Ever since Jony Ive took over Apple’s industrial design, it has been important to Cupertino to make their products out of material with authenticity and substance, not just cheap plastic. In the pursuit of these goals, Apple has managed to revolutionize the mass-production of not one, but two different materials that had previously gone virtually unused in gadgets, at least externally: glass and aluminum. And Apple’s made big plays to experiment with even more cutting-edge materials, like Liquid Metal.
Here’s a question, then. Apple likes to make its Macs and iPhones out of materials that feel authentic, that give them a unique look and feel. In the pursuit of those materials, Apple has revolutionized at least a couple of industrial design processes.
So what if Jony Ive got it in his head to make iPhones out of wood?
Over at Fast Company Design, I wrote a piece on why Mad Men style gadgets housed and covered in wood went away.
The dull answer is that wood went away in gadgets because it’s more expensive, takes longer and a lot more finnicky to work with than plastic. But Apple could solve that problem easily: they’ve got the supply chain, the global economy of scale, the margins and the dedicated following to make mass-producing millions of wood gadgets work.
But there’s a spiritual answer too. Apple is in the unique business of selling us the future, and we, as consumers, are philosophically incapable of accepting wood as a material the future is made of.
But Apple is not going to suddenly decide to make an iPhone out of bird’s-eye maple or etimoe. Nor is any other big manufacturer going to invest in wood this way. Unlike glass and aluminum, wood is not a material that we, as consumers, believe the future can be constructed from…
Once more, it comes down to wood’s sum and substance. Wood is alive. It becomes old. It has history and character. These are qualities our vision of the future cannot accommodate. The future must always be impossibly bright and shiny and just beyond the farthest stretch of our fingertips. Wood? Its essence is in being touched…
There’s a lot more to it than that, but if you’re interested in why companies like Apple have moved away from wood even as third-party companies like Miniot and Monolith thrive. Read the whole thing and tell me what you think.