐超过PC。亚马逊的商业模式是进攻各种新市场,效果非常明显,现在所有可能受创的大公司都在努力制定发展战略,避免某个意想不到的行业里冒出个竞争者来抢夺市场,也就是所谓的“亚马逊化”。

以前人们都以为苹果应该是四大巨头里命运最不济的,失去天才乔布斯后感觉要一蹶不振。但过去六年里,蒂姆·库克成长为令人尊敬的首席执行官,苹果也变成全世界市值最高的公司,还发售了两款极受欢迎的新品——AirPods和手表,这两款产品可是乔布斯从未参与过的。

跟Alphabet、亚马逊和Facebook类似,苹果也日渐依赖自己的强项——设计。“可以说,蒂姆·库克和手下团队在设计方面下了双倍工夫,”之前担任分析师,如今专门撰写苹果相关博客的尼尔·赛巴特表示。“宣称世界在变化所以人类已进入后设备时代的公司都没意识到,设计是不可忽视的元素。科技行业从来不是只靠技术,不管是机器学习、人工智能还是语音助手——这些都是表面。关键在于人类如何去使用各种技术。而交互过程就是设计。硅谷的公司里,只有苹果的公司文化是专注设计。”

要理解苹果设计今后的竞争力,可以从思考未来的技术转为思考未来的市场机会。医疗;无人汽车软件和设计;可穿戴电脑;智能家居。每个市场都需要不同的技术。但每个市场都依赖设计。

苹果会努力做好每个市场。具体过程当然需要多年研究。伊夫在赫胥鸿博物馆向观众举了个例子,就是计时器走向小型化的历程,从大城市里的钟楼到祖父的时钟和怀表,再到如今手上小小的手表。从中也能体会到新想法和新技术如何被广泛接受。那次采访中,伊夫介绍了新总部里的设计室。设计空间会非常大,第一次所有与产品设计相关的人可以聚在一处。用户体验专家可能跟工业设计师坐一起,可能触觉专家旁边就是美术设计师。可以肯定,苹果的未来,当然也包括现在不会仅靠工业设计,不会再是银匠儿子伊夫成长过程中学习的工业设计。伊夫相信,新办公空间将拓展激发苹果内部设计部门相互交流,再次设计出超出想象的新产品。

他在赫胥鸿博物馆告诉观众,对苹果未来的设想让他“忍不住灰常激动”。就是这么古怪奇特,但又充满希望。(财富中文网)

本文另一版本将发表于2018年1月1日出版的《财富》杂志,为《设计的世界》组文其中一篇。

译者:Min

Cut to present-day. The new Watch, called Series 3, works independently from the iPhone. With cellular capability built in, I can now leave my iPhone behind and keep up to date with all the data and communications we’ve absorbed into our daily routines. The interface is simpler, and Apple has made it easier for me to access the things that a smartwatch is really good for, including timer, fitness tracker, texts, email, calendar, music, Apple Pay, mobile tickets, and even voice calling. It’s great for responding quickly and simply to texts, even if it’s not for deeply felt communication. Instead of trying to cram some sort of keyboard replacement into the watch, Apple has provided a set of canned responses (“Thanks,” “BRB,” “On my way,” “In a meeting. Call you later?”) that I can quickly tap, along with a scribble pad if I want to get more specific. Nothing about the Watch is confusing any more—its design perfectly suits its purpose.

That’s probably why it’s selling so briskly now. In a recent blog post, Asymco’s Horace Dediu estimated that Apple is now selling 16 million a year. Dediu believes Watch sales will eventually grow bigger than sales of iPods at their peak, which would make the Watch Apple’s second most popular product ever.

How did the Watch get so much better so quickly? What happened in the two years between the first and third editions of the Watch? I asked Ive this question during a November interview at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C. “Mostly, we spend all our time looking at what we can do better,” Ive responded. “Sometimes we are very aware that there are technologies that aren’t ready. We’re very aware of where the product is going. Then there are things that you don’t truly know until you’ve made them in large volumes, and a really diverse group of people use them.” In the case of the Watch, the loud and ample criticism from Apple customers clearly shaped the way Ive and his team improved the product. The iPhone X, on the other hand, seems more the creative brainchild of a team integrating new technologies to build something new on the foundation of an already successful product.

The flaws in the first iteration of the Touch Bar don’t tell us anything about the state of Apple design. (MacBook Pro buyers may disagree—but they tend to be early adopters, who know that the cutting edge isn’t always pretty.) What’s more important is how Apple develops the technology in the years ahead.

This creative process is Apple’s secret sauce. Its goal—innovating and improving simultaneously, delivering both annual updates and the occasional brand-new product—is commonplace. But few companies have done it as well as Apple, at mass scale over a long period of dramatic technological change. Chochinov cites Nike and the New York Times as two that have, but many of the sources I interviewed for this story couldn’t think of any comparable peers. “Apple design is so far ahead of everyone else,” says Arment. “Apple has so many products and so many services and so much software out there, and most of it is great—or at least fine. The reason people like me can nitpick is that we have been spoiled.”

