Apple Design Team reveals obsessive process behind iPhone 13 and Apple Watch

Apple logo on building
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Apple is a notoriously secretive company that only officially reveals what it’s been working on at carefully curated events and live streams. But our sibling publication Wallpaper has been granted exclusive access to the Apple Design Team (opens in new tab).

While Wallpaper wasn't given access to any work being done on the rumored iPhone 14, MacBook Air 2022 or AirPods Pro 2, it did get a taste of the obsessive approach Apple takes to designing and finessing its products. 

See more

For example, Wallpaper discussed the Apple Watch’s design process with Cupertino’s designers. The team explained how it pondered over a series of questions when it came to a physical notification system or the smartwatch. The designers had to carefully think about how strong, how long and how natural the haptics in the Apple Watch should feel. 

When discussing the Apple Watch Series 7, which tops our best smartwatch list, the design team noted that the debut of a larger display was born out of iterative design created by working closely with the engineering team. And this partnership dates all the way back to the first model and its iconic Digital Crown, which arguably sits in the middle of design and engineering. 

"We wanted to merge software and hardware," designer Molly Anderson told Wallpaper. "The crown came from referencing the history of watches and realizing we needed to have physical mechanisms and tactile inputs to make Apple Watch feel really different from the idea of an iPhone on the wrist." 

AirPods: Lending an ear

AirPods Pro

(Image credit: Henry T. Casey)

The same can be said of Apple's approach to the AirPods. Wallpaper was told that development of the wireless earbuds started more than a decade ago. It saw human factors researcher Kristi Bauerly researching the "crazily complex" human ear to inform an earbuds design that can be found on our best wireless earbuds list. 

"We moulded and scanned ears, worked with nearby academics, focusing on outer ears for the earbud design and inner ears for the acoustics," said Bauerly. 

Apparently, thousands of ears were scanned creating a database from which the design process can start. If you're enjoying the AirPods Pro's fit and feel, that's why. 

Never phoning it in

iphone 13 pro back showing camera array

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)

If you've wondered why the Apple went for a trio rear cameras in a pseudo triangular layout set in a rectangular module, well that's down to the obsessive design, too. 

More than just slick aesthetics, the focus on delivering phone photography that merits a spot on our best phone cameras list required another coming together of design and software and hardware engineering. 

Wallpaper explained Apple's design team had to consider how the iPhone 13's design has to take into account how the camera lenses were grouped and delineated, yet also consider how the software could evoke a sense of working with dials and traditional traditional analogue equipment. 

This not only took a load of research, but also pouring over vintage cameras and even perusing their typefaces and control layouts. Once again, that ease of use one gets when using the iOS camera app, as well as the virtual feeling of tacitly adjusting zoom via a software dial, is from the labors of the Apple Design Team. 

See more

Design Different 

With that in mind, it’s no surprise that the image in Wallpaper's article shows off a workspace that seems to have more in common with those of fashion brands or high-end interior design agencies. 

Snaps of the iPhone 13 Pro’s camera module and Apple Watch Digital Crown being assembled give us the impression of a bespoke jeweler's workshop rather than the initial process for devices that’ll be shipped in the millions.

See more

That workplace is actually separate from Apple's main Infinite Loop camps, over a mile away in a building that doesn't have the eye-catching circular design of the main HQ, yet is impressive in its own right. 

And based on Wallpaper's extensive reporting, the spirit of Apple co-fonder Steve Jobs still looms large. Do check out the full Wallpaper article (opens in new tab), available online and in print, for the complete breakdown of its journey into Apple’s world of design.

Roland Moore-Colyer a Managing Editor at Tom’s Guide with a focus on news, features and opinion articles. He often writes about gaming, phones, laptops and other bits of hardware; he’s also got an interest in cars. When not at his desk Roland can be found wandering around London, often with a look of curiosity on his face.