Former Apple Watch engineer talks Apple design culture, secrecy, more in interview

Posted:
in General Discussion edited August 2016
Former Apple engineer Bob Messerschmidt, who headed up the group responsible for the highly regarded Apple Watch heart rate sensor, recently sat down with Fast Company to offer an inside look at what it was like working with Jony Ive's secretive Industrial Design Group.




Messerschmidt started at Apple in 2010 after his startup was acquired by what was then a company run by Steve Jobs, reports Fast Company. Over the course of three years, Messerschmidt worked closely with Ive's design team, as well as other teams of engineering specialists, to workshop, research and develop what would become Apple Watch.

Like all Apple products, user experience was of paramount importance to the Apple Watch project. Messerschmidt's group was in charge of developing candidate technologies for integration, which would trickle down to numerous teams of engineers, designers and other divisions for vetting and productization.

The entire process was user focused. For example, Messerschmidt said he floated the idea of integrating heart rate sensors into Apple Watch's band because the underside of the wrist yields more accurate readings than the top. Ive's Industrial Design Group dismissed the idea, citing general design trends and Apple's plan to release interchangeable bands.

Apple owns patents describing watch bands with embedded sensors, and was rumored to release "smart bands" that connect to Apple Watch's diagnostics port. A shipping product has yet to materialize, however.

Messerschmidt came back with a design that integrated the sensor array into the bottom of the watch, but noted the strap would need to be tight to facilitate good contact with a user's skin. Again, Ive's group pushed for more, saying people normally wear watches "really floppy on their wrist." The process, while tedious, results in a product focused around user wants and needs.

"That's kind of what we had to do. We had to listen to them. They are the voice of the user," Messerschmidt said of Ive's team. "There's the whole field of Industrial Design that focuses on the use case, the user experience."




Moving on to other topics, Messerschmidt discussed Apple's penchant for secrecy. With Jobs, stealth was employed mainly to illicit a big surprise when a product was ultimately announced. Under the new guard, however, a contingent is using secrecy to "maintain an empire," or make projects feel more important than they really are, he said.

The sentiment of change within Apple is echoed in Messerschmidt's take on whether the company was successful in carrying on the innovative spirit fostered by its late cofounder. Apple University is a good example of the lengths Apple went to ensure the culture Jobs created, though Messerschmidt believes the effort was in vain.

"You may remember that right after [Jobs] died there was all this stuff about 'can Apple go on?' Could anybody have the capacity to do that job [Jobs' position as CEO]? All I can say at this point is that the jury is still out, but so far I think the signs are kind of pointing to 'No," he said. "It's definitely not the same place."

Messerschmidt goes on to talk about Apple's business model -- which looks more like a startup than a traditional corporation -- Apple marketing, design theory and more.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 21
    noivadnoivad Posts: 186member
    sog35 said:
    Guy is an idiot. Just trying to get a fast check from CNBC to bash Apple.

    Just shut up dude. All you did was design a heart rate sensor on a watch.
    So, you have proof to back up this claim?
    repressthiswelshdogfocherirelanddysamoriatallguy
  • Reply 2 of 21
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 33,408member
    Surely this guy signed a long-term NDA that he just violated, yes?
  • Reply 3 of 21
    prokipprokip Posts: 171member
    What is it with you commentariat people.  This guy, with one of the most distinguished names in engineering history, Messerschmidt (you should look that up!) expresses his reasonable held views after working as an Apple scion and then attracts the supercilious diatribe above!
    edited August 2016 repressthisfochersteveaupaxman
  • Reply 4 of 21
    Of course Apple is different now. The Steve Jobs Apple has been replaced by the Tim Cook Apple, even normal people can tell the difference. Some changes have been good and some have been bad. But it is unarguable that Apple has remained successful. And it's actually a good thing every time we see evidence of a focus on customer feedback. You can go too far with customer control, and end up like Microsoft, but that doesn't appear to be a problem that Apple has. They still see themselves as their own best customer. And while listening to us yammer on about how we know how to single-handedly "fix" Apple, they're also listening to themselves and making what they know are the best decisions for everyone including the company.
    Deelronfocherlolliversteveaunolamacguyjony0h2p
  • Reply 5 of 21
    rogifan_newrogifan_new Posts: 4,297member
    At least AI didn't use a click bait headline like MR did.
  • Reply 6 of 21
    jidojido Posts: 113member
    The article is missing a link to the source, here it is:
    http://www.fastcompany.com/3062576/tim-cooks-apple/what-i-learned-working-with-jony-ives-team-on-the-apple-watch

    I do not think Messershmidt does any Apple bashing. The worst he says is that people at Apple failed to replicate S Job's thinking, which is probably true but maybe not because it can't be taught, as he suggests, but rather because the company moved on and there is no place for a new Steve in Tim's Apple.
    porschyradarthekatSpamSandwichdysamoriajony0
  • Reply 7 of 21
    jido said:
    The article is missing a link to the source, here it is:
    http://www.fastcompany.com/3062576/tim-cooks-apple/what-i-learned-working-with-jony-ives-team-on-the-apple-watch

    I do not think Messershmidt does any Apple bashing. The worst he says is that people at Apple failed to replicate S Job's thinking, which is probably true but maybe not because it can't be taught, as he suggests, but rather because the company moved on and there is no place for a new Steve in Tim's Apple.
    Thanks for the link jido - full article is actually a much better read than the summary in AI.   I agree that Messerschmidt is not bashing Apple at all - just commenting on his experience working there and I found it informative.  
    edited August 2016 gatorguydysamoriastevenoz
  • Reply 8 of 21
    macxpressmacxpress Posts: 5,175member
    sog35 said:
    Guy is an idiot. Just trying to get a fast check from CNBC to bash Apple.

