An in-depth conversation with the Apple iPad team: the inheritance, evolution and background of a piece of glass

In case you haven't noticed, the iPad, released in 2010, was Apple's last hardware product named "i" and the last hardware category led and launched by Steve Jobs.

After a lapse of 14 years, Steve Jobs’ “I” has recently completed an evolution:

The new iPad Pro is as thin as two Type-C ports, making it Apple’s thinnest product ever. At the same time, the iPad 9 with Home button was offline from the official website, announcing that the four iPad product lines have completely entered the "full screen era."

▲On the left is iPad Pro (M4), on the right is iPad 9

We are more curious about what happens behind the scenes than what happens in front of the stage.

Last week, Ai Faner met with three core figures in the iPad team, Steve Lemay from the human-computer interaction team, Molly Anderson from the industrial design team, and Scott Brodrick from the product marketing team, to discuss the design philosophy behind the iPad.

The inheritance of a piece of glass

Let's turn the calendar back to May 10, 2005. On this day, Apple received patent license number D504889. In the list of patent inventors, you can see two familiar names: Steve Jobs and Jonathan Ive.

▲The most original appearance patent of iPad

Yes, this is how the iPad was originally envisioned: full-screen, rectangular with rounded corners, and as thin as a piece of glass in the palm of your hand.

Former App Store head Phil Schiller once recalled that Apple spent a lot of time in those years discussing the idea of ​​a tablet in "brainstorming sessions" because Jobs had always been eager to make such a product.

Jobs' ideal tablet computer should have the purest and simplest design. To this end, he clarified that the core essence of a tablet computer is a display screen. All functions and designs must obey the needs of the screen, and buttons should be deleted and simplified as much as possible.

However, the hardware and craftsmanship at that time made "Poetry and Distance" compromised. Although the first-generation iPad was a blockbuster, there was still a big gap between the design and the original patent drawings.

▲The original iPad released in 2010

Fortunately, Jobs' legacy has not been forgotten by the iPad team. Molly told Aifaner that the original design intention of the iPad has never changed for more than ten years:

Our goal has always been to create a magical piece of glass, like a piece of "digital paper." The paper should be as thin and light as possible so that when you are creating, you will not realize that it is a "product".

The evolutionary path of the iPad clearly proves this: the body is getting thinner and the screen-to-body ratio is getting higher and higher. In 2018, the full-screen iPad Pro was released, making the glass in the 2005 patent a reality.

▲The first iPad Pro with full-screen design

Next, the iPad team's goal is to make the glass thinner until it is as thin as a piece of paper. The 2024 iPad Pro can be regarded as a milestone. It is as thin as 5.1mm, setting a new thickness for Apple’s thinnest product in history.

You know, the MacBook Pro screen thickness is 4.4mm, and the iPad Pro uses the extra 0.7mm space to turn a screen into a tablet with excellent performance.

▲On the left is the iPod Nano, on the right is the new iPad Pro

Steve believes that the iPad Pro can move closer to its original intention step by step because of Apple’s core strengths, which are good at cross-disciplinary and cross-department cooperation.

On the surface, the core factor in the thinning of the 2024 iPad Pro is the replacement of an OLED display. The self-luminous nature of OLED allows it to take up less space than an LCD screen that requires a layer of backlight.

But changing the screen is not simple. In order to ensure a screen brightness comparable to Mini-LED, Apple did not use a traditional OLED screen, but redesigned a double-layer series OLED screen and customized it from suppliers.

It is no longer easy to make the traditional single-layer OLED display work well on the iPad. Because the "performance" of each pixel in the factory state is not consistent, the system needs to dynamically adjust it. In the same way, dual-layer series OLED requires real-time adjustment and rendering of dual-layer pixels, with a dynamic refresh rate of 0-120Hz.

How to deal with this "hot potato"? Apple's display and chip departments teamed up to find a solution: designing a new display engine for the M4 chip, so that this double-layer series OLED screen can achieve excellent accuracy, brightness and color performance.

This example may help you intuitively understand what is happening behind a new feature or change of the iPad. At the same time, we can also get a glimpse of Apple’s inheritance and pursuit of the original intention of the iPad:

A piece of magical glass.

During the discussion, Molly and Steve mentioned this sentence many times. This is also the brief answer that they believe best explains "what is the iPad". Just like Steve Jobs once defined iPod in one sentence – putting a thousand songs in your pocket.

The evolution of a piece of glass

Although the iPad had been planned within Apple for a long time, it was officially launched in 2007.

At that time, Jobs was considering launching a low-cost netbook. In one of the brainstorming sessions, Ive asked, why put a keyboard next to the screen? That's expensive and bulky. It's better to use multi-touch technology to incorporate the functions of the keyboard into the screen.

▲First-generation iPad promotional video screen

Jobs agreed with this idea and quickly invested resources in the tablet computer project, intending to create a unique "netbook". This was the product definition of the iPad in its early years.

On January 27, 2010, Jobs unveiled the iPad. He pointed to the iPhone and laptop on the screen: "Is there anything else between the two?" After asking, he went on to say, "This thing must be able to Browse the web, email, photos, videos, music, games, and e-books. We have such a thing, and it's called the iPad."

However, the original iPad was criticized for being just a replacement for netbooks. A cover story in Time magazine pinpointed the problem:

The iPad makes you a spectator, turning you into a passive consumer consuming the work of others. But it doesn’t help much when it comes to content creation.

Jobs took this criticism to heart and worked on making improvements to ensure that the next generation of iPad would be more user-friendly for artistic creation. This points out a clear path for the evolution of iPad: to enhance creativity and better serve creators.

▲The second-generation iPad promotional video adds a "creativity" scene

This is intuitively reflected in the changes in the chip: from the "magic modification" of the iPhone's A-series chip in the same year, to sharing the M-series chip with Mac, to the first M4 chip, the iPad increasingly emphasizes creativity.

In fact, under the current iPad software ecosystem, performance is no longer a constraint on creativity. What’s more important is its accessories ecology. The first "Pro"-level Apple Pencil and the new Magic Keyboard are the biggest highlights of the 2024 iPad Pro.

In Steve's view, the key to what makes the new iPad Pro unique is that it, Apple Pencil Pro, and the new Magic Keyboard are designed as a system. In other words, the three are innately designed as a whole, but they can be purchased separately.

This kind of design idea makes the new iPad Pro more "holistic" than before. The keyboard is the same CMF as the iPad Pro shell, eliminating the sense of fragmentation. The redesigned hinge has also successfully slimmed down the keyboard, making it a perfect match for the thinner iPad Pro.

The rise in the status of accessories also reflects the evolution of the iPad's positioning from a device focused on handheld scenarios to a two-in-one handheld and desktop device.

An interesting detail is that the 2024 iPad Pro has moved the front camera to the long side. Steve said that many users like to stand their iPad on the table for video calls, especially when using a smart double-sided clip or Magic Keyboard.

Last week, Molly also revealed in an interview with French media Numerama that the logo on the back of the iPad may be placed horizontally in the future to match the user's usage habits.

▲ Imaginary image of the horizontal logo. Picture from: Macrumors

With this evolution, the iPad Pro is becoming a modular, touch-screen Mac. You can freely combine them according to your usage scenarios: iPad, iPad + Apple Pencil, iPad + Magic Keyboard, almost three products and three experiences.

The background of iPad evolution

Apple's press conferences have left many "famous scenes", and the end of the first-generation iPad press conference is an example. In the last slide, a street sign marks the intersection of "Technology" and "Humanities" streets. Jobs emphatically elaborated on his product outlook:

The reason Apple is able to create products like iPad is because we have been working hard to integrate technology and humanities and arts.

During the discussion, I raised a question about how the concepts of technology and humanities are reflected in the new iPad Pro. This question suddenly opened up the conversation between the three of them.

Scott gave several interactive examples. For example, when the Pencil Pro is suspended above the iPad Pro, a "digital shadow" will appear on the screen. This shadow will be rendered in real time based on the pen position and tilt angle, and can also change shape based on the type of brush you are currently using.

This is a very subtle interactive innovation. Scott believes that it helps users confirm the function of the brush currently used and the starting point, reducing guessing and hesitation when using the software.

By reducing users' worries about tools, they can increase their focus when creating. This is the insight of the iPad team. Pencil Pro's new vibration feedback and pinch-to-call-out brush options are all designed to make the interaction more intuitive.

"Apple has spent a long time studying the internal structure of Pencil, and the weight and center of gravity have become perfect." Steve added, "The magnetic charging surface is not only ergonomic, but also provides a sense of direction for holding the pen."

Another example is the iPad cursor design. When the Magic Keyboard, mouse, or trackpad is connected, a "little dot" will appear on the iPad screen. It is obviously different in appearance from the Mac arrow-style cursor design.

Scott said that the iPad is a "touch-first" experience, while the Mac is a cursor-driven and keyboard-driven experience. To do this, they redesigned how the cursor works in a "touch-first" experience.

This is a bit abstract, let’s look at it in conjunction with the product. Compared with Mac, iPad icons and UI interfaces are designed according to finger size, with large spacing and large hot spots.

Apple first changed the shape of the cursor, replacing the arrow with a 19pt circle, increasing the hotspot range and simulating the area of ​​contact between the finger and the screen. When the cursor touches the hot area, it will automatically change its shape and automatically absorb and wrap the entire hot area.

In order to increase fault tolerance, Apple has also set up "elastic deformation" for hot areas. To put it simply, when the cursor hovers at the edge of the hot zone, the hot zone will be like a balloon filled with water, with a certain range of deformation to prevent the user from making mistakes.

When moving the iPad cursor in the text interface, the cursor will automatically locate the row and column and will not stop between two lines, making copying text more consistent and efficient.

There is also a function that is not easy for users to perceive. The algorithm predicts the icon that the user wants to click based on the trajectory of the cursor, and automatically adsorbs the cursor to reduce the stroke of the finger on the trackpad. This is a bit like Apple Pencil automatically predicting and drawing handwriting, simulating a "zero-latency" visual experience.

In Scott's view, these small user-friendly designs are something "only Apple can do."

The iPad, which has evolved for 14 years, is far less creative than the original version, but its threshold has never been raised.

▲Picture from: lifewire

Jobs was deeply moved by a story: Forbes website reporter Noer was reading a novel on an iPad in a dairy farm. A 6-year-old boy who was cleaning the stables came over curiously, so Noer handed him the iPad.

With no one to guide him and having never seen a computer, this illiterate boy intuitively started using the iPad, swiping the screen with his fingers, launching applications, and playing pinball games.

To this day, the iPad Pro, which uses the latest processor, is still the most suitable for all ages among all Apple products. As Molly has repeatedly emphasized:

Our job is to create a magical piece of glass. It can become anything you want, just click on the App Store.

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