Apple Appears to Be Rethinking Its Hardware Designs Following Jony Ive’s Departure

Apple's 2019 flagship iPhones and latest MacBooks signaled that it's revamping its hardware design philosophy. So does a new report about its 2020 flagship iPhones.
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Less than ten months have passed since the renowned Jony Ive stepped down as Apple’s  (AAPL) - Get Report Chief Design Officer to start a new company that will work with both Apple and other clients.

And already, there are several signs that Apple is rethinking its design philosophy some following Ive’s departure. But based on what has happened so far, that might be far from entirely a bad thing.

First, last September, Apple rolled out new flagship iPhones that (although looking much like their predecessors in many respects) were moderately thicker and heavier than its 2018 flagships, on account of packing larger batteries. Whereas the iPhone XS Max was 7.7mm thick and weighed 208 grams, the iPhone 11 Pro Max is 8.1mm thick and weighs 226 grams.

That’s not exactly a massive difference, but after pushing year after year in the Ive era to make new iPhones as thin and light as was reasonably possible, it did represent a change of pace -- a calculated decision to prioritize function (i.e., battery life) over form. And this calculated decision brought with it a major benefit: The iPhone 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max deliver much better battery life than their predecessors, with Apple claiming 4-hour and 5-hour increases, respectively, under normal use.

These battery life gains, together with camera improvements, appear to be the biggest reasons why Apple’s 2019 flagship iPhones saw a better-than-expected consumer reception.

MacBook keyboards are another area where Apple has recently been breaking with an Ive-era focus on thinness. Last November, Apple launched a 16-inch MacBook Pro that abandoned the ultra-thin and occasionally-criticized “butterfly” keyboard design that MacBooks had been shipping with since 2015 in favor of a more conventional “scissor switch” design (Apple calls its proprietary scissor switch keyboards Magic Keyboards). And last month, Apple launched a revamped MacBook Air featuring a Magic Keyboard.

Reviewers have almost unanimously given a thumbs-up to the new keyboards. Some have gone as far as to argue that they’re the biggest selling points for Apple’s newest MacBooks.

Monday brought yet another sign that Apple is now more willing to rethink its hardware design approaches. Bloomberg reported that Apple plans for its 2020 iPhones to have flat edges and displays, rather than curved ones, as well as “more sharply rounded corners like the iPad Pro introduced in 2018.”

As Bloomberg notes, such a design, which in theory could make a device less slippery to hold, would be something of a throwback. Flagship iPhones have sported curved edges since the iPhone 6 was introduced in 2014, and have also used curved OLED displays since the iPhone X launched in 2017. And judging by the voice-overs he has provided for iPhone launch events, Ive has been a big fan of these design choices.

Time will tell how a return to flat iPhone edges and displays (assuming it happens) is received. But so far at least, change hasn’t been such a bad thing for Apple on the hardware design front.

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