It’s a truism in tech design that it takes a great deal of work to make something easy to use, and no company has proven the principle more spectacularly than Apple. It came straight from Jobs, who pushed his engineers and designers to remember that it wasn’t the device that customers wanted — it was the experience, the information, the services, the apps, the ability to edit spreadsheets and documents, to watch video, send email and texts, play games, take photographs — the countless things we do today (effortlessly, for the most part). You can debate the consequences of this new power at our fingertips, but there’s no denying it’s a revolution in the daily lives of rich and poor alike, and that Apple has set the pace, led by Ive’s answers to Jobs’ questions. Jobs loved the iPad, which he called an “intimate device” because it was immersive, like a good book — a window into whatever worlds you chose to explore. “In so many ways,” Ive says, “we’re trying to get the object out of the way.”
Last night, I watched “App: The Human Story” and I was struck by Matías Duarte’s explanation that apps are generally single-purpose widgets on a very general-purpose device. I think Apple’s latest generation of devices is the purest expression of that idea. Everything they’ve been doing — from near-seamless enclosures and Face ID, down to the coatings on the display becoming increasingly closer to black, so when the display is off, it vanishes into the glass — gets closer to this idea. Even the software of the iPhone X comes closer to that: you can fling your apps around or send them back to the home screen, and it feels like you’re directly manipulating everything the system does. Similar interactions on the iPad help turn that into a totally immersive experience; one of my biggest gripes with previous generations of iOS is the number of times it still felt necessary to use the home button, but that’s almost completely changed with iOS 11. It really is remarkable how much I can do with a device that often feels like it isn’t even there.