A chance to blaze in the sky

The Steve Jobs Archive last week released a book, Make Something Wonderful, that is a collection of the late Apple founder’s writings, speeches, and interviews. There’s a free e-book version, but the web version is especially engaging and beautifully designed.

It turns out Jobs had a habit of sending emails to himself to collect and iterate on his thoughts. The string of emails he sent to himself fleshing out his iconic 2005 Stanford commencement speech is remarkable. His first ideas for the speech were scattershot and mostly uninspiring bits of typical commencement address life advice. But the progression of ideas in his emails to himself starts sharpening over time into the three simple, poignant stories that ended up in the speech.

Seeing this inside peek into his process is a nice reminder to just get my ideas down, even if they’re not very good. Crappy first drafts are the norm—required even. Those first, possibly embarrassingly bad, ideas are the necessary foundation for the potentially good ideas that will never come without having laid out the bad ones first. Stick with it. Mull over it. Keep going. Keep tinkering and polishing.

The obvious delight Jobs had in making “something wonderful” shines throughout this collection of his words. I’m wired that way, too. When I am on a mission to make something wonderful myself, I can get lost in a thrilling sense of absorption. Well, the effort isn’t continually thrilling for me. Dead ends and clunkers and uncertainty often stymie me. But I have to resist letting the frustration of coming up short of my standards derail me. Keep at it, man. The real reward is the path and the process—the making of the thing even more than the thing itself. Hopefully, ultimately, I’ll also have the satisfaction of making something wonderful I’m delighted to give to the world.

There’s this lovely line in the introduction to Make Something Wonderful delivered by Jobs to a group of students:

“You appear, have a chance to blaze in the sky, then you disappear.”

I have appeared, through no effort of my own. Disappearing is inevitable. Taking the “chance to blaze in the sky”… that is the challenge.

Make something wonderful with your life while you can.

Apple’s new iPhone dock

A dock came with the first couple of iPhones. There was one in the box with my iPhone 3G in 2008. 

It was a nice touch and gave the phone a home, a more definite sense of place. And it was more of an incentive to just put it away when you got home. 

But docks went away as an Apple option eventually. Third party solutions have been available, but there’s been nothing from Apple in the Lightning connector era. 

But last week Apple announced a new dock to fit all the Lightning connector devices. That’s the iPhone 5, 5s, 6, and 6 Plus. Apparently, even iPads will fit. 

I ordered a couple as soon as I saw them available and got them this weekend. 

Here’s my wife’s iPhone 6 (sporting the new red Apple leather case I just got her for Mother’s Day) in the new Apple dock:  

The dock is very simple and offers a minimalist, elegant alternative to just laying the phone on a nightstand or desk. Even with the case on the phone fits perfectly onto the dock. It’s easy to connect one-handed, but it’s not so easy to disconnect without using two hands. 

The dock itself is barely there, with just enough of a form to fulfill its function. No flourishes. Nothing unnecessary. Classic Apple design for even a lowly phone dock. 

“A place for everything, and everything in its place.” This new dock is a simple way to fulfill that declutterer’s mantra and give your iPhone a place to call home. 

Becoming Steve Jobs: Adversity and failure before triumph



The new, much-hyped biography, Becoming Steve Jobs, was released yesterday, and my pre-ordered copy was on my porch when I got home last night. This is the rare book that I’m choosing to purchase as a physical book instead of an ebook. The advance praise was sufficient enough and the topic is one I find fascinating. I’m thinking it will be a keeper.

The book explores how someone who seemed so insensitive and reckless at the beginning of his career could end up as THE visionary business leader of our time. I just started reading it and came to this passage in the prologue:

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“We can learn as much, if not more, from failure, from promising paths that turn into dead ends. The vision, understanding, patience, and wisdom that informed Steve’s last decade were forged in the trials of these intervening years.”

The greatness of the company that Steve Jobs fashioned in his last decade would not have been possible without the failures and shortcomings of his first couple of decades.

I’ve been fascinated recently by those who have turned adversity and failure to their advantage. We all seem to know that facing difficulties and enduring setbacks make us stronger and better. Yet we resist even the thought of coming up short or of taking on hardship.

Maybe we all should regularly and intentionally fling ourselves into the teeth of surefire heartbreak and dismal failure just so we can grow and learn faster.


