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Apple's highly secretive Apple University profiled in NYT feature

post #1 of 22
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The brainchild of Apple cofounder Steve Jobs, Apple University is widely discussed, but little is known about the internal program meant to foster company culture. A New York Times feature offers a rare peek inside the school's walls.


Apple University head Joel Podolny.


Citing three Apple employees who have attended Apple University, The New York Times reveals a number of new details about the program created to instill "Apple culture" into its students.

AppleInsider previously reported on Apple University when Joel Podolny, dean of Yale University's School of Management, was tapped to design and head up the initiative in 2008. Podolny continues to serve as Apple University's dean and also holds the position of vice president of human resources, while current faculty come from prestigious institutions like Yale, Harvard, the UC Berkeley, Stanford and M.I.T., the publication reports.

The unnamed employees compared Apple University to the tech giant itself, saying it is "meticulously planned, with polished presentations and a gleaming veneer that masks a great deal of effort." Like the iPhone and iPad, the school doesn't skimp on details.

"Even the toilet paper in the bathrooms is really nice," unnamed Apple employee describing Apple University."Even the toilet paper in the bathrooms is really nice," one employee said.

Employees of nearly any level can sign up to take classes at Apple University via a private website. Most classes are held at Apple's campus in classrooms that are said to be brightly lit and shaped like a trapezoid, with stadium-like seating so everyone has a good view. Sometimes teachers travel to international offices for lectures, an example being China

Taking a look at course work, topics range from company culture to past business decisions and more. As an example of the school's flexibility, a course was designed specifically to successfully incorporate founders of recently acquired companies into the Apple fold. According to the publication, Apple may be building such a class for incoming Beats employees, though neither company has confirmed the rumor.

A basic course called "Communicating at Apple," has been administered by former Pixar University Dean Randy Nelson, who teaches employees how to work collaboratively with colleagues and develop effective marketing skills. Offering an example of how the course is presented, Nelson showed a slide of Picasso's "The Bull" last year to foster the idea of sculpting away unnecessary detail until only the most vital elements remain.

"You go through more iterations until you can simply deliver your message in a very concise way, and that is true to the Apple brand and everything we do," said an employee who took the course.




In another class called "What Makes Apple, Apple," an employee described more work toward simplification of ideas. The person, who took attended Apple University last year, said a slide of a 78-button remote control for Google TV was shown in contrast to the three-button Apple TV version. Steve Jobs did much the same when he introduced the Apple remote in 2005, which stood in stark contrast to two Microsoft Media Center remotes with over 40 buttons each.

Finally, a course called "The Best Things" serves to remind students that their best work can be accomplished by surrounding themselves with the "best things, like talented peers and high-quality materials."

The publication noted Stanford professor Joshua Cohen, who sometimes teaches the course, once mentioned New York's Central Park as part of the class. The park's designers changed what was once swampland into a lush green space where urbanites could experience nature, similar in philosophy to Jobs' goal of making technology more accessible and natural to the consumer.
post #2 of 22

remember when this site was easy to navigate and read? now it is pilfered with ads and looks like many ad sites of Asia.

 

i know the bit about paying your staff and whatnot, but how in the world did you ever do it before without excessive ads? can you ever get there again?

post #3 of 22
Follow the Guidelines of this article about Apple University if possible - Keep it simple. It used to be.
post #4 of 22
In other words, the number of companies capable of maintaining this kind of corporate culture can be counted on one hand.

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post #5 of 22
Just another glimpse into what makes Apple a great company. I'll bet the Google employees who designed the 78 button remote control got many kudos from their bosses as did the Microsoft employees and their 40 button remotes.

There's a several decades old adage referred to as "Conway's Law" that states something to the effect that the products/systems an organization produces are a reflection of the organizations that produced them.

Seeing Apple's simplicity, focus, and clear sense of purpose versus Google's and Microsoft's claptrap complexity in search of a problem to solve seems to reinforce Conway's assertion many times over.
post #6 of 22

I said this an other thread, technologies fails when you have to learn how to use every time a new version or update comes out and the TV remote is a classic example of a technology failure along with pre-iphone cell phones. when the first remote came out it was simple to use and then when down hill from there. The apple remote return to what was one simply.

 

The majority of engineers fail to understand this, and their solution to a problem if to add another button that will fix it.

post #7 of 22
NYT has added a correction:

"Correction: August 10, 2014
An earlier version of this article misidentified Joel Podolny’s job responsibilities. He is a vice president at Apple; he is not a vice president of human resources or in charge of human resources at Apple."

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post #8 of 22
The ATV remote is the worst remote of all small TV streaming devices (Roku, Chrome, etc.)--maybe the worst remote of any kind. It's a great example of a good idea gone wrong.

