Inside the Apple Factory: Software Design in the Age of Steve Jobs | Summary and Q&A

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February 24, 2019
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Inside the Apple Factory: Software Design in the Age of Steve Jobs

TL;DR

Apple's Ken Kenda shares his unconventional path to Apple, the creative process behind their intuitive products, and the challenges they faced, including the decision to exclude copy and paste.

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Key Insights

  • 👤 Apple's success in product design is attributed to their focus on simplicity, innovation, and user experience.
  • 😤 The company values top-down leadership while encouraging bottom-up contributions from team members.
  • 😤 The small team size at Apple allows for better cohesion and faster decision-making.
  • 🎮 Apple emphasizes secrecy and tight control over product development to maintain confidentiality and avoid leaks.
  • 👅 Decisions at Apple are often driven by the vision and taste of Steve Jobs, who prioritized focus and prioritization over having every feature.

Transcript

well welcome to the a 16z YouTube channel I'm Frank Chen and today I am so excited I feel like I have won the golden ticket to Willy Wonka's factory Chocolate Factory because look if you're in Silicon Valley the one Chocolate Factory you want you're desperate to go visit is Apple and the reason for that is Apple has consistently over its history tu... Read More

Questions & Answers

Q: How did Ken Kenda end up at Apple?

Ken Kenda's journey to Apple was unconventional. He started as a motorcycle mechanic, then pursued photography, and eventually discovered web development, which led him to Apple.

Q: Why did Apple decide to create its own web browser?

Apple wanted to have control over critical technology and ensure the best user experience. By creating their own web browser, they could provide a more intuitive and seamless experience for their users.

Q: What was the reasoning behind excluding copy and paste from the initial iPhone release?

Apple's focus was on creating the best overall product, and copy and paste was not a top priority at the time. They believed that the other features of the iPhone outweighed the absence of copy and paste.

Q: How did Apple approach the challenge of designing a software keyboard for the iPhone?

The team at Apple faced the challenge of creating a software keyboard that had to account for the lack of tactile feedback and small screen size. They experimented with different ideas and used software assistance, such as autocorrect, to make the typing experience more reliable and enjoyable.

Summary

This video features Ken Kocienda, a former software engineer at Apple, discussing the creative process behind Apple's products, with a particular focus on the development of the Safari web browser and the iPhone touchscreen keyboard. The interview covers topics such as the hiring process at Apple, the decision to use open source code for Safari, the importance of speed in browser development, the challenges of creating a software keyboard, and the culture of secrecy and innovation at Apple.

Questions & Answers

Q: How did Ken Kocienda end up at Apple?

Ken was born in New York and grew up on Long Island. After studying history at Yale, he attended motorcycle mechanic school before working in photography and eventually landing a job at a newspaper in New York. He then moved to Japan and later applied to the Rochester Institute of Technology for a Master of Fine Arts degree. It was during this time that he became interested in web development and programming, which ultimately led to his job at Apple.

Q: Why did Ken decide to fix motorcycles after graduating from Ivy League college?

Ken wanted to do something that was different from his Ivy League experience. He specifically wanted to do something that was as far removed from college as possible. Fixing motorcycles provided a stark contrast and allowed him to explore a different career path.

Q: How did Ken transition from photography to web development?

Ken's interest in photography led him to spend a lot of time in the art and architecture library at Yale, where he discovered a fascination with architecture and art. This eventually led to an interest in the web, and when he saw the web for the first time in 1994, he knew he wanted to make photos show up on the web. He learned programming and eventually got a job at a software development company, leading to his work on the Safari web browser at Apple.

Q: Why did Apple decide to develop its own web browser, Safari?

Apple wanted to have control over critical technologies that were important to its future and user experience. At the time, Apple's Mac OS X operating system did not have its own web browser and was reliant on an agreement with Microsoft to provide a browser (Internet Explorer). Apple wanted to change this and have its own browser, which led to the development of Safari.

Q: Why did Apple choose the Conquer codebase over Mozilla for Safari?

Apple considered various options, including writing a fresh browser or licensing a browser from another company like Opera. However, they ultimately chose the Conquer codebase because it was one-tenth the size of Mozilla and therefore more manageable as a small team. The goal was to jump ahead in the development process and make a compelling browser as quickly as possible.

Q: How did Apple prioritize speed in developing Safari?

Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO at the time, set a vision for a fast and delightful browser experience. He wanted Safari to be the fastest browser in the market. The team implemented a performance test called PLT (Page Load Test) to ensure there were no speed regressions with each code check-in. This focus on speed resulted in Safari being three times faster than Internet Explorer at loading web pages when it was released.

Q: How did the idea for the software keyboard on the iPhone come about?

Steve Jobs had a clear vision for the iPhone and emphasized the need for a great user experience. He wanted the iPhone to have a software keyboard that could get out of the way and provide more screen real estate for other apps and experiences. The challenge was to create a reliable and delightful software keyboard that addressed the apprehension people felt when interacting with touchscreens.

Q: Why did the software keyboard become a top priority for Apple during iPhone development?

The software keyboard was seen as a high-risk aspect of the iPhone development because it needed to provide a typing experience with smaller keys than traditional physical keyboards. This presented challenges in terms of user apprehension and the lack of tactile feedback. Apple believed that if they didn't crack this problem, they might not have a successful product.

Q: How did the team at Apple approach the development of the software keyboard?

The team took a collaborative approach and assigned everyone on the team the task of working on the software keyboard. Each team member would come up with demos and ideas for improving the keyboard experience. The goal was to bridge the gap between small keys and finger size by using software assistance. This included features like autocorrect and suggestions for faster and more accurate typing.

Q: How did Apple's culture of secrecy and innovation impact the development of the Safari browser and the iPhone's software keyboard?

Apple's culture of secrecy was pervasive during the development of both Safari and the iPhone. The small team worked in closed-door offices, and there was a strong emphasis on protecting trade secrets and innovation. The team members were encouraged to think creatively and come up with unique solutions. Steve Jobs played a significant role in setting the vision and providing guidance, but the team had shared responsibility for making the product great.

Q: How did the development of the software keyboard lead to the invention of autocorrect?

The challenges faced in creating a reliable software keyboard led the team to consider new approaches. One breakthrough solution was to have the software change the letters the user typed to what it thought the user meant. This concept eventually led to the development of autocorrect, which has become a widely used feature on smartphones today.

Takeaways

The development of Apple's Safari browser and the iPhone's software keyboard involved a collaborative approach, with a small team of engineers and designers working together to overcome challenges and create innovative solutions. Apple's focus on speed, user experience, and control over critical technologies were key factors in the development process. The culture of secrecy and innovation at Apple fostered a mindset of continuous improvement and the pursuit of excellence. Ultimately, these efforts resulted in the creation of intuitive and delightful products that have had a significant impact on the technology industry.

Summary & Key Takeaways

  • Ken Kenda, an Apple employee, discusses the creative process behind Apple's iconic and intuitive products.

  • Ken shares his unconventional path to Apple, from motorcycle mechanic to photographer to software engineer.

  • He explains how Apple approached the development of their web browser, Safari, and the challenges they faced.

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