In what can only be described as an interview with Britain’s GQ, Apple design leaders Evans Hankey and Kate Bergeron discussed the “courage” needed to redesign the MacBook Air.
With the company reportedly refusing to renew its expensive consulting deal with Sir Jony Ive this week, it was time for Hankey, who replaced Ive as leader of the industrial design team in 2019, to take on a more prominent role. If she could do that while answering friendly questions about the new MacBook Air, so much the better.
And GQ is the perfect foil for this PR exercise. No questions about slow SSDs here: instead, the site calls the update “dramatic and delightful” and dutifully describes it as 1.13 cm “thin”, using Apple’s preferred terminology. When Ars Technica dares to criticize the four-hour battery life of an earlier Air, GQ calls his review “particularly sniffy”.
“Despite all of the redesigned Air’s focus on performance and endurance, perhaps the most important marker of its success is the sense of personality it has retained throughout its transformation,” the site gushed. And presumably Apple’s marketing campaign has the momentum of a… runaway freight train†
What do we learn from all this? There are some semi-interesting treats in there, if you sort through the fluff. Hankey and (hardware engineering VP) Bergeron do acknowledge that the original Air and especially the 12-inch MacBook that followed were “polarizing for a certain group of people” because of their limitations. “If you go back,” Bergeron admits, “[the original Air] was world-changing in form, but it wouldn’t be the computer for everyone.” Needless to say, the company would have us believe that such compromises won’t be necessary for this year’s Air, but it’s relatively unusual to hear an Apple rep admit that one of its products had drawbacks.
Despite the limitations, the design team was also aware of the effort involved in redesigning the best-selling Mac. “I think the Air takes a lot of courage because it’s like, ‘What are you going to keep?’” Hankey says. Giving up the iconic wedge shape will have been a decision Apple didn’t take lightly.
But the most revealing element of the interview is the timing and the way it changes the way we view Apple’s design work over the past three years. “Having been in charge of Apple’s product design following Jony Ive’s departure from the company in 2019,” explains GQ, “Hankey has since been responsible for the look and feel of all of its devices — from the iPhone to the AirPods. .”
That “everything” is an explosive word to invade so casually. In retrospect, it supports the view, effectively argued yesterday by 9to5Mac, that Hankey has been running the show since 2019 and likely earlier, and that maintaining a link with Ive was just a PR fiction meant to reassure shareholders. The fiction, it seems, is now over.