First of all, it is ergonomically deficient. Every time I use it I ask myself, "Did the people who designed/approved this thing use it on a daily basis?" The selector ring is so indistinct from the surrounding surface and center button that at least a third of the time I make an incorrect selection. And because I am forced to use a "letterboard" I have to navigate to delete. Whenever I voice this complaint people respond with "why don't you use your iPhone Remote app?" I've tried that, but find that solution awkward for similar reasons--I don't want to navigate to get to a function, and I don't want to have to look at a second screen--I want it to be tactile like my TiVo remote so I don't have to look at it every time I want to input.

Secondly on the good idea gone wrong front: the answer to a 40-button remote is not 3-button remote. Somewhere there is a happy medium, and it isn't three. Imposing a minimalist solution on this application is wrong. The aforementioned TiVo remote is the best remote I have ever used. Apple would do well to study why, and apply what it teaches them.
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post #9 of 22
"Simplification" isn't a concept which Steve Jobs is entirely responsible for at Apple - It's embedded much deeper in Apple's DNA

To quote Steve Wozniak:
"If a computer used 20 chips, I`d try to use 10. If another system used 10, I`d try to use 4.
It was an intellectual exercise, something I did because it was neat. I did it over and over until I just sort of developed a technique for looking at things in a new way."
post #10 of 22
I tried (unsuccessfully) to decipher some of the functions of my aunts new Samsung "smart" TV. 3 remotes, and dozens of menus, 3D glasses and ultimately more confusion than satisfaction. I suppose once you've figured it all out it may be nice, but spending 15 minutes searching through menus for the PIP (picture in picture) option, made me want to give up watching TV completely.
post #11 of 22

It's nice that this little bit of Apple leaked. I think it reflects well on the company. I wonder if they could benefit from sharing a portion of their vision on AU with the public.

 

I worked for one particular company with a very strong culture (take on lots of risk, and do it quickly), and they also had a CompanyABCUniversity course. It was three weeks long, and when we came out of it, our teams of five had created software products that were part of a business development effort, part of the company's core technology, or an new product/division idea. I remember wondering why didn't every company do this. I guess it's expensive, but if even 10% of the resulting projects got traction, the whole program funds itself. I know my project eventually went live, and brought in a lot of revenue -- a web site for Ford. After the course they took us and our spouses/partners to Vegas, where we were actively rewarded for risky behavior all weekend -- not my ideal culture, but they certainly cemented long-term super-successful employees from the group.

 

I'm not surprised that Apple has something similar, and it's cool to get a view into it.

 

That said, as certain type of engineer, I like more buttons than most :P

post #12 of 22
Simplification can lead to a controller that does many things with one button, none of them particularly well. What works for a mouse may not for a remote.
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post #13 of 22
At first, I thought the Apple Remote (the one that ships with AppleTV and worked with older Macs' FrontRow software) was simple to the point of being abstruse. After using it on the AppleTV, I can say that it works well, even if the functions triggered by the four compass direction buttons are not always obvious. The advantage it has over the remotes with 78 buttons (like the Blu-Ray remote for the Sony PS3) is that you don't have to hunt around in the dark to see what button does what. I know the Apple Remote buttons by feel, and it's very easily used in the dark (say, when watching movies). No need for a "lighted" remote.

The "four way direction" + back + enter button control scheme is found on some new car infotainment systems like the BMW iDrive work.

I can still picture future AppleTV interfaces being rethought, but still kept simple, maybe using a touchpad-based remote or something more radical like Siri.

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post #14 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by Suddenly Newton View Post

I can still picture future AppleTV interfaces being rethought, but still kept simple, maybe using a touchpad-based remote or something more radical like Siri.

 

This is actually a really nice interface. I have an old Windows Media Center PC recording TV for us (long story, but it works REALLY well). Anyway, when I want to watch Netflix on the MC PC, I used to drag out the wireless keyboard and mouse. Recently though, I've been able to use Chrome Remote Desktop to control it, and it's wonderful. I don't even have to look at my phone, but can just use it like a wacom tablet or similar. Sliding my thumb around, and I see the mouse cursor moving on the TV -- very easy to use w/out looking at the phone. For Apple TV, it seems like they could make a mouse UI on the TV, then control it in this manner from an iOS device (Android too, if they were thinking).

post #15 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by Robin Huber View Post

The ATV remote is the worst remote of all small TV streaming devices (Roku, Chrome, etc.)--maybe the worst remote of any kind. It's a great example of a good idea gone wrong.