Tim Cook on Steve Jobs and the values that drive Apple

Fast Company has an exclusive interview with Apple CEO Tim Cook that is filled with quote-worthy insights.

Cook, an Auburn University graduate from Mobile, Alabama, has always come across to me as a genuinely good guy. Very smart and driven and hard-working, of course, but a regular, unassuming nice person who just happens to run the most impressive and wealthiest and coolest company in the world. As a fellow southerner and a delighted Apple customer, I especially enjoy hearing Cook’s southern drawl as the voice of a company that’s changing the world like few others ever have.

Cook earned his reputation at the company for his brilliant corralling of logistics and resources to build a staggeringly robust sytem for manufacturing all those iPods and iPhones and Macs. Steve Jobs was the product visionary and shaper of a uniquely innovative company culture, but it was Cook who was resonsible for making sure those dreams could be made and shipped.

Cook will never match Jobs as a cultural icon. But that doesn’t seem to be his aim.

Here’s Cook on lessons learned from Jobs:

Steve felt that most people live in a small box. They think they can’t influence or change things a lot. I think he would probably call that a limited life. And more than anybody I’ve ever met, Steve never accepted that.

He got each of us [his top executives] to reject that philosophy. If you can do that, then you can change things. If you embrace that the things that you can do are limitless, you can put your ding in the universe. You can change the world.

That was the huge arc of his life, the common thread. That’s what drove him to have big ideas. Through his actions, way more than any preaching, he embedded this nonacceptance of the status quo into the company.

That is great leadership. Clearly, Cook and those who worked with Jobs were infected by his approach, his “nonacceptance of the status quo”, his razor sharp focus on transformational ideas and products, and a relentless commitment to constant improvement.

And, with Apple, as with all great organizations, it keeps coming back to culture.

Here’s Cook’s response when asked about conveying the Apple culture within the company:

I don’t think of it as systematizing, but there are a number of things that we do, starting with employee orientation. Actually, it starts before that, in interviews. You’re trying to pick people that fit into the culture of the company. You want a very diverse group with very diverse life experiences looking at every problem. But you also want people to buy into the philosophy, not just buy in, but to deeply believe in it.

Then there’s employee orientation, which we do throughout the company all over the world. And then there’s Apple U., which takes things that happened in the past and dissects them in a way that helps people understand how decisions were made, why they were made, how successes occurred, and how failures occurred. All of these things help.

Ultimately, though, it’s on the company leaders to set the tone. Not only the CEO, but the leaders across the company. If you select them so carefully that they then hire the right people, it’s a nice self-fulfilling prophecy.

Apple recently has allowed the media more access to it’s top people than I can ever recall. The interview with Cook is thorough and interesting throughout and well worth reading whether you care about technology or not.

On wearable technology and the world as it might be

Ben Thompson has a great post today about wearable technology in light of Apple’s upcoming new device: How Apple Will Make the Wearable Market

Thompson lately has been putting out a consistent stream of thoughtful analysis of Apple especially and of the direction of technology in general. In his most recent post about the Apple Watch he points out that most critics base their pessimism on how new technology will fare in the world as it is rather than looking imaginatively at the world as it might be.

He offers this:

For all of the changes that have been wrought by technology, a huge amount of our daily existence really hasn’t changed in a very long time. Consider keys: in my bag I have several pieces of metal, hopefully unique, that unlock doors or start up machines that run on controlled explosions. It’s positively barbaric! Money has improved a bit – cash is certainly a very old concept, although credit cards are more modern – but the idea that we physically hand someone access to a huge amount of money (i.e. our credit cards) without even thinking about it is odd. We operate lights with switches, print disposable tickets for everything from airplanes to concerts, and pack identification from a whole host of authorities, including the government and workplace.

It’s increasingly plausible to envision a future where all of these examples and a whole host of others in our physical environment are fundamentally transformed by software: locks that only unlock for me, payment systems that keep my money under my control, and in general an adaptation to my presence whether that be at home, at the concert hall, or at work.

He then goes on to explore how wearable devices can take a central role in such a future. And Apple is differentiating their device by making it desirable, aesthetically and emotionally, as well as remarkably useful. It’s not just a smart watch, there is also a good bit of art to their watch.

