A Rare Look At Apple’s Accessories Design Lab

In a post by Steven Levy in Medium, he wrote about how Backchannel was given a one in a lifetime look inside Apple’s accessories design lab – aptly named the Input Design Lab.

It’s rare to see Apple open up its doors – much less its design labs – to outsiders, considering the company’s secretive nature towards its developing projects. Anyway, let’s take a look at some of the highlights of Backchannel’s entry and see how Apple meticulously tests and designs its products.

What’s inside the lab?

Apple employees call it the Vallco Parkway, which is near Apple’s Infinite Loop headquarters in Cupertino. The Input Design Lab is where every Apple trackpad, mouse, and keyboard prototypes are designed and tested.

In the Apple’s accessories design lab, you will see a host of different hardware, from the new, 21.5 and 27-inch iMac models up to the newly-released accessories. There are also a host of machines which happen to be sensors that record the various biometrics of the assigned subjects, like muscle fatigue and memory, who are testing Apple’s accessories.

There are also robots which are constantly and measurably tapping, clicking, and pressing keyboard buttons and sliding the mouse – these are used to gauge the performance and endurance of each piece of equipment. There is also a 3D printer, the MakerBot (the orange print on the machine looks fairly cute and out of place in the lab) which is used to create custom cradles to hold devices to learn which angles are the best for the product during the testing phase.

There are also slabs of different surfaces, from wood to metal, wherein Apple tests its mouse and trackpads. Another notable part of the design lab is the acoustics room, which is used to test the sounds Apple’s products make when being used. It’s basically a soundproof chamber and is mainly used to check and hear the sound the keyboards make: if they don’t like the sound, they won’t like the product.

The Apple’s accessories design lab is fairly dominated by a variety of equipment, from highly advanced robots and the computers analyzing their findings, along with the surfaces used to test them.

What do they do inside the lab?

The short answer would be testing their products. However, there’s more to that: Apple comprehensively tests their products and monitors both the products and the users’ bodily reactions. Everything is done scientifically, and Kate Bergeron, Apple’s VP for Ecosystem Products and Technologies says:

“We do internal user studies, using a wide cross section of people. We monitor muscle fatigue and memory, acoustics, accuracy, and other tests on all the keyboards.”

This is all in accordance to Apple’s goal of providing user-centric products which cater to the users’ convenience. Bear in mind that the company puts a premium on intuitiveness ease-of-use – this has contributed to their overall success, especially if you put the iPhone, iPod, and iPod into consideration.

The endurance tests are mainly being done by robots, who constantly click, tap, and press keyboard keys to test how far a single keyboard would go. The results of the tests are then evaluated by software Apple didn’t disclose. In this regard, Kate Bergeron added:

“Every new product requires its own test,” she says. “We have to design fixtures so we can test the product. The team does tons and tons of work to try to characterize different designs as quickly as possible.”

Note that Apple goes up to five million key taps in every test – if it passes, it’s assured to be a product which may last a lifetime.

Meanwhile, the mouse and trackpads are tested out by a robot arm which pushes and pull the trackpad as the device is sitting on top of a wooden platform, as shown above. This test is being used on a mouse as well.

Why does Apple go to great lengths?

It may seem like Apple is going overboard with their tests, but they aren’t – which is why you’re seeing durable and at the same time, quality products which are pretty easy to use and will last nearly a lifetime.

The late Steve Jobs always made sure that the products the company will release into the market are something that “you can’t live without”. This is a testament to the company’s commitment to bringing the best electronic devices and accessories from the assembly line to the tables of their consumers.

Currently, Apple’s accessories – which are newly-released along with the new iMacs – have amazing improvements compared to their predecessors. The Magic Keyboard 2 has larger keys, while the Magic Trackpad 2 is noticeably larger and now allows you to click on it. The Magic Mouse 2 had minimal additions but is larger compared to its predecessor. The next time you see these products on the nearest Apple Store, take note that they have all undergone testing in Apple’s Accessories design lab!

To see more pics and read more details, be sure to hit up Backchannel page on Medium!

Image (cover and article body) credits: Backchannel

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