First of all, it is ergonomically deficient. Every time I use it I ask myself, "Did the people who designed/approved this thing use it on a daily basis?" The selector ring is so indistinct from the surrounding surface and center button that at least a third of the time I make an incorrect selection. And because I am forced to use a "letterboard" I have to navigate to delete. Whenever I voice this complaint people respond with "why don't you use your iPhone Remote app?" I've tried that, but find that solution awkward for similar reasons--I don't want to navigate to get to a function, and I don't want to have to look at a second screen--I want it to be tactile like my TiVo remote so I don't have to look at it every time I want to input.

Secondly on the good idea gone wrong front: the answer to a 40-button remote is not 3-button remote. Somewhere there is a happy medium, and it isn't three. Imposing a minimalist solution on this application is wrong. The aforementioned TiVo remote is the best remote I have ever used. Apple would do well to study why, and apply what it teaches them.


Agreed, mostly....

 

....I'm not sayin' the emperor's naked, but in the case of this product (and other "beautiful [sometimes over] simplifications" Apple's offered over the years), sometimes his garb's not as cool as he thinks it to be....


Edited by bigpics - 8/11/14 at 1:43pm

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post #16 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by DewMe View Post

I'll bet the Google employees who designed the 78 button remote control got many kudos from their bosses as did the Microsoft employees and their 40 button remotes.

 

Sony remote controls are among the worst.  Dozens of tiny rectangular buttons that all look the same.  On the Sony PS 3 Bluetooth remote, Play and Pause are separate buttons so you have to press one button to play a Blu-ray disk and another button to pause it.

post #17 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by Haggar View Post
 

 

Sony remote controls are among the worst.

 

Yeah, I don't think Google designed any of the GTV or ATV remotes.

post #18 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by revenant View Post
 

remember when this site was easy to navigate and read? now it is pilfered with ads and looks like many ad sites of Asia.

 

i know the bit about paying your staff and whatnot, but how in the world did you ever do it before without excessive ads? can you ever get there again?


You can get there again: adblock.  How in the world anyone manages to use the interwebs without it I don't know.  If you haven't used it before you should give it a whirl.  Your whole www experience will feel like you just put down a backpack filled with bricks you'd been carrying for far too long :)

 

edit: oh yeah, I forgot what I was originally going to post about.  I seem to remember reading something about AU and it involving Jobs teaching the senior staff.  I wonder if there aren't courses that are upper-management only still - maybe taught by Cook.

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post #19 of 22

The ATV remote is a dichotomy. For pausing, slight scrubbing and playing movies, it's wonderful. I agree that a little more differentiation between the buttons would be nice but overall, it just gets out of the way. For text input, it stinks. A circular pad input like the old iPods nanos would be nice for scrolling and scrubbing but it would require more buttons. It probably could use some Siri functionality to make it pleasing to search and navigate.

 

I wouldn't have used the ATV remote as an example of genius simplicity. For my money, the trackpad is where it's at. It's fairly complex but can be used simply when one doesn't know the power functions. It's both simple and complex at the same time. I used to hate trackpads until Apple added all the cool functionality. Now I can't imagine using my Mac without it. I'm addicted to silky-smooth scrolling.

post #20 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by bugsnw View Post
 

I used to hate trackpads until Apple added all the cool functionality. Now I can't imagine using my Mac without it. I'm addicted to silky-smooth scrolling.

 

I find it curious that people who defended the one button mouse all those years ago have no problem today with one finger tapping, two finger tapping and three finger tapping on a trackpad doing different things.  And also two finger swiping, three finger swiping and four finger swiping on a trackpad doing different things.

post #21 of 22
Quote:
Originally Posted by Haggar View Post
 

 

Sony remote controls are among the worst.

Agreed. I have a Sony TV in our entertainment center and Samsungs in both our kitchen and guest bedroom (only because Sony abandoned smaller flat screens). Samsung remotes rank a close second to Sony in kludge. One of our Samsungs is 22-inch and the other 24-inch, with nearly identical onscreen menus. Then why are the two remotes so remarkably different in buttons and appearance?

 

One solution is the Harmony Ultimate, because once it's set up for a TV, the interface is pretty common across many makes and models. I've been through couple Sony flat screens over the last 10 years and have never used their remotes from day one. The Harmony is simpler and better.


Edited by Kibitzer - 8/12/14 at 8:57am

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post #22 of 22

I've heard many good things about those Harmony remotes. Standardization isn't a bad thing. I hate remotes with 67 same-shape-and-size buttons.

 

If you are going to have a remote or device with a lot of buttons, make them different so they can be made to make sense to a normal human brain. The DirecTV remote has a lot of buttons but I've found myself memorizing the layout and can do everything I need to do quickly and easily as I navigate menus and watch tv.

 

Think about a keyboard. Over 100 buttons on this Apple keyboard and yet it's efficient and easy to use.

 

Sometimes less is actually less. More can be better, sometimes.

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