Apple's senior vice president of industrial design, Sir Jonathan Ive, revealed during a speech at a British Embassy Business event on Monday that the company almost scrapped its iconic iPhone because of design flaws. Apparently he and the late Steve Jobs were so focused on excellence that they were prepared to reject designs for merely being good, rather than great.
“There were multiple times where we nearly shelved the phone because we thought there were fundamental problems that we can't solve,” Sir Jony said when speaking at the event timed to coincide with the Olympics. He then recalled one problem involving an early prototype phone, “where I put the phone to my ear and my ear dials the number” accidentally.
Of course, the effort paid off in the end. Apple has enjoyed unprecedented success with the iPhone, selling over 250 million handsets since its launch in 2007.
His comments provide an interesting insight into Apple's design process. According to Ive, it is not uncommon for Apple’s designers to feel they are pursuing something that's really incredibly compelling, but at the same time they're struggling to solve the problem that it represents.
“We have been, on a number of occasions, preparing for mass production and in a room and realized we are talking a little too loud about the virtues of something. That to me is always the danger, if I'm trying to talk a little too loud about something and realizing I'm trying to convince myself that somethings good. You have that horrible, horrible feeling deep down in your tummy and you know that it's OK but it's not great.”
One comment likely to raise a few eyebrows with skepticism is that, according to Ive, Apple's “goal isn't to make money.” There were a few smiles and laughter in the audience, but Ive maintained that while the company is certainly very happy with its revenue, “Our goal and what makes us excited is to make great products. If we are successful people will like them and if we are operationally competent, we will make money.”
He also pointed out that the reason the firm makes only a few distinct products is to ensure they have a “manageable number of products we can invest in an incredible amount of care" and maintains that the “hallmark” of Apple is “real care.” He added, “if we're honest about wanting to make the best possible products that we can, that genuinely means saying no because we don't believe it's good enough.”