    Just shut up dude. All you did was design a heart rate sensor on a watch.

    Whats the matter...worried about Apple's stock price going down? 
    dysamoria
  • Reply 9 of 21
    SpamSandwichSpamSandwich Posts: 33,408member
    macxpress said:
    sog35 said:
    Guy is an idiot. Just trying to get a fast check from CNBC to bash Apple.

    Just shut up dude. All you did was design a heart rate sensor on a watch.

    Whats the matter...worried about Apple's stock price going down? 
    Fortunately, the stock gods have been smiling on AAPL recently.
  • Reply 10 of 21
    TurboPGTTurboPGT Posts: 355member
    If I were him I wouldn't brag about his terrible idea of putting the sensors in the bands.
  • Reply 11 of 21
    dysamoriadysamoria Posts: 3,430member
    jido said:
    The worst he says is that people at Apple failed to replicate S Job's thinking, which is probably true but maybe not because it can't be taught, as he suggests, but rather because the company moved on and there is no place for a new Steve in Tim's Apple.
    That's the opinion I've had for a while now (as another commentator above pointed out, even "normal" people can see the difference). I wish there was someone in Apple upper management that cared more about the products and who believes the mission is the best product, rather than quarterly profits and stock price. Making the best product is the correct path to that success, not MBA thinking (and not Jony Ive's horrible GUI ideologies).

    It may be that Jobs was a rare entity in that he had the right ideology in mind for changing the anti-consumer computer industry and no one in line for the leadership throne has the same. Most anyone else in line for the position is either solely a business administrator or a myopic tech geek with unwillingness to see the bigger picture, thinking their own individual/personal specialist focus is the most important part of making good technology.

    Jobs was a user, not a narrowly-focused specialist. He pushed for user-centric things, which is what makes good product for users. He apparently forced the various in-house myopic geniuses onto a path that served the collective good. What we heard reported after he was gone was that the individuals he kept in line were all seeking to make their own areas of specialty into empires to lead Apple. This is what happens with [arrogant] smart people who don't have leadership they respect and who also keeps them in line (whether via truly charismatic leadership or via very effective social engineering).
  • Reply 12 of 21
    hodarhodar Posts: 337member
    jido said:
    The article is missing a link to the source, here it is:
    http://www.fastcompany.com/3062576/tim-cooks-apple/what-i-learned-working-with-jony-ives-team-on-the-apple-watch

    I do not think Messershmidt does any Apple bashing. The worst he says is that people at Apple failed to replicate S Job's thinking, which is probably true but maybe not because it can't be taught, as he suggests, but rather because the company moved on and there is no place for a new Steve in Tim's Apple.
    Very good point. Granted, Steve was a visionary - but he was also a sociopath. You can have the good; without the bad, and I think that Tim Cook is doing his level best to deliver that. Tim is trying to deliver an ethical company, one with established morals, that can be believed by the customers - holding true to the message that Apple has long promised - without the mercurial temperament that Jobs was famous for. Jobs was known to be emotionally abusive, to ignore people who fell into disfavor, to rant and rave and brow-beat people into submission; while Tim Cook operates more evenly. Given a choice, as an engineer; I would much rather work in a high stress environment with a boss like Tim Cook, than Steve Jobs.
    nolamacguystevenozh2p
  • Reply 13 of 21
    nolamacguynolamacguy Posts: 4,758member
    dysamoria said:
    jido said:
    The worst he says is that people at Apple failed to replicate S Job's thinking, which is probably true but maybe not because it can't be taught, as he suggests, but rather because the company moved on and there is no place for a new Steve in Tim's Apple.
    I wish there was someone in Apple upper management that cared more about the products and who believes the mission is the best product, rather than quarterly profits and stock price. Making the best product is the correct path to that success, not MBA thinking
    that's nonsense. if ever there's a company that doesn't manage itself to stock market expectations, it's Apple. this is widely recognized and written about. 

