Jony Ive’s 1998 iMac: “Apple launched a crusade to convert the entire planet to their faith that in simplicity lies the ultimate sophistication” ©The Advertising Archives
Jony Ive: The Genius Behind Apple’s Greatest Products by Leander Kahney (Portfolio, £14.95)
Quoting his subject’s words at the head of the chapter on the design and development of Apple’s iPhone, Leander Kahney makes Jony Ive sound oracular: “When we are at these early stages in design… often we’ll talk about the story for the product—we’re talking about perception. We’re talking about how you feel about the product, not in a physical sense, but in a perceptual sense.” Throughout his biography of Apple’s design magus for nigh on the past two decades, Kahney comes at Ive’s notion of the “narrative” of a product time and again, but it’s this formulation that most closely approaches the metaphysical, seemingly suggesting that all those iMacs, PowerBooks, iPods and iPads that Ive has been responsible for mind-birthing should be considered not as mere phenomena, but actual noumena; for, what else can he mean by “perceptual”—as distinct from “physical”—if not some apprehension of how the iPhone is in itself, freed from the capacitive touch of our fingers?
You may find this rather too high-flown for a mobile phone—or a laptop, or a tablet computer for that matter—but when it comes to Apple and its products the sky is no limit: in 2012, the company founded 36 years earlier in the garage of a Californian bungalow by Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Ronald Wayne, reached a market capitalisation of $660bn, surpassing the record set by Microsoft in 1999 and making it the most valuable publicly-traded company ever. It is in the perception (and I use the term here in an ordinary language, non-Ive sense) that Apple piled up this mountain of pelf not simply by flogging clever electronic gizmos, but by somehow altering global consciousness, that the company’s own identity finds its fullest expression. Other tech giants may have their schticks—Microsoft slick and savvy, Google cuddly and approachable, Facebook brash and sophomoric—but only Apple claims to have elevated its marketing strategy to the status of a transcendental aesthetic.
But before we examine this claim in more detail—and it may surprise you to learn that I agree in a large part with Apple’s self-estimation—let me relate my own Apple narrative. In…