I was talking with a friend yesterday about my experience with Apple’s AirPods and how, despite the price, they are one of the most magical pieces of technology I’ve ever used. You really wouldn’t expect a pair of headphones to delight you in this fashion.
It’s more of a feeling, so I can’t describe it perfectly. But it's by far my most futuristic self. It improves your day, and makes something you couldn't imagine being any simpler infinitely simpler. But surprisingly, the magic is in not just the hardware, but the content itself. It feels like raw information is entering your ear wirelessly through the ether, through some seamless sorcery. I’ll be on the bus or walking on my morning commute and a stream of knowledge (through podcasts) will be entering my ear directly. It doesn’t really feel like there’s technology involved. It's like a gush of wind blew in some high-fidelity wisdom. That’s why it’s magical.
But, there’s also the little things. If you’re listening to something, and you see someone next to you trying to say something, you naturally remove one of the heads from your ear and say “Pardon me?". Well, the first time I did this, the music stopped immediately on its own. When I put the pod back in my ear, the music resumed.
That was damn magical. And I was reflecting to my friend, that essentially, these things have no buttons whatsoever, so they’re forced to make decisions on our behalf and assume our intentions. By removing buttons, they’re forced to become intelligent for us. The iPhone X is a fantastic manifestation of this. It is by far the most magical iPhone device I’ve ever used, and so much of it has to do with the lack of the home button.
I really admire Apple’s ability to trap itself in a corner and come out with seemingly magic-based solutions. I don’t know of another company at this scale that’s able to constantly pull feats like this. Apple essentially removes variables from the environment—variables that millions of people depend on, mind you—and asks, how would this look now? And the solutions are often times stunning.
The grand lesson here is, how would you be forced to innovate if you were trapped in a corner? What kind of constraints can you create for your product that would force you to become intelligent for your users? The key seems to be removing decisions from the user and offloading that to intelligent assumptions. My friend noted that it’s easy to cross the line between intelligent assumptions and annoying, or even invasive, coercion. Indeed it is, but I imagine most products are so riddled with decision-making points that this line is no where in sight.
Really, it seems that the feeling of magic that Apple’s products so frequently create is based off their correct assumption of how I want to use their product, which saves me the time of figuring it out myself.