Worth Reading: Apple’s design guru; kids zone out on the iPad and a ginormous Windows 8 tablet

May 27, 2012

London's Telegraph scored a rare interview with Apple design chief Jonathan Ive, the man responsible for the look of so many key Apple products including the iMac, iPad, iPod and the iPhone.

Given Apple's product reach the Telegraph says Ive could be rightly considered the most influential designer in the world. While some might think that a stretch, Ive did receive an undisputed high honor this week in the UK; he was granted knighthood for services to design and enterprise, an honor he said is "incredibly humbling."

The article includes some good inside detail about Ive's design philosophy and work at Apple. Typical of Apple's tight security around products, only select employees are allowed inside Ive's office on Apple's Cupertino, Calif. campus, which the article says has tinted windows and is filled with machines for designing and prototyping Apple’s various products.

"We try to develop products that seem somehow inevitable. That leave you with the sense that that’s the only possible solution that makes sense," says Ive. "Our products are tools and we don’t want design to get in the way. We're trying to bring simplicity and clarity, we're trying to order the products."

Asked which Apple product he'd like to be remembered for, Ive gave an evasive if not amusing answer. "A lot does seem to come back to the fact that what we're working on now feels like the most important and the best work we've done, and so it would be what we're working on right now, which of course I can't tell you about."

Kids zoning out on the iPad — is that a good thing?

While it was stated matter of factly, the lead sentence in the Wall Street Journal's article about kids using iPads struck me as a very big deal. 

"More than half of the young children in the U.S. now have access to an iPad, iPhone or similar touch-screen device.

Wow, if it wasn't clear before, that stat makes clear the era of the touchscreen has arrived. 

The thrust of the article is about just what that means to a young generation that in the past would more typically be playing with Lego's, dolls and picture books.Technology's impact isn't new; the WSJ notes that kids for years have sat too close to the television for too long or played hours of Madden on family room game players. 

But pediatric neuroscientists and researchers who have studied the effects of screen-time on children suggest the iPad is a different beast. Why? Well, the iPad and similar devices allow children to interact with technology at a younger age than ever before. Their fingers may not be developed enough to manipulate a mouse or operate a videogame console, but they can navigate a tablet touch screen.

The article's author quotes several experts and studies but also conveys what he and his wife observed watching their 3 year old son use an iPad. "We also noticed things that worried us. He would go into a trance-like state when he used the iPad. He wouldn't respond when we called his name." 

"He's concentrating," said Sandra Calvert, a professor at Georgetown University. It's physiologically the same thing he does while deeply immersed in, say, Legos. Psychologists call it "flow experience."

There are no conclusive studies on the effect iPad use is having on young children because its too new. But the article includes some interesting observations for anyone concerned with their child's use of the device. One point that struck me is that many apps for kids are designed to stimulate dopamine releases in the brain that encourage a child to keep playing by offering rewards or exciting visuals at unpredictable times.

Steve Ballmer's ginormous Windows 8 tablet

According to a report in Wired, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer is already using a Windows 8 tablet ahead of the new operating system's official release expected this October. 

It's not surprising Ballmer would want to be on top of what will likely be the software giant's most important product rollout of the year. What is surprising is the hardware he's running it on. 

Ballmer uses an 80-inch Windows 8 tablet hung on a wall in his office. "He’s got rid of his phone, he’s got rid of his note paper," Microsoft VP Frank Shaw told Wired. While Shaw wouldn't say who makes the mega-tab, he did say Ballmer uses it as a whiteboard and even for email.

"It's not a consumer thing now, but we know historically that that’s how all things start," said Shaw. "The idea that there should be a screen that's not a computer, we'll laugh at that in two years.


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