Business 2.0

Apple’s cult(ure) of design

I was thinking this morning about all of the hype surrounding the release of the iPad in the US and iPhone OS 4.0 beta from Apple. I agree with many commentators that it’s over the top, and that it would be great if some of that energy was channeled to more positive outcomes.

I’m not sure why this is, but I’m impressed by how Apple inspires so much creativity in others. This is despite Apple playing catch-up (with the iPhone OS 4.0) to many other mobile manufacturers. And how disproportionate the emphasis from developers is on developing sites and applications for the platform (given marketshare), despite the well documented issues with the walled garden approach from Apple.

I think this is a reflection of the “experience-driven organisation”, as Jesse James Garrett calls it, that Apple has cultivated. This culture of design inside the organisation expands beyond it’s boundaries, inspiring those outside the organisation to contribute to it. And it’s not just developers – I think this resonates with many customers. They too want to be part of this culture.

It’s a positive feedback loop. And this, I think, is one of the key drivers of Apple’s success, and some degree of the hype…



This TED video hit my iPhone over the weekend – more info at the Siftables page [update 2012-03-29: this page is no longer active, but it seems that Siftables is now Sifteo] and on David Merrill’s page at MIT. I found the concept engaging enough, but the applications that the David, Jeevan and their collaborators have developed are exceptional.

The excitement I feel around this technology is similar to what I felt when I first saw Jeff Han present the multi-touch interface at TED. It didn’t take long for Han’s ideas to reach the mainstream through the iPhone. I wonder how long before we’ll see Siftables translated into a commercial product?


Designing for the device

I just attended the Web Standards Group Sydney meetup and saw another set of great presentations. The two on mobile development were of particular interest, though – a) because I’m presenting at Web Directions South in the same session time as Tim and Pete’s ‘Developing for the iPhone’ presentation (of which tonight’s was a preview); and b) because I’m interested in developing for the new breed of browsers coming on the market.

Ever since the iPhone was released my interest has focused around how the change in context will impact behaviour and usage of such a device (Tim and Pete’s presentation had some interesting stats on this front – tease). The iPhone is not just a phone – and it’s the context of use of having a usable, internet enabled device with a well designed and innovative interface (the multi-touch screen) that I’m really keen to both experience and design/develop for.

Tim, Pete and the team at have done a great job with the iPhone specific UI for News Limited – I really appreciate the iterative approach they outlined and how that has resulted in quite a nice interpretation.

During both mobile related presentations tonight the idea of developing a UI for a specific device was raised as both essential – to leverage the capabilities native to the device, such as the multi-touch screen and click to call in the iPhone’s case – and problematic – from the standpoint of standards-based development and the overhead of developing for multiple platforms.

I think that the experience demonstrates that standards will still play an important role – peeking under the hood of the iPhone version still shows an awful lot of standards-savvy markup, and from the sound of things it should be possible to “port” the iPhone version to other enhanced mobile browsers in due course.

But I suspect it will be some time before mobile-oriented development will standardise to the point of traditional web browsers. With a PC/Mac/Linux etc. there’s a core, dominant interaction paradigm in place – a mouse, a window, a browser, common UI elements. With mobile devices, that completely changes. The interaction paradigms are quite different between platforms – using a joystick vs. buttons vs. a numeric keypad vs. a QWERTY keyboard vs. a touch-screen etc.

Some level of customisation will be required to make the user experience a positive one on different classes of devices. Hopefully, though, these different classes will start to consolidate fairly quickly, so we can target groups of devices – i.e. multi-touch (see the Nokia iPhone for example) vs. QWERTY vs. tradition – rather than having to support each individual device from each manufacturer.