Apple’s focus on fashion is part of the plan to make their watch a cultural hit and not just a geek fetish. And widespread adoption would be necessary for all the parts to come together to make wearable technology more than just a fad for technology enthusiasts.

Reading Thompson’s post reminded me how much my family enjoyed using Disney’s MagicBands when we visited Disney World more than a year ago. These colorful bracelets unlocked our hotel room door, served as our tickets to enter the parks, managed our Fast Passes for rides, and were used to pay for our meals and souvenirs at restaurants and stores throughout the Disney resorts.

As much as I love good technology, I’ve been reluctant to get excited about Apple Watch. I have been imagining its primary function was to enable notifications to work more seamlessly. It seems to be a notification delivery machine. Literally. And I am anti-notifications. The fewer interruptions, the better.

Yet, a watch that would connect with my life in an abundance of helpful ways, the way the Disney MagicBands did, would be one that would earn a central role in my life the way the iPhone has.

There’s a long way to go before the infrastructure is in place to create such a connected and wireless world. But selling lots of Apple Watches would push that vision forward faster.

It’s hard for me to vividly remember the pre-smartphone world. The iPhone was a niche product with no app store, weak processing power, super slow internet, and a high price tag when it was introduced in 2007. Those who, at the time, saw the world as it was, dismissed its chances. But look at the world as it is now.

Consider the world as it might be from this point on. How will wearable technology and the infrastructure interacting with it look five years from now?

Since reading Thompson’s post, I’ve been browsing the Apple Watch options online, the sizes and band choices, and imagining wearing a watch again for the first time since 2008. (My favorite at the moment: Apple Watch Sport, space gray, black band, 38mm.)

It may be a year or two before I pull the trigger. I’m not a knee-jerk early adopter. The sweet spot of form and function and a robust ecosystem for these devices is surely at least a couple of iterations away. But I think it’s coming.

Apple Watch Sport space gray

Apple’s event: MacBook thoughts

I took a day off today. My kids are on spring break, and my wife is out of town for work. Daddy-daughter day included plenty of play time, a trip to the movies (Spongebob… meh), dinner out, and a grocery run. Yet, somehow, I was able to take in the entire live-stream of Apple’s product announcement event this afternoon.

Kind of like wearing a favorite UGA shirt on a football Saturday, I put on my Daring Fireball t-shirt and pulled up the event on my Apple TV to cheer on the possibilities that would be unveiled. Apple is great at these carefully choreographed events, which are filled with sharp product videos and occasionally genuine surprises. I’m a complete sucker for them. As a fan of both great presentation dynamics and Apple products, these events are right in my wheelhouse.

Today’s event was expected to be about the new Apple Watch. And it is a fascinating new product category that may ultimately change the way many of us use technology. I’m in wait-and-see mode as to whether I will ever want one.

But what I’m still thinking about hours after watching is the new MacBook that was unveiled. It’s lighter and thinner than the 11″ MacBook Air (which my wife has and we both love), yet it has a 12″ retina display and all-day battery life. Plus, it includes new engineering for a flatter, more fluid keyboard and something Apple is calling a “Force Touch” trackpad which responds to how hard you tap. There’s a bit of trade-off in that the processing power of this new MacBook is not as robust as what you can get in a MacBook Pro. This is not the machine for those doing regular heavy lifting like video editing and Photoshop.

This new MacBook, though, looks like the ultimate writing machine. The form factor seems like they’ve finally hit the sweet spot for portability and features. Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling famously said a few years back: “The MacBook Air changed my life.” She felt it was the ultimate writing tool because of its size and performance. This new MacBook improves on the Air in many ways, but especially with the HD screen.

And you can see the convergence across product lines for Apple. If an iPad married a MacBook Pro, this is what their offspring would look like. This MacBook is a bit like an iPad that runs Mac OS with a killer keyboard attached.

My personal Mac is an old iMac that’s more than six years old. This new, svelte MacBook has jumped to the top of my wish list. And Space Gray? Yes, please. (Guess I need to start saving. That hot water heater we had to replace today did not help…)

The iMore crew has a good summary of the features and a glowing early assessment from their time giving the new MacBook a go in the hands-on opportunity after today’s event.



Jony Ive and the moral purpose of design

It’s Apple Watch week with Monday’s event approaching rapidly and many eager to see just what the final details will be.* And the Jony Ive press tour continues. (Has Apple ever granted this much access to Ive or any of its top people? This is a new era of openness in Tim Cook’s Apple.) Here’s a profile in The Financial Times and a bit about Ive’s view of the big picture of design?

