Product as Art: The IPod nano

You’ve probably heard discussions about how writing code is like art or painting. Well, I found this article in Time Magazine (via Slashdot) that talks about the development of Apple’s new super-small, super-stylish MP3 player, the iPod nano (note the all-lowercase spelling; even the name is stylish). As an aside, I don’t own an iPod, my wife and I own the much less stylish, but cheaper and MusicMatch compatible Dell DJs.

The Slashdot write-up sums it up well:

“[The article] reveals that development work began just nine months ago, when the iPod mini was still a top-seller. Every internal component was redesigned and packed into every millimeter of the space inside. Famed Apple designer Jonathan Ives spent months on the tiniest of details, like the laser-etching of the logo and the roughness of the clickwheel compared to the smoothness of the rest of the exterior. ‘I know you’re not going to consciously find these details particularly appealing,” says Ives, ‘but I think it’s the fact that we’ve worried about all of them that makes the product so precious.'”

Apple’s unique selling proposition is design. Their desire to “change the world” and “build something beautiful” (as Steve Jobs has so often said) has kept them afloat among questionable business decisions (never licensing the Mac OS, for instance), and troubled times (Jobs being kicked out of his own company). Their level of passion is reminiscent of a musician’s composition or a painter’s amazing still life.

Art is the transformation of idea to tangible form; creating something real from something abstract. It’s taking an emotion, idea, or experience and giving it form so that it can be experienced by others, and this is what the designers at Apple have done. If they continue to strive for this lofty goal they will be hard to catch, indeed.

One of the designers is quoted as saying “It’s like a puzzle to fit all that stuff together. It has the tightest tolerances of anything we’ve ever made in the history of this company.”

I bet he’s saying that again in 9 months.

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