What will inspire Apple's round iWatch design?
The latest round of whirlwind rumours and analyst predictions have claimed the new Apple smartwatch will feature a round face and a slim profile.
It is a commonly held belief that Apple will announce its entry into the smartwatch and wearables market this year, and that the smartwatch could launch in multiple different sizes for both men and women. But the idea of a round smartwatch from Apple is new, even though it isn't altogether shocking.
Many reports have now suggested a round smartwatch would fit the aesthetic and design ethos of current Apple products. Icons and buttons on the iPhone are round, among other things, so it makes sense that the iWatch (a commonly purported name for Apple's smartwatch) would be round as well.
The top smartwatches on the market - from manufacturers like Sony, I'm Watch, Martian, Pebble, Basis, and Samsung - mostly have square or rectangular watchfaces as well as lots of buttons and changeable watchstraps, etc. While some watches are indeed paired down, the vast majority look like complex gadgets, to say the least. A notable exception is the Moto 360, and so everyone is now comparing Apple's upcoming smartwatch to the Moto 360.
Motorola's smartwatch is perhaps different from the norm because it's round and doesn't boast the angular shape of rival devices. In fact, in pure watch mode, you'd be mistaken for thinking it's a conventional analogue device, but it features a touchscreen and Google's new wearable version of Android. Jim Wicks, the lead designer of Moto 360, said Motorola looked at watches throughout time when coming up with the Moto 360's standout design.
He claimed the smartwatch's design team looked at sundials, pocket watches, traditional wrist watches, and even clock faces found in train stations. Motorola noticed each of them have a circular look, and it decided to stick to this classic design: "We don't want to make consumers change for this tech. We want to make this tech map to them. With a square concept you might say 'that's interesting,' but you don't hit that 'whoa' mark."
So, the question is: If Motorola and Wick found inspiration in the traditional watches of the past, what could have inspired Apple and design guru Jony Ive to develop a round iWatch instead of a square one? Pocket-lint has dug a bit and come up with some possible answers. Read on to learn more.
Ive - a name that's synonymous with Apple design - is an English designer and the Senior Vice President of Design at Apple, where he has overseen the design of several Apple's products such as the MacBook Pro, iMac, MacBook Air, iPod, iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad, iPad Mini, and even iOS 7. And he presumably will have spent much time designing Apple's upcoming smartwatch.
Watch any YouTube video or read any interview with Ive and you will surely see or hear him mention "simplicity" at least once. The word is embedded into his everyday vocabulary, and that's because he designs everything with simplicity in mind. But for Ive, simplicity is actually really complicated. In an interview with Charlie Rose last year, while discussing a Red Chairty collaboration he did with designer Marc Newson, Ive explained his view of simplicity.
"Simplicity is not an aesthetic style. It's not the absense of clutter; than that would just be an aesthetic. I think simplicity is refining and being able to define the very essence of what something does, and therefore you understand what it is, and you understand what it does," said Ive. "It's this tremendous, I think, sort of gravity to try to find that very, very simple solution."
He added: "But when you do, there's that sense that it almost hasn't been designed. Because it does seem so obvious. Sometimes it's almost bordering on naive, because it's just so clear. You're so used to seeing so much unnecessary stuff, that, I think, it is very striking when you actually come across something that is so essential."
In other words, Ive likes things to be stupidly basic. He doesn't like a lot of faff or clunky bells and whistles. He likes thing to look and function in the most simplest of ways. He even gave a specific example to Charlie Rose, referencing the Leica camera he designed for Bono's Red Charity. It's a simple, light, and aluminium camera that almost looks plucked straight from the 1960s.
"[The Leica] communicates so quickly and immediately that it is a camera. It's almost like a camera, distilled," Ive said, clarifying that he got rid of any design element that he didn't want to be there, because they were a distraction. "Now that alone doesn't mean it will be simple. But it's part of the process to be left alone with something that's so camera-y."
In the same interview, Ive further discussed a simple-looking aluminium desk that he designed. He noted the desk's shape and form defined its function, and that it was immediately obvious that the desk was a desk. And finally, in another interview, where he detailed his design philosophy, Ive referenced his previous work on the iPhone:
"Something like the iPhone, everything defers to the display," he said. "A lot of what we seem to be doing in a product like that is getting design out of the way. And I think when forms develop with that sort of reason, and they're not just arbituary shapes, it feels almost inevitable, it feels almost undesigned, it feels almost 'well of course its that way, why wouldn't it be any other way?'"