I would hazard a wild guess that 19th-century neogothic ecclesiastical architect and designer Augustus Pugin is not frequently discussed in Cupertino, but Ive invokes his name to discuss the moral purpose of design. He chooses his words carefully. “This is difficult to describe and it could be misinterpreted very easily, but there is a sense of almost serving your fellow humans. While people might not be able to articulate why they care and why they prefer one thing over the other, I really think that most people are very discerning.”

Some may take it as self-serving or hollow or PR, but I take his claims of serving humanity with design and with Apple’s creations as wholly sincere. And refreshing. Of all companies, Apple can most likely claim adherence to a standard beyond mere market economics and pursuit of profits. Maybe it’s easy to proclaim such lofty motivation if you represent the richest company in the history of the world.

It does seem the leadership at Apple are uniquely obsessed with making truly great products, products that offer remarkable value to their customers. And, yes, they make a lot of money by selling those products. But that is likely the key to their success. Focus obsessively on the creation and continual refinement of transformative products and trust that the humans they’re designed for will respond with delight and with a willingness to pay a premium for designs that resonate, whether those humans know exactly why or not.

What’s the gift we can give in our work? How can what we create and the experiences we deliver serve a meaningful purpose beyond putting food on our tables and paying our bills?

If you consider your work as a way to serve humanity, to make life even a little better for someone, you can transform a mere job into a calling. Tasks you previously took for granted, or undertook half-heartedly, become almost sacred and imbued with new energy when you instead see them as part of your gift to the universe, your legacy in the service of humanity. And your work likely will rise to new levels of excellence and accomplishment.

*I haven’t worn a watch since 2008. I’m assuming I don’t want an Apple Watch. But I’m also smitten by delightful technology. I’m a pushover for uniquely great things. I will be intrigued to see how this new device is being pitched to a generation that doesn’t see a watch as a necessity any longer. 

Walt Disney, Steve Jobs, and plussing your life

I’ve been immersed in Walt Disney recently. I’m reading a biography which is giving me a better appreciation of the impact one dynamic person can have on an organization and ultimately on society.

And then today I found this article linked from ToolsAndToys.net. It’s a piece by Rolly Crump, a former Disney Imagineer who worked on Disneyland projects like the original concepts for It’s A Small World and The Enchanted Tiki Room. He shares some great insights about what it was like to work with Walt. (Disney refused to let employees, or anyone, call him “Mr. Disney.” He insisted on being addressed by just his first name.)

In all the stories I’m reading about Walt, he comes across to me as a kinder, gentler Steve Jobs. Both men had charismatic personalities that could bring out the best work in others. No one could out-dream them. Their ideas were bigger and bolder than anyone else’s.

Walt was not actually an artist. (He didn’t even draw the original Mickey Mouse. He just came up with the concept and the personality and the voice and got Ub Iwerks to do the drawing.) And Steve was not a computer engineer or a designer. (It was Woz who made the original Apple computers. Steve just figured out how to sell them.) But both men saw possibilities others didn’t. They asked for more, for better, for the seemingly impossible. And they got it more often than not. With their ideas and their drive and their communication skills, they sold their dreams and impressed their high standards on those who worked with them.

Here’s Crump talking about the way Walt would generate and improve ideas:

In designing for Disneyland you definitely worked more as a conduit for Walt’s ideas. He directed what you were doing, and his direction was far superior to your own personal ideas. His ideas were way ahead of yours—you had to play catch-up on that, and then you had to kind of read subconsciously what it was that he wanted and the direction to take. Walt would come up with an idea, and that idea would explode inside of him. It would get better and better. So when you showed him something, he would take what you did to another level. And when you gave it back, he’d take it to yet another level.

So many Steve Jobs anecdotes sound like that. His ideas were a few steps ahead. Go bigger. Get it done sooner than anyone thinks possible. Give it more “wow”, more “cool”.

Walt called it “plussing”. He would take an idea and “plus it”, make it a little better. And it was constant for him. He was relentless in plussing everything, from a scene in a movie to the way a cast member interacted with a guest at Disneyland. (Here you can listen to a recording of Walt talking about plussing and why he loved Disneyland more than his movies.)

