GREG MORRISON

essays, articles, & reviews

my thoughts on design, advertising, and the arts

An icon evolves

Apple has set the design world abuzz yet again with their latest product release, adding a new chapter to their history of creating devices that integrate technology more and more seamlessly into our lives. But for the first time in a very long time, that chapter didn't begin with the letter "i."

Emblematic of their first foray into a whole new kind of device (and perhaps also emblematic of their first new device to be released under Tim Cook), the familiar "i" prefix was dropped in favor of the iconic Apple logo, creating the name "Apple Watch."

The new name goes hand-in-hand (wrist-in-wrist?) with Apple Pay, the new digital payment system that will be integrated into the watch.

So why the change? Brand strategist Chris Kocek offered some convincing theories in Entrepreneur, including "iFatigue," lawsuit entanglements, and search engine optimization. But whatever the reason, it's a welcome change, even if only because this is the first device with a name that's also a verb. (Okay, technically "pad" can be used as a verb. And a certain '90s demographic will remember "mac" as a synonym for "flirt"...) But the point is, "I watch" has a vaguely voyeuristic undertone which is probably better avoided.

And best of all, the new name gives Apple a platform to debut a new typeface. With the release of iOS7 last year, Apple abandoned their mainstay Helvetica in favor of the lighter, more elegant Helvetic Neue. But here they've gone in the opposite direction, using a bold, all-caps typeface that was designed specifically for the Apple Watch to maximize readability on small screens. Although the name of the typeface has yet to be released, some have speculated that it could be "Apple Sans," which has been rumored to be in development at Apple for several years. In any case, as Gizmodo's Alissa Walker observes, this is a choice that favors usability over appearance—not Apple's usual m.o., which their critics are quick to point out.

But I gotta say, I think this typeface just as aesthetic as it is functional. The slightly rounded corners give it a sportier feel, which reflects one of the watch's biggest selling points: its fitness tracking capabilities. The boldness of the letters also suggests the idea of making a bold fashion statement, especially for those who opt for the swankier "Watch Edition." (It's worth noting that both the Watch Edition and the Watch Sport also employ a thin-weight version of the new font, which is reminiscent of the current iPhone/iPad/iPod typography.)

And from a business perspective, a new typeface makes perfect sense for a new type of device. The technology developed for the Apple Watch is of a whole new order of complexity and ingenuity, and it's only fitting that they represent this evolution graphically.

I'm still not convinced that wearable technology will prove practical, but I've got my eye on this device like I do every major release from Apple, for the same reason: from the fonts to the colors to the curves, Apple design is intentional and unparalleled.

Greg MorrisonComment