Mark Sullivan has a great Fast Company article profiling Bob Messerschmidt, the man behind the heart rate sensors on the Apple Watch. In the piece, Messerschmidt discusses what he learned in his three years at Apple working on the Apple Watch.
On placement of the heart rate sensors:
One great example is [when] I went to a meeting and said I’m going to put sensors in the watch but I’m going to put them down here (he points to the underside of the Apple Watch band he’s wearing) because I can get a more accurate reading on the bottom of the wrist than I can get on the top of the wrist. They (the Industrial Design group) said very quickly that “that’s not the design trend; that’s not the fashion trend. We want to have interchangeable bands so we don’t want to have any sensors in the band.”
On being good enough:
Good enough is not good enough. The product has to be right in every dimension otherwise it will fail. I remember at Apple some people kind of misunderstood. Some people learned the wrong lesson. I used to hear at Apple from engineers the distillation they got from Steve Jobs’s approach was that you have to pay attention to everything equally. If you have a development plan and there are a thousand different things to worry about some people would say you have to worry about those thousand things equally. That’s a complete bastardization of SJ’s approach. It’s not all equal. It has to be exactly right but there are some things that are more important, and that gravitates toward the user experience and the design aspect.
On Apple’s secrecy:
There is really a contingent at Apple that has resorted to the tools of secrecy. SJ wanted secrecy for very specific reasons. He wanted to be able to make the big splash at the product announcement. And that’s almost as far as it went. There’s definitely a contingent at Apple that wants secrecy because it helps them maintain an empire, in a sense. It helps them create a sense that they’re doing more important things that they really are.
On Steve Jobs no longer being at Apple:
There was an effort to encapsulate what it is that makes Apple Apple. It was after he knew he was going to be going. (Jobs died in 2011 of complications from pancreatic cancer.) There were a lot of people who were trying to distill that down. People were looking to encapsulate those lessons in order to train future executives. To some degree, if I were being cynical today—which maybe I am—I would say most of them missed the point. You want to think you can train people up to think that way, but I think that’s the biggest thing they get wrong. It’s not teachable.
You may remember that right after he died there was all this stuff about “can Apple go on?” Could anybody have the capacity to do that job (Jobs’s)? 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.” It’s definitely not the same place.
There’s much more to this interview and I highly suggest you give it a read. You don’t often hear former Apple guys come out and discuss some of the things they learned. This is a rare thing.