Is iPhone HD/iPhone 4G the iPhone Jonathan Ive always wanted to make?


The 4th generation iPhone HD/iPhone 4G revealed this week doesn't look exactly like the iPhones that have come before, but could it just be the iPhone Apple's senior vice-president of design, Jonathan Ive has always wanted to make?

If you're not familiar with Ive, a man who's won more high-level design awards than just about every other consumer electronics whiz on the planet combined, just look at any Apple product since the iMac. The iPod, iPhone, and iPad -- and few unibody MacBooks and Magic Mice in-between -- have all come from Jonathan Ive and his team. From deep, monochromatic plastics to unblemished aluminum to polished black glass, it would be fair to call Ive's work industry leading -- if the rest of the industry hadn't but lately decided design was even something worth considering.

The original iPhone 2G in 2007 was something new for Apple and Ive, and it had to work, just work, flawlessly out of the box, and you could see it's compromises right on the large black plastic strip that cut across the aluminum on the back. iPhone 3G and iPhone 3G boosted the radios and the power under the hood, but not much else happened on the outside other than the adoption of a full plastic jacket to make those radios work better. And all the while Apple's other designs -- the ones where they long since found their footing in time and technology to really unleash their A game... well, they started to leave the iPhone design language behind. Rounded aluminum rectangles with sharper corners came to the iMacs and MacBook Pros as the parts inside got smaller and the batteries (and battery life) for laptops grew and grew.

A lot has been said about Jonathan Ive's influences, almost singularly and iconically Dieter Rams of Braun. To say Apple products now bear striking resemblance to Braun products then is not an understatement and is unmistakably intentional. Rams and Ive share the same philosophy and language of design. They're minimalist. There's only as much form as is needed to utterly get out of the way of function. The radio is a speaker, the iPad is a screen. They are what you use them for.

And because of Apple's inexperience with phones and the compromises mentioned above, perhaps it's no more coincidence that past iPhones bear less resemblance to the work of Dieter Rams than that the next generation one bears total resemblance.

Apple's gone unibody, they gone glass edge to edge, and most importantly they gone Apple A4 inside and shrunk the guts down to unbelievably small sizes, leaving room for ginormous batteries and little else but design. What was previously curved and more complicated now be flat and simple. It not only just works, it just fits in the broader context of Ive's work and the influence of Rams he's shown such homage for over the years.

Check out the videos of Jonathan Ive discussing design from the outstanding documentary Objectified, and from Apple's iPad event below, and hop on over to Gizmodo for a look at Ive's work in context to Rams.

Have something to say about this story? Leave a comment! Need help with something else? Ask in our forums!

Rene Ritchie

EiC of iMore, EP of Mobile Nations, Apple analyst, co-host of Debug, Iterate, Vector, Review, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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Reader comments

Is iPhone HD/iPhone 4G the iPhone Jonathan Ive always wanted to make?


It would have a curved aluminum back but with no plastic antenna. Unfortunately with today's tech, that's not possible. So this is the closest thing without making another iPhone 2G.

The glass not being recessed into the aluminum frame makes me believe that this is not the final version. All current Apple devices have recessed glass over the screen. IE: macbook pro, ipod, iphone, imac and ipad.

Idk? iPhone designs are as seperate as iPod designs. Let alone, they're both the identical in design. Idk how these people have came up with the idea of "for sure" knowing that this prototype can only resemble the iMacs and Macbook Pros. When the whole time, its been (kinda) following the iPod designs or iPods following the iPhone. So why not iPod?
What about the bezel? What happened to it. Apple patented it for itself and for it to be carried in iPhone, (but not for all iPhones in the future.)
I still, and hope not this iPhone prototype is real. I really do hope that Apple does something more groundbreaking. The ceramic/glass is perfect, but the sides and its cosmetics need to be changed a bit more.

he seems like such a down to earth, genuinely cool guy. I would love to shadow him for a week.

JB, well said...I would love to do the same. And Rene, thx for such a great article. I think articles such as these make it worth visiting Tipb multiple times a day ;-)

that objectified clip is terrific. people should really see see the entire movie tho if they want to understand Ive better, since it also talks about Dieter Rams of Braun in great detail and shows a lot of his work, which has clearly inspired IVe, particularly in the original IPod design.
Dieter Rams in Objectified:

Maybe not. Their designs have been a lot more simple and this is a tiny bit more complex. The breaks in the Aluminium for one isn't really apart of their simplistic design. Not that I'm complaining about two lines...
However I disagree with the removal of the tapered edges. It honestly makes the phone feel more natural in the hand unlike other phones that are more blocky.
The new look is cool but they need to release it with a taper. I think it would look better. Or maybe people are complaining about not being able to use the whole while it's laying down with it rocking side to side.

Yea the iPhone 3GS is terrible, that's why it's so popular. I do agree with OmariJames, the iPhone sits comfortible in your hands with the curves.

I don't know if you guys are just missing it but the iPhone 3GS fit perfectly into apple design. Apple has two predominent design types. The aluminum and sharp edge look and the white plastic rounded look. Lay a white iPhone 3gs Face down next to a regular MacBook 13 inch. And apples most recent mouse prior to the magic mouse. They are identical in form. Identical. The 3g/s was of the same form.

I think what Apple is doing is putting the iPhone in the class of "computing" products, like the lap tops / iPads, and away from the "music" catagory of the iPods. I have a 3G, my wife has a 3GS and my 3 year old has an iPod touch. Face up from 5 feet and you really can't tell one from the other. This is a move to firmly put the new phone in the computing catagory. The biggest hit against the phone was that it was just an iPod that made phone calls. It looks like from the new phone, they are putting that to rest. This will be much more than an iPod that makes phone calls. MUCH more.

Only enough form to get out of the way of function? The millions who sprained their wrists on the hockey puck mouse beg to differ.

@jimbo The mouse had had a static shape, that no one had even attempted to experiment with in over a decade. Apple tried, and their first attempt was unsuccessful, but they took the lessons learned from that, and used them to refine the idea into what would eventually become the mighty mouse, which was very successful (save for that TERRIBLE rollerball)
I commend apple for at least TRYING new designs for a peripheral that was a decade old in style, even if the first bash at it was less than inspiring. I am confused how that stupid puck EVER made it past any sort of human testing...
After all, we're only human, born to make mistakes. Apple isn't some divine creation, just humans building products THEY would like to own. Unlike most other computer makers out there, who build whatever they think will bring the biggest profit.

Two questions: how is this iPhone 4 "unibody?" and also if the ipad has a full aluminum back and a 3g radio, why can't the iPhone? (antenna size?)

Hoping it's not a final design, and that the finalized consumer iPhone HD/4th Gen. will be a shrunken down iPad, matching the entirety of the Apple product line.

I've only experienced the curved iPhone design, so I think it'd be cool to get my hands on a flat-backed prototype. As far as the screen size goes, my guess is that Apple is trying to entice iPhone users who haven't already purchased or pre-ordered an iPad into doing so.
Also, what's up with the sixth paragraph of this article? Are you deliberately trying to sound "Rasta," or is it just chock-full of unintentional grammatical errors?

Hey is there anynews about if current people with iPhone and still with contracts would have to pay full price for the new iPhone or it will available with the phone upgrade on AT&T ?

Two questions: how is this iPhone 4 "unibody?" and also if the ipad has a full aluminum back and a 3g radio, why can't the iPhone? (antenna size?)

I've always wanted to make an iPhone Jonathan as well =/. lol, oh and Dave, its because the iPhone has a cellular radio as well, and the plastic bit on the back of the iPad 3G is huge, allowing the 3G radio to work.