    https://www.google.com/search?q=dumbest+idea+in+the+world

    I don't know how many more interviews Apple execs could do where they specifically say and show they hold your same opinion... does that mean you're going to think everything they do is perfect? no, of course not. if you've ever produced a product you'll find that nothing is perfect. ever. 
    edited August 2016
  • Reply 14 of 21
    jakebjakeb Posts: 559member
    One of the most interesting points is the interaction between engineering and industrial design. That's still one of the things that makes Apple great. Imagine an Apple Watch where all the bands were part of the watch and had to be perfectly tight around your wrist. It wouldn't feel like a watch. It was harder to do, but they made it work. 
  • Reply 15 of 21
    boredumbboredumb Posts: 1,418member
    sog35 said:
    Guy is an idiot. Just trying to get a fast check from CNBC to bash Apple.
    Just shut up dude. All you did was design a heart rate sensor on a watch.
    Well, that settles it!  Clearly his ex-insider opinion must be less valid than your outsider/relentless-cheerleader opinion, huh?
  • Reply 16 of 21
    MelSMelS Posts: 2member
    I can confirm Apple is not the cutting edge, great company it once was and it mistreats its independent dealers too. Hewlett-Packard for half a year or more has had laptops with Xeon processors, generation six i7 processors, thunderbolt version 3 ports and even touchscreen options while Apple MacBook Pros are still using generation four i7 processors, no Xeon processors, Thunderbolt version 2 and no touchscreen options. I was an independent Apple dealer for 22 years and have watched the demise of Apple since Jobs passed away. Jobs would never had let HP or any PC company come out with a better, faster computer before Apple. Jobs also would not have let Apple cancel a 22 year dealer contract when I contracted Leukemia and was unable to work full-time causing me to miss an arbitrarily set sales quote by 20%. Apple has fallen behind technically by only updating their Macs and operating system (minor upgrades at that) once per year (if that often) and are so focused on their retail Apple stores they have let the business market, which is mostly handled by independent dealers, slip away due to pencil pushing Apple Chanel Sales management and AppleCare service management personnel that put profit numbers ahead of the service provided by long-time locally owned stores focused on business market share. And even if they want to bend the rules, the middle managers are so afraid of getting in trouble they won't stray from the rigid rules set by their lawyers. Tim Cook does not get this as he is just a pencil pusher himself. Business customers like mine dread going to Apple stores and having to wait for hours to get to see a "genius." Apple is messed up and I do not see much hope for Tim Cook fixing it.
  • Reply 17 of 21
    fastasleepfastasleep Posts: 5,691member
    MelS said:
    Business customers like mine dread going to Apple stores and having to wait for hours to get to see a "genius."
    You don't have to wait hours, you make an appointment and show up for your time slot. I've not had to wait longer than 10 minutes.
  • Reply 18 of 21
    Not sure if it's Messerschmidt's gaffe or someone at Apple misspoke, but I'm sure a lot of people in Cupertino cringed when they read that the sensor placement was based on a design "trend."

    Overall, it seemed like an interesting and enjoyable read to me. 

    As an aside, it's amazing to me that people continue to have this embarrassingly simplistic idea that since Jobs is gone somehow Apple is doomed. He built the Apple locomotive, set it on it's path, and laid out a few miles of track. Apple has been full steam ahead, and even accelerating, ever since thanks to Tim Cook. And that track keeps getting longer as well.
    edited August 2016 fastasleep
  • Reply 19 of 21
    nhtnht Posts: 4,522member
    sog35 said:
    The dude is a CEO/founder of a company specializing in health trackers.

    of course he won't say glowing things about Apple.

    What a loser. Using his time at Apple to market his new company. His company sounds like a scam like Theranos. A drop of blood to the cloud. seriously
    The loser is someone who doesn't read the source article to see what the guy actually said but has vociferous opinions anyway.

    The product has a good number of Stanford folks involved so I doubt it's a scam.  The Cor reader doesn't sound too far out there technology wise and has a guy that built hyperspectral microscopes on the team.  There's a lot of low cost sensors appearing on the market including Raman ones.

    At a wild guess, without reading much on their website, I'd say it's a variation on SERS with the cartridges providing the blood collection and SERS substrate.  My guess is that the patents are related to the cartridge rather than the sensor package but didn't bother to look them up.

    I guess Raman because I don't think the other forms of rotational spectroscopy fit within the size and budget of the reader.  That and there are reasonably inexpensive SERS sensors out although I don't know if you can actually do rotational spectroscopy with SERS.
  • Reply 20 of 21
    nhtnht Posts: 4,522member

    MelS said:
    Business customers like mine dread going to Apple stores and having to wait for hours to get to see a "genius."
    You don't have to wait hours, you make an appointment and show up for your time slot. I've not had to wait longer than 10 minutes.
    The last time I did this they said "The next appointment available is Thursday" which is non-optimal for a small business user who needs their laptop fixed today.  So they could wait hours for a walk in slot.  Fortunately for me it was just an iPhone and I could use my old one so I just went back Thursday.

    You can buy Joint Venture which provides equipment loaners for any repair that takes more than 24 hours.  It also gets you priority access to Genius Bars since the 1st level triage is done by a Genius over the phone.

    But I think it costs around $500/year so you might be better off buying the cheapest 13" MacBook Pro as a backup machine ($1099) and waiting until Thursday.  If you religiously backup you can get back running fairly quickly.

    An "apple dealer" should have known about the Joint Venture program and priority access to genius bars at the Apple Store.
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