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11 products which defined Apple’s history

During his 27 year tenure as Apple’s chief design officer, Sir Jony Ive oversaw the design of some of the world’s most recognisable products – as well as some quickly-withdrawn flops. We take a look back at his most distinctive designs.

iMac G3, 1998

A later version of the original iMac, courtesy of Flickr user Marcin Wichary

Ive’s break-through design of the iMac G3 sparked an upwards trajectory for the technology company. The first model in Apple’s iMac line — hailed as a breakaway from traditional grey, boxy computers — came in a bright Bondi Blue (more colours were available later) and incorporated USB technology. The all-in-one computer was housed in translucent plastic behind a 15 inch display and helped secure its iconic status.

It wasn’t a complete success, however. Its mouse, in the shape of a hockey puck, was hard to grip and the short wire meant that mobility was difficult.


Apple Cube, 2000

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Apple Cube, courtesy of Flickr user Carl Berkeley

Ive re-designed the personal computer with this controversial design, which divided opinion. Some loved the transparent acrylic enclosure but others claimed it was form over function —  a familiar criticism of Apple products — and there were reports that it cracked easily. No matter the opinions on design, the low sales were definitive: it was scrapped less than a year after its launch date.

If you want to see the failed design — and you couldn’t afford its market price of $1799 — it’s now part of the Museum of Modern Art’s collection in New York.


iPod, 2001

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iPod 2001, courtesy of Flickr user Nobuyuki Hayashi

A revolution in portable music players, the iPod is perhaps most remarkable for its simplicity. The original model had only five buttons, and its scroll wheel — which allowed users to scroll intuitively between menus — would become an often-imitated hallmark.

The iPod also highlighted the strength of Apple’s marketing team, and its distinctive advertising campaign of silhouettes of iPod users — complete with another iconic Apple design, its earphones — brought a new awareness to Apple products.


iPod Hi-Fi, 2006

By 2006 there were already five generations of iPod but one of its hardware extensions, the iPod Hi-Fi — a speaker and docking station for the iPod — would be a one-off.

It was bulky, the iPods would fall out of the docking station at the top, and its high price point drove consumers away. It also suffered from another bugbear of Apple design: incompatibility. An adapter was required to use new iPod and iPhone models. The speaker system was discontinued just over a year after it first launched.



iPhone, 2007

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The original iPhone, 2007

Ive’s iPhone would prove to mobile phones what his iPod was to portable music players. Originally described as a “widescreen iPod with touch controls” it allowed users to sync with their laptops for the first time. Its 4.5 inch wide screen let users swipe through their photo library — pictures were taken on its two-megapixel camera.

In the twelve years since its launch, the iPhone has run through many iterations. 2008 saw a 3G model and a year later the iPhone 3GS introduced a 32GB model, doubling the phone’s memory capacity. In 2010, the iPhone 4, described by Steve Jobs as the “biggest leap since the original iPhone” came with a five-megapixel camera and the possibility of downloading more than 225,000 apps.

Its most recent model, the iPhone XS — models skipped straight from 8 to X — has a twelve-megapixel camera and the longest battery life ever, according to Apple. The company has sold more than a billion iPhones.


MacBook Air, 2008

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The 2018 MacBook Air

When the MacBook Air launched in 2008, it was the thinnest laptop in the world. At its thinnest point, it measured just 0.16 inches and weighed 1.3kg.

Its design not only created a new benchmark in portability, Apple also claims it is more environmentally friendly as its “ultra efficient design” minimises waste and a lower power consumption is achieved through a “highly efficient power supply”.

Last year, Apple launched a new MacBook Air which has a 100 per cent recycled aluminium shell, the first of its kind for the Mac range.


iPad, 2010

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The 2018 iPad Pro

When the iPad was released in 2010, it was considered a risk for Apple computer tablets were not a successful model in the technology industry. But the multi-purpose widescreen device — bigger than an iPhone but more portable than a laptop — with access to 200,000 apps, was another design milestone.

In less than 60 days, the first generation model sold two million products. In 2012, after the launch of the iPad mini and fourth generation iPad, the device reached three million sales in three days.


Mac Pro, 2013

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The Mac Pro 2013

Part of Apple’s popularity owes to its professional users, often from the creative industries who rely on its popular editing software, like Final Cut and Aperture. The company’s 2013 hardware offering, a newly-designed computer, was a contentious offering to this professional contingent.

Proving that Apple’s tendency for bold re-designs does not always achieve sure-fire success, the Mac Pro was quickly nicknamed the dustbin because of its barrel shape and shiny black surface. If the aesthetic did not endear the product to users, its design flaws — it was rumoured to overheat easily — did not help the Mac Pro’s image.

Apple admitted a rare public misstep with the product in 2017, when Philip Schiller, the company’s senior vice president of worldwide marketing, said it was “completely rethinking the Mac Pro”.


Apple Watch, 2014

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Apple Watch, 2014

A key venture into wearable technology, the Apple Watch allowed users to communicate with other iPhones, control music and also displayed a traditional watch face. The company’s “most personal device” came in a wide variety of designs, with options for black, grey, silver, rose and yellow gold watch faces.

The watch’s health features — users can track their heart rate via an Electrocardiogram (ECG) app — foreshadowed Ive’s plans for the future. Speaking to the Financial Times about his new design company, LoveFrom, Ive says that he is “fascinated” by wearable technology and its possibilities for “health and wellbeing”.


AirPods, 2016

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The second generation AirPods

Proving that good is not always immediately popular, Apple’s venture into wireless headphones were initially mocked for looking like the traditional Apple headphones but with their wires cut off.

There was a quick turnaround in public opinion, and in 2018, Apple sold 35 million AirPods. Their now-recognisable design echo Ive’s original headphone design, while their Bluetooth connection — new iPhones and iPads do not have a headphone connector built in — show the company’s constant, and sometimes frustrating, move forwards.

In March this year, a new generation of AirPods was announced with longer battery life and wireless charging capabilities.


Apple Park, 2017

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Apple Park, courtesy of Flick user GPA Photo Archive

In a move away from product design, Ive oversaw the building of Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, California. Opened in 2017, Ive says that its completion was one of the reasons he felt ready to move on from the company.

Designed by Norman Foster, doughnut-shaped offices spans approximately 2.2 million square feet and houses over 12,000 employees. Its central green space has a pond, drought-resistant trees and the site is complete with bikes in Apple grey.

Ive was unphased by criticism that the offices were inward-looking and contributed little to the local Bay Area, claiming in 2017, that unlike Apple products, the campus is only for the company. “We didn’t make Apple Park for other people,” Ive said. “So a lot of the criticisms are utterly bizarre, because it wasn’t made for you.”

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