“Who wants to see what did I find when I cleaned out my garage and found pictures of everything I’ve ever done?” Tony Fadell tweeted in mid-April. It was a rhetorical question. Anyone with a passing interest in consumer hardware over the past two decades would jump at the chance to see what the man behind the iPod, iPhone, and Nest Thermostat hid in those giant Home Depot boxes.
The literal garage cleaning preceded the metaphorical variety with this week’s post “Build: An Unorthodox Guide to Making Things Worth Making“. The book shows Fadell’s path to building some of the most iconic consumer electronics hardware. This concerns, first of all, the “why” of product design. He uses this word more than 50 times during our 30-minute conversation.
After the tweet, we contacted Fadell’s team and asked if we would be able to take part in the garage sale. They gladly accepted, sending in a dozen images that give a rough idea of the product designer’s career from his early days at Nest.
The story begins in the early 90s, when he joined General Magic, having just graduated from the University of Michigan. The trials and tribulations of the Apple spin-off were highlighted in the 2018 documentary of the same name, which featured Fadell among the talking heads.
“The reason you should be interested in the history of General Magic is because it includes something fundamental, which is that failure is not the end, failure is actually the beginning,” says a company representative at the end. trailer. movie.
Above is a prototype of one of General Magic’s impressive and inspiring failures, the Walkabout.
“All we had were big boards and a big LCD,” explains Fadell. “It was something I had to work on while I was there. You look at the technology of the day and we were solving problems for ourselves. We didn’t solve the problems that people had. In 1991-1992, very few people had email. No one was downloading the apps – it wasn’t fast enough to behold. Even mobile/wireless. There was a sale of tickets. You can book a ride. There wasn’t even a network yet. There was no Wi-Fi, no mobile phones, no data networks.”
Time, as they say, is everything. Fifteen years before the introduction of the iPhone, it’s safe to say that the Walkabout arrived at the social party a little earlier. Working largely in secret, the company sought to address the Internet’s pain points ten years before they were on the radar of most people.
“I think a lot of people dreamed about it,” Fadell explains. “We were one of the first incarnations to really put it all together long before technology — or more importantly, society — was ready for it. They didn’t know they were going to have these problems because they didn’t have them until they showed up 15 years later. When you design in such a vacuum, this is what happens. It was amazing. Everyone’s like, “This is so cool, but why do I need this?”
This brings us to the “why”. Or “why, why, why,” as Fadell excitedly puts it. This is a three-word question that any product designer must answer before moving on to “how, how, how”—however tempting it may be to tackle the second part first. It’s one of those concepts that’s obvious in hindsight but difficult in the thick of things when you’re surrounded by a bunch of smart people who want to do cool things.
Fadell says this seemingly obvious concept became apparent during the Scramble word game.
“That’s what everyone used it for,” he says. “People didn’t use it for practically anything else day in and day out. And then you start scratching your head: “How much does it cost? Who will buy it? What is this for.’ And that’s when you start to realize that you spent three or four years of your life on this, and what can it be used for? We have this common opportunity. What can it be used for?”
This research eventually led to early generation PDAs such as Sony’s Magic Link and Philips’ Velo. “I was reading about how to write a business plan and a presentation and it was kind of like why?” explains Fadell. “Why? I swear it took me four or five days to even start thinking in terms of why, why, why? Because it’s been my whole life, I thought what, what, what?”
After working at Philips, Fadell was once again ahead of the adoption curve—albeit much less this time. Efforts to bring the Fuse music player to market have been hampered in part by the fact that funding dried up in the recent explosion of the dot-com bubble. However, two years later, he found himself realizing those dreams on a much wider stage at Apple by designing the first iPod.
Three years later, the company started working on the smartphone in earnest. After the Motorola ROKR E1 proved to be a major underdog, the company shifted its focus to its own design, borrowing heavily from iPod knowledge and design.
“This is a prototype that a third party sent me and said, “We are capable. Look what a cool thing we did,” and “I think you should choose us because we can help you with the iPod Phone concept,” Fadell says of the shot above. “The top and bottom have a twist, so you can use either the number pad, the control wheel, or the camera. It was really cool that people thought about it. It wasn’t that bad! It doesn’t work for many reasons, but it’s not a bad idea.”
Initial work on the iPhone began at a similar location.
“We made the iPod Plus Phone,” says Fadell. – You took a headset with a microphone and one ear. You could use the Click Wheel to select numbers and names, or you could dial with it like a rotary phone, which was its final death. You couldn’t enter anything because there is no text input. But it was an iPod Classic with a phone inside. Get away from the third-party prototype and we’ve been there too.”
Fadell says it was Steve Jobs who pushed the team to combine the success of the iPod with the secret phone project. After all, the company has designed something iconic and original with the iPod control wheel, so why would they do something as reckless as cannibalizing the touch screen input device?
“[Jobs] had very clear views on things—until they became clear,” he says. Or it became quite clear that they would not work. He really pushed us hard to get the iPod Plus Phone working. We worked weeks and weeks to figure out how to enter data using the scroll wheel. We didn’t succeed, and after the whole team was convinced that we couldn’t do it, he said: “Keep trying!” At some point, we all said, “No, that won’t work.”
The “iPod Plus Phone” was one of three concepts that eventually led to the first iPhone.
“There was a full screen iPod because we had video at the time,” he explains. “We had a screen plus a wheel, so let’s make the wheel virtual on the screen and have a single touch display. The third, in terms of hardware, was the Mac with a multi-touch touch screen. It was being worked on in another part of the company. A company called FingerWorks was bought by Apple. A guy named Steve Hotelling came up with a multi-touch screen, but it was about the size of a ping-pong table. There was a projector in the middle and everything. We had to go and squeeze it all in and combine the mobile phone functionality of the iPod Plus Phone, the screen capabilities and the virtual interface together.”
The stories of Fadell Jobs paint a familiar vision of a visionary whose perfectionism often led to long hours at Cupertino. We made a decision in advance that we would not use glass. [the iPhone],” he says. “And after this was known to the world, Steve said, ‘We need glass.’ for glass, it’s a very different experience. Within two months, we had to go from plastic to glass and redo everything, including the antennas, to get it right.”
In 2008 The Wall Street Journal broke the news that Fadell is leaving the company. “People familiar with the matter said Mr. Fadell was planning to take a leave of absence after leaving the company, although he may still remain with Apple as a consultant,” the newspaper wrote. Apple, unsurprisingly, declined to comment on “rumors and speculation.”
Fadell will start his own company again. However, this time things were much better. Founded in 2010 with Apple colleague Matt Rogers, Nest was acquired by Google four years later and became the basis for the company’s smart home offerings. It was a big leap from the world of music players and phones to thermostats and fire detectors.
You go from being more or less an entertainment device to this very functional thing with no design whatsoever,” Fadell says of the Nest thermostat. “It’s for temperature control, but really it’s for controlling the money you spend. That’s where we had to change the story, and that’s why storytelling was so important in Nest. First, to make it look cool to attract people. Secondly, why do you need to pay 5-10 times more for this thing? It’s technology at the service of something really important. But no one cared.”
When he’s not promoting the book or cleaning the garage, Fadell works as a director at Future formhelping startups bring their ideas to life.
“Many companies that come to me with equipment, I ask why they need it,” he says. “I try to get rid of the equipment if I can, because it’s too much friction. I see so many people getting distracted because it’s cool. What we do is make sure that the hardware is absolutely essential – to serve the planet, society or health. We care about funding things that will help fix these things.”
“Building: An Unorthodox Guide to Making What’s Worth Doing” available now from HarperCollins.
Credit: techcrunch.com /