If you are one of those people who believes there’s been a slump in Apple design, you might attribute some of that to the many distractions Apple has faced since the death of Steve Jobs in 2011. The six years since Jobs’ death have been marked by outrageous growth and continual change. Under CEO Tim Cook, annual sales have more than doubled, and almost tripled in Asia. Besides introducing new products like the Watch and AirPods, Apple has opened 160 new stores (including 45 in China), acquired companies (including several focused on artificial intelligence and, most recently, the music recognition app, Shazam), and launched its own content creation arm.

Some outside observers sensed that the explosive expansion appeared to put a strain on resources for a while. “Apple seemed to struggle with its newfound scale,” says Troughton-Smith,” and appeared to not have the engineering practices in place to support the new status quo.” That’s improved in the past couple of years, he says.

It has been a period of big transitions for Ive personally too. During the last seven years of Jobs’ life, Cook had performed many of the duties of a standard CEO, leaving Jobs free to develop products with Ive. As Ive told me at the Hirshhorn in November, “You know how sometimes something just clicks with someone? [Steve and I] had a bizarre way of looking at the world, but it was the same. When you feel odd and bizarre, it’s nice to feel odd and bizarre with a friend.” Now Ive is without his old friend and yet charged with greater responsibility than ever. An industrial designer all his life, Ive now oversees software design as well. He is Apple’s product guy.

There’s been one other serious distraction, something Jobs set in motion shortly before his death. Ive has been a central player in the creation of Apple Park, the company’s new campus, fretting every detail. When I took a tour of the place in September, my guide took pains to point out many of them: the concave elevator buttons in the same brushed aluminum used on Apple laptops, the rounded edges of the rail on an Italian limestone staircase, the single-piece sneeze guard that will protect the food in the new café.

The idea that the project may have caused Ive to drop the ball on product quality was alluded to in a Washington Post column in late November, shortly after Apple had to issue a series of operating system updates to repair a security flaw. “While the company should have sufficient resources to obsess over both its headquarters and its software and hardware,” wrote the paper’s former personal-tech columnist, “the reality seen by Apple customers suggests otherwise.”

There’s simply not enough evidence to prove that Ive’s focus on Apple Park distracted him from regular product development. However, there is this bit of context: When Ive was given the title of chief design officer in 2013, his two lieutenants overseeing industrial design and software design started reporting directly to Cook. Then in early December, Apple, which is usually very reluctant to discuss internal corporate machinations, surprised observers by issuing the following statement: “With the completion of Apple Park, Apple’s design leaders and teams are again reporting directly to Jony Ive, who remains focused purely on design.”

The message seemed clear: If there had been any distractions for Ive (something Apple would never admit), there won’t be any going forward.  

One thing hasn’t changed since Steve Jobs died—the power structure of the technology industry. Facebook, Amazon, Google (now Alphabet), and Apple dominated tech in 2011, and they dominate it today.

Back then, conventional wisdom forecast a battle royale between the four, with each trying to grow by attacking the others’ strongholds. Instead, each has grown outlandishly by becoming even more entrenched in the field it dominates. Google is still the behemoth in online search advertising. Facebook has dismissed all challengers in social media and become an even more-powerful revenue generator on mobile than it was on the desktop. Amazon’s business model for efficiently attacking new business sectors is so potent that every large company worth its salt now strategizes about how to avoid getting “Amazoned” by an unimaginable competitor from some unlikely industry.

Apple was supposedly the most vulnerable of the four, doomed without the unique genius of Jobs. But over the past six years, Tim Cook has grown into a widely respected CEO, while Apple has become the world’s most valuable company, and has introduced two hit products—AirPods and the Watch—that don’t have even a wisp of a Steve Jobs fingerprint on them.

Like Alphabet, Amazon, and Facebook, Apple continues to rely on its unique strength—design. “If anything, Tim Cook and his team have doubled down on design,” says Neil Cybart, a former research analyst who now pens his own astute Apple blog. “The companies that are saying that the world is changing and we’re moving into a post-device era are the companies who haven’t figured out that design is the missing ingredient. It’s never just about the technologies, like machine learning, A.I., voice assistants—it’s never just about those things. It’s about how should we use those things. That’s design. And no other company in Silicon Valley has a design focus and culture like Apple.”

One way to understand the competitive power of Apple’s design is to shift from thinking of the technologies of the future to the market opportunities of the future. Health care; the software and design of autonomous vehicles; wearable computers; the connected products in our homes. Each market will need different technologies. But every market will depend on design.

Apple will explore how it can make its mark on each of these markets. That process entails years of research—at the Hirshhorn, for example, Ive regaled the audience with a distilled history of the miniaturization of timepieces, from the single clock in big cities to grandfather clocks, pocket watches, and the tiny thing on your wrist. And it entails a catholic receptivity to new ideas and technologies. During the same interview, Ive described the design studio at the new campus. The new space is so large that, for the first time, everyone involved in product design will be gathered in one space. The user experience experts will be mixed in with the industrial designers, and the haptics specialists might find themselves sitting next to a graphic designer. It’s a conscious, visible acknowledgement that Apple’s future—its present, too—depends on so much more than just the industrial design that Ive, whose father was a silversmith, was raised on. Ive believes that the new space will expand and spark Apple’s internal design conversation, leading the company once again to products we can’t quite imagine now.

The prospect, he told the audience at the Hirshhorn, gets him “uppity uppity jumpy.” How odd and bizarre. How promising.

A version of this article appears as part of our “Business by Design” package in the Jan. 1, 2018 issue of Fortune.

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