Jobs and Disney must have had a sharply tuned sense of discontent. What most of us would accept as okay, they would ask for better. And the results are what make Apple and Disney the icons they have become in our culture.

Maybe most of us are too timid, too content with good enough. What if you asked for better from yourself and from those you work with. What if you plussed your life as relentlessly as Walt and Steve plussed their creations?

Pre-ordered: Becoming Steve Jobs

I enjoyed Walter Isaacson’s massive, authorized biography of Steve Jobs. It was a big bestseller when it was published in 2011 so soon after its iconic subject died. The book was filled with sensational stories highlighting Jobs’s infamous temperament, and it was a decent history of the early days of the technology revolution. (Though, the author didn’t always seem to get technology.)

But the book seemed like a missed opportunity. Isaacson was granted access to Jobs in a way no other writer had been, but the “why’s” weren’t explored nearly as well as I had hoped. For such a thick book, it was surprisingly thin on takeaways, other than knowing I didn’t want to be Steve Jobs or to work for anyone like him.

I was hoping to see more into the day-to-day life of one of the key business innovators of our time. How did he structure his day? How did he spend his time? Why did he think so differently? How did he grow from such an idiosyncratic and often childishly cruel young entrepreneur into arguably the most dynamic and successful CEO and technology visionary of our generation?

My favorite writer on all things related to Apple, John Gruber, just posted on Daring Fireball about a new biography coming out later this month: Becoming Steve Jobs by Brent Schlender and Rick Tetzeli. It looks like exactly what I was hoping for in a Steve Jobs biography. From the book’s description on Amazon.com:

Becoming Steve Jobs answers the central question about the life and career of the Apple cofounder and CEO: How did a young man so reckless and arrogant that he was exiled from the company he founded become the most effective visionary business leader of our time, ultimately transforming the daily life of billions of people?

The authors interviewed key people from Steve’s life, including his wife. Gruber read an advanced copy and raves about the quality of the book while calling it “an essential reference for decades to come”.

Pre-ordered. Hardcover. (That shows how high my expectations are. I’m thinking it’s a keeper, one my kids might want eventually.)


Alto’s Adventure: A great iOS game

I’m not much of a game player, but occasionally one will come along that is just delightful. The newly released Alto’s Adventure for iOS is that game.

It’s two bucks and well worth it for its gorgeous design and satisfying, immersive experience. You ride a snowboard down a mountain and collect stray llamas. Really.

I loaded it on my kids’s devices today and all of us have been locked into it. So good.

I remember having a similar feeling playing Canabalt on the original iPad five years ago.


The sacred status of design at Apple

The New Yorker profile on Jony Ive I posted about yesterday is rich with detail about the primacy of design at the world’s most valuable company. It’s such a long feature it took reading it over two days for me to finish it.

I’m struck by the near sacred status of design at Apple. The design studio seems to be the axis of action for the entire company. Instead of analyzing markets and matching products to the greatest profit potential, Apple enables the design team to dream up products that delight them and allows the time to let those ideas mature and to refine them meticulously.

There’s art AND science involved. Jony Ive clearly is THE taste maker. His eye and his raw, unfiltered intuition–his gut–are determining the way our world will end up looking and working.

Yet this story also highlights the precision Ive and his team apply to every iteration of every possible idea they explore. From pencil sketches of random ideas to intricate measurements of the angle of corners on app icons, these designers explore the possibilities with detail and depth and care that set their final products far apart from the rest of the industry.

A former Apple designer was quoted in the article on the reverence for design within the company:

when a designer joined a meeting at Apple it was “like being in church when the priest walks in.”

Apple has made design its driving force and built its culture accordingly. Every organization has a pecking order of its values, whether that order is intentional or not, spoken or simply implicit in the way the leadership focuses attention and resources.

It’s worth revisiting regularly what you and your team (or family) should value. What is most important and will make the biggest difference in your work? Is that getting the attention and respect and resources it deserves?

Jony Ive and upping our design standards

This New Yorker profile of Apple’s design chief, Jony Ive, is a fascinating look at not just the man, but also into the mysterious, vaunted design lab he orchestrates inside Apple.