With all this in mind, it's safe to say that Ive would go back to basics when designing a watch for Apple. He'd likely think about a watch's shape, form, function, and then he'd probably think, again, how everything would defer to the display (without having to come up with an arbituary shape). It's therefore not unusual to surmise that he has designed an iWatch with a simple design and that the gadget's primary focus point would in fact be its rounded display.
Going back to the top smartwatches currently on the market, it's not unfair to claim some of them blend in together and feature similar design elements such as square faces. That said, Apple will want to (even need to) stand out from the crowd if it finally launches a smartwatch. After all, the company's advertising slogan used to be "Think different". So, if it were going to think different, the first obvious decision would be to design a watch that isn't square.
Ive puts a lot of thought into his design processes apart from considering rivals, however. He considers materials and production, for instance, before settling on a final design. Ive told Charlie Rose that he is so fanatical about design because it shows he cares, unlike some other companies that seem to carelessly throw parts together and go into production: "I think we are surrounded by multiple, multiple products that testify company's don't really care," he said.
Ive's design philosophy is clearly different from those companies. He explained: "I think one thing you get a sense of is the degree of care... I think we believe, and it's very difficult to explain why, but I think part of the human condition is that we sense care. And sometimes its easier to realize - you sense carelessness. And we're surrounded, our manufactured environment, so much of it testifies to a complete lack of care."
So, what does all this mean? Apple's iWatch will be very different from rival watches and it will be precisely crafted with care. Don't expect cheap materials or interchangeable parts. Looking at other Apple products in recent years, it is clear that Apple loves contemporary design, retina displays, solid uni-body constructions, and aluminium materials. If we had to bet, the iWatch will likely sport most of these tell-tale Apple features.
Ive has long thanked Dieter Rams for inspiring him. Rams was the design head behind Braun when it manufactured a slew of iconic gadgets from radios to juicers. And in recent years, many reports have mocked the similarities between Rams' work at Braun in the 1960s and Ives' work at Apple over the last two decades. The image below for instance, compares a Braun Atelier television to and an Apple iMac 24, among other things.
And the similarities have never stopped. In 2011, Ive told The Telegraph that Rams' designs were "without apology, bold, pure, perfectly-proportioned, coherent and effortless... No part appeared to be either hidden or celebrated, just perfectly considered and completely appropriate in the hierarchy of the product’s details and features. At a glance, you knew exactly what it was and exactly how to use it."
Ive was once again referring to his philosophy (and Rams' philosophy) that a device should look and function in a way that is both simple and obvious. Much like the Leica and aluminium desk he designed for Red Charity, Ive prefers to conceive wonderful objects that are broadly accessible and beautifully made. We can therefore assume the iWatch will be "bold, pure, perfectly-proportioned, coherent and effortless" - meaning no unnecessary bits and bobs attached.
Also, in case you didn't know, Braun makes contemporary watches. The image below is of a classic white Braun watch. Could Apple's iWatch look similar? Your guess is as good as ours.
What can we expect?
Jony Ive, Apple's design head, likes simplicity, to think differently, and designer Dieter Rams. Those factors are the cornerstones of his design philosophy. With that in mind, we already mentioned the iWatch won't like be made of cheap materials like plastic or interchangeable parts like swappable wristbands. Rumours have only indicated it will launch with a round form factor and in multiple sizes for men and women. That's not a lot to go on, but we can use our imaginations.
The concept above by Mark Bell of Belm Designs is a realistic expectation of what Apple could unveil later this year. We know - by looking at current Apple products - that Apple favours aluminium uni-body constructions carved by CNC machines. Specifically, Ive loves CNC machines. He not only talked about them in his interview with Charlie Rose above, but he also demonstrated one at Apple headquarters in the video below.
Ive said he used CNC machines to make the perforated look on the Leica's body for Red Charity - a standout design that Mark Bell replicated in his iWatch concept. Apple also frequently uses CNC machines to make the uni-body chassis of MacBook computers and practically every other aluminium gadget. The company hasn't confirmed it would apply the same manufacturing process on an iWatch, but you'd have to be foolish to assume otherwise.
And finally, because Ive adores contemporary simplicity, you could expect the iWatch to boast a large, round Retina display and practically nothing else. The watchface design might also look similar to Mondaine's trademark design. You may recall that Apple paid 20 million Swiss Francs to Mondaine in 2012 to licence the design for use in the iPhone clock. Of course, the iWatch would also presumably run iOS.
Well, that's it. Let us know in the comments below what you think will inspire Apple's round iWatch design.