“Is it iOS?” asks Andrew Green as we sit and ponder the software running on Apple’s upcoming Watch wearables. “Most of what it does is tied directly to your iPhone, so is Watch simply an accessory?” Indeed, the ties to iOS are undeniable.
While Apple Watch runs its own Watch OS, it is based heavily on iOS and runs third-party apps that live on your iPhone and are simply extended onto the Watch interface. “I mean, what category of device is that?”
Green is the Co-Founder and Creative Director of Twelve South. You’ll know his company, or you’ll at least know of some of the exquisite products it makes exclusively for Apple devices, many of which we’ve written about here at Today’s iPhone over the years.
The Twelve South creator and his team pride themselves on sweating the details of the accessories they produce just as much as the Cupertino company it designs products to accompany does for its own hardware.
So, when I got chance to sit down with Green at CU Exposed in London to chat about the company and its future product plans — namely HiRise for Apple Watch — I was eager to understand what makes him and Twelve South tick.
Green’s apprehension about the nature of Apple Watch’s categorization does not betray a dislike of the product. Quite the opposite, in fact. Sitting in the lobby of the swish Radisson Blu hotel in Portman Square, he describes his love affair with all things Apple and explains how he’s built a company on the back of it. “Well, first and foremost we’re fans.
Twelve South focuses on making hardware just for Apple because that’s where our passion lies.” It’s this passion, he says, that enables the company to be “pretty good” at making Apple-focused accessories. His team’s products have been well received and stocked by Apple in its own stores around the world, something he is “honored” to have achieved.
Twelve South has been making Apple-related accessories since 2009 and has created accompaniments to almost every Apple device produced, from desktop and laptop Macs to all varieties of iPhone and iPad.
Each product solves a pain point for the user — the BackPack for iMac that gives you a neat way to store your portable hard drive, the new BaseLift for MacBook that provides a better typing angle on the go, the versatile PlugBug World that charges your Mac and iOS devices simultaneously wherever you are, or the stunning SurfacePad covers that protect your iPhone or iPad without tarnishing the good looks of the device within.
Operating out of Mount Pleasant, South Carolina, Twelve South hasn’t been swept up in the Silicon Valley or New York City tech buzz. Because of this the company, with its twelve employees, can take its time with products, focus in the “tiny details” and continue to develop “surprising new ways to protect and personalize your Apple hardware”, as the company states on its