Design has moved to the forefront of our culture in a way it never has been before, and Apple and Ive are at least partly responsible. Simplicity and clarity and utility and beauty are more valued in consumer experience than ever. My eyes and my sensibility feel a bit insulted now when I come across sloppy, ill-conceived design, from a web form that looks like it was made in the 1990s to the clunky user interface on the self-serve pump at a gas station.

Apple has made design a distinguishing feature of both its software and hardware products. And as the cultural and corporate juggernaut of our time, it seems to be raising expectations for what we should expect from not just our products, but from experiences as well.

It ultimately comes down to caring. Who cares enough to fully inhabit the user’s experience of a product or service and make it is as intuitive and as delightful as possible? Here’s Ive from the New Yorker feature:

“At the risk of sounding terribly sentimental, I do think one of the things that just compel us is that we have this sense that, in some way, by caring, we’re actually serving humanity,” he said. “People might think it’s a stupid belief, but it’s a goal—it’s a contribution that we can hope we can make, in some small way, to culture.”

The whole, very long article is well worth reading. And it makes me even more aware of the potential to design my work and the experiences I create with even greater care.

Daily apps: Useful and delightful

My current iPhone home screen.

These are my most frequently used apps at the moment. I have six other screens of apps that mostly don’t get much use.

Those apps that merit inclusion on my home screen are ones that serve a regular useful purpose and are a delight to use. They do their jobs well.

Useful and delightful. A solid couple of traits to value and aspire to in more than just the apps on your devices.

App sale: Day One is 99 cents till Dec. 26

One of my favorite and most used apps, Day One, is on sale now through December 26 for only 99 cents. It’s normal price is $4.99.

If you’ve been holding out because you think five bucks is too much to spend on any app, here’s your chance. But, really, an app that brings value to your life is easily worth a few bucks, especially considering the silly things we all waste money on that bring no value in return.

Day One, of course, is a journal app, and it’s lovely. It reduced the friction that kept me from ever sticking to a journal habit and actually made it fun to chronicle my life. I treat it like my own private Twitter, that no one sees but me.

As I’ve been looking back over the year recently, Day One has provided a delightful way to remember what has happened and what has mattered most.

Day One is just one of many apps that are on sale right now. Here’s a great list of the great deals from MacStories. I also love Tweetbot, the best Twitter client, and SolarWalk, a gorgeous exploration of the solar system.

John Gruber tells the Daring Fireball story

Daring Fireball is a daily must-read for me. And John Gruber has one of the most consistently distinctive and quote-worthy takes on Apple and all things tech. I’m a fan and have a couple of Daring Fireball t-shirts I wear proudly. (I’m normally a plain-t kind of guy, so it’s a big deal for me to sport someone’s logo.)

Gruber has a great story about how he made his blog into his full-time career, and he told it on the XOXO Festival stage recently:

If you think you’ve missed the boat, that it’s too late for you to get in on the possibilities created by the internet, you are wrong. It’s still early. We are just at the edge of the frontier. But don’t wait around thinking about it. Claim your stake online now. Buy that domain name. Get started on WordPress or Squarespace or Tumblr. Make something you’re proud to share with the world. And keep doing it. And keep getting better.

iPhone 6 first impressions


I received the new iPhone 6 on Friday and have been impressed with this latest and greatest iteration of the iPhone. The hardware design and build quality are as solid as any device I’ve used. It’s a delight to hold this phone. I much prefer the rounded edges of the 6 to the sharp corners of the 4 and 5. And it’s incredibly thin without making it feel fragile.

I’m loving the new screen size. 4.7″ is not too big. And the display quality is phenomenal! I’ve been ignoring my iPad mini, preferring for now to read on this device instead.

My old eyes are appreciating the new zoomed view option which shows less content, but it’s larger. Here’s my home screen:


My wife prefers the standard view which shows more content a little smaller:


This device is fast. Every task seems snappier. I haven’t experimented much with the camera yet, but it’s getting rave reviews.

I’m really liking Apple’s leather case. It’s sleek and adds very little heft but provides a good sense of grip. And it just feels nice. We will see how it holds up. I was anti case for my 3G and 4, but I’ve come to appreciate having a case just for improved grip.


So far this new iPhone is exceeding my already high expectations. I composed this post on the phone instead of the iPad. I’m curious if the slightly larger and strikingly sharper display will continue to have me ignoring my non-retina iPad mini more often.

iPhone week and the fleeting allure of great gadgets

I’ve loved gadgets since I was a kid. There was my blue plastic cassette recorder I played with in the car on the way to Disney World. I remember recording McCartney’s Live and Let Die from the car radio. I also as a kid had a nifty solar-powered calculator and a classic record player and some excellent film cameras including a Polaroid and a Kodak “pocket camera”. I received a Nikon FM SLR for Christmas in 9th-grade and spent the rest of high school roaming the halls and sidelines as the yearbook photographer. I’ve got that camera packed away in a closet somewhere. And it still works great, but film seems ancient now.

For high school graduation my parents gave me a gorgeous Seiko watch that I had first eyed in a full page magazine ad. That watch was with me throughout college. I lost it somehow a few years later when I was working in D.C. I last remember having it as I was taking my parents and grandmother on a White House tour. Later, after coming up empty with the lost-and-found desk at the White House, I couldn’t help but imagine President Reagan wearing it, proudly admiring my Seiko on his wrist, claiming finders keepers.

One of my favorite gadgets of the pre-iPhone era was the Palm V. It was a svelte little electronic organizer with lovely lines that just felt great to use. I went through a few different Palm devices until the iPhone appeared.

My first Apple device, though, was the distinctive iMac G4 with the white base and the screen on a movable arm. It’s such an appealing design we still keep it on a desk in our home even though it’s not been turned on in years. That Mac led us to the iPod (3rd generation) which eventually put us on the iPhone path.

I’ve been an iPhone user since 2008. I stood in line for hours during the opening week of the 3G release. Bless my sweet wife who waited patiently in the mall with our two young kids. She had no idea it would take so long or cost so much. I loved that phone. I was in awe of what it could do, especially compared to any other device I had ever owned. It did feel magical.

I’ve upgraded every couple of years since then. The iPhone 4 supplanted the 3G as my favorite device ever, and my iPhone 5 has been a solid improvement over the 4.

And now I’ve already preordered the iPhone 6. I went with the 4.7” screen with 64 GB of storage in “space gray”. The 6 Plus is way too big for my tastes. I’m even leery of the screen size of the smaller 6 and worried that it may be too unwieldy compared to the 5. My wife, especially, was fond of the size of the iPhone 5.

I think we’re both going to be fine with the new size, and we will probably wonder why we were even hesitant about it. I’m thrilled with the increase in storage, though. My wife’s 32 GB iPhone 5 stays full with photos and videos. My current phone only has 16 GB, not nearly enough. Fortunately, Dropbox and iCloud have enabled me to keep most of my stuff in the cloud and off my device until I need it.

I realize these devices are frivolous and inessential and have incredibly short reigns as our most cutting edge gadgets. And yet they’re amazing. My phone is one of the few things I have with me almost all the time. It’s in my pocket or on my desk or in my hand or on my nightstand while I sleep. It’s my window to the world and to the people I love. It’s my journal and calendar and to-do list and the first thing I reach for when a creative spark strikes. And it’s an amazing camera that’s helping me chronicle and remember my family’s big and small moments.

I’m not obsessed with my phone, and I don’t let it distract me from being present with the real live people I’m around every day. I keep it on mute and keep it out of sight when I’m in conversation.

I don’t have many material desires. But I do appreciate the grace of great things, and I do love having the most current computer technology. As brilliantly designed as these devices are, though, it’s stunning how fleeting their utility is. My old-school safety razor, for example, will be just as handsome and useful fifty years from now. My chef’s knife and cast iron skillet could be used someday by my future grandchildren. But the new iPhone that’s arriving at my door on Friday will be out of date a year from now when the next one is released.

I don’t mind, though. Such is the way of technology. The allure of having the best right now, especially for something that has such a prominent role in everyday routines, is worth it for me. This pocketable, best-in-its-class gadget regularly, consistently provides moments of delight and utility in a way that no other thing could. A mere thing, thoughtfully designed and well executed, can add genuine value and enhance the enjoyment of my days. I’m looking forward to seeing the UPS truck on Friday.

Slow down and do it right

Daring Fireball linked to this article by a former Apple design leader, Mark Kawano. Deadlines are a big deal inside Apple. They never publicize far in advance when they are releasing a product, but internally they are driven by deadlines.

BUT, if their product is not satisfactory by the deadline, they don’t just ship it anyway. They are not opposed to moving deadlines to better serve the creation of a product that meets their high standards.

Many tech start-ups especially seem to prefer the opposite approach. Just ship something and then iterate to make it better later. But as a customer or user, I don’t want a half-baked product. I don’t want to be a beta tester providing useful feedback for the next iteration.

Kawano refers to Facebook beginning to change their approach to product development:

Take Facebook, which recently killed its famous internal mantra: “Move fast and break things.”

Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, told a crowd of developers earlier this year that he had made a decision to kill the motto after learning that speed does not equal success. “What we realized over time is that it wasn’t helping us to move faster, because we had to slow down to fix these bugs and it wasn’t improving our speed,” Zuckerberg said.

Instead, Zuckerberg said, Facebook was going to slow down and do it right.

Having a due date will force action. Circle a date on the calendar you plan to have something done. Make an appointment with your team or friend or spouse to show them your creation on that date. Then, if it’s not good enough, set another deadline to perfect it.

Set a deadline. Take action. But slow down and do it right.

“Details matter. It’s worth waiting to get it right.”
-Steve Jobs


The best things

Steve Jobs once was asked which product he was most proud of. He said it was not the Mac or the iPhone, it was Apple, the company. He hoped to leave a legacy with the company and its culture that outlived him and any single product. So far, so good.

How did he plan to keep that going, even after he was gone? There’s an article in the New York Times about Apple’s secretive training program for employees that is designed to perpetuate Apple’s philosophy and culture and continue their run of success.

Culture is everything for an organization. A great company or non-profit or family, even, has to be intentional about connecting its people with what it considers its essential values and principles, and doing it continually and effectively. Don’t take anything for granted about what your people know about your whys and hows. Be relentless in telling the story of what made your organization what it is, but also in searching for opportunities to grow and rethink and shed what no longer resonates. Keep skating to where the puck is going, not where it is.

And consider this quote from Jobs in the article:

“Expose yourself to the best things that humans have done, and then try to bring those things into what you’re doing.” –Steve Jobs

That’s good advice for all of us. Seek out the best of what’s around (DMB reference for the win). Read the best writing and see the best movies. The classics are classics because their quality stands the test of time. Follow those at the top of your field. Be a connoisseur  of quality in the things you surround yourself with. Appreciate the grace of great things and use those things to bring out the best in you.

Keep it simple, make it clear

A story from Ken Segall’s book, Insanely Simple, about his experience as part of the advertising team working with Apple:

At one agency meeting with Steve Jobs, we were reviewing the content of a proposed iMac commercial when a debate arose about how much we should say in the commercial. The creative team was arguing that it would work best if the entire spot was devoted to describing the one key feature of this particular iMac. Steve, however, had it in his head that there were four or five really important things to say. It seemed to him that all of those copy points would fit comfortably in a thirty-second spot.
After debating the issue for a few minutes, it didn’t look like Steve was going to budge. That’s when a little voice started to make itself heard inside the head of Lee Clow, leader of the Chiat team. He decided this would be a good time to give Steve a live demonstration.
Lee tore five sheets of paper off of his notepad (yes, notepad—Lee was laptop-resistant at the time) and crumpled them into five balls. Once the crumpling was complete, he started his performance.
“Here, Steve, catch,” said Lee, as he tossed a single ball of paper across the table. Steve caught it, no problem, and tossed it back.
“That’s a good ad,” said Lee.
“Now catch this,” he said, as he threw all five paper balls in Steve’s direction. Steve didn’t catch a single one, and they bounced onto the table and floor.
“That’s a bad ad,” said Lee.
I hadn’t seen that one before, so I rather enjoyed it. And it was pretty convincing proof: The more things you ask people to focus on, the fewer they’ll remember. Lee’s argument was that if we want to give people a good reason to check out an iMac, we should pick the most compelling feature and present it in the most compelling way.

Keep it simple. I often struggle with a “kitchen sink” approach when I speak, wanting to throw in everything that might be useful. But what is most important and how can I make that stick? What do I need to cut so that I can give more attention to what matters most? Make it clear.

And consider how many people use Powerpoint and fill their slides with multiple points. Lots of points, no power. One point per slide is much more effective.

Kill the bullet points. Hone your idea to the essentials, and craft your message with simplicity and clarity.

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