In what can only be described as a puff-piece interview with British GQ, Apple design leads Evans Hankey and Kate Bergeron have discussed the “courage” required to redesign the MacBook Air.
With the company this week reportedly declining to renew its costly consulting agreement with Sir Jony Ive, it was time for Hankey, who replaced Ive as the leader of the industrial design team in 2019, to take on a more prominent role. If she could do so while fielding gentle 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 1.13cm “thin,” using Apple’s preferred terminology. When Ars Technica dares to criticise the four-hour battery life of an earlier Air, GQ calls its review “particularly sniffy.”
“For all of the redesigned Air’s focus on performance and stamina, perhaps the most important marker of its success is the sense of personality it has retained in its transformation,” the site gushes. 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 titbits in there, if you sift through the fluff. Hankey and (hardware engineering VP) Bergeron do acknowledge that the original Air and particularly the 12-inch MacBook that followed were “polarising for a certain group of folks” because of their limitations.
“If you go back,” admits Bergeron, “[the original Air] was world-changing in the sense of shape, but it wasn’t going to be the computer for everybody.” Needless to say, the company would like us to believe that such compromises won’t be necessary on this year’s Air, but it’s relatively unusual to hear an Apple representative admit that one of its products had downsides.
Hankey also reveals that the new Midnight color was inspired by the volcanic rock Basalt.”
Despite its limitations, the design team were also aware of the stakes when redesigning the best-selling Mac. “I think the Air requires a lot of courage, because it’s like, ‘What are you going to keep?’” Hankey says. Abandoning the iconic wedge shape will have been a decision Apple did not take lightly.
But the most revealing element of the interview is its timing, and the way it reshapes the way we view Apple’s design work over the past three years. “Having taken charge of Apple’s product design following Jony Ive’s departure from the company in 2019,” GQ explains, “Hankey has been responsible for the look and feel of all of its devices since – from the iPhone to the AirPods.”
The word “all” is an explosive one to drop in so casually. It retrospectively supports the viewpoint, argued effectively by 9to5Mac yesterday, that Hankey has been running the show since 2019 and likely before, and that retaining a link with Ive was only ever a PR fiction intended to reassure shareholders. The fiction, it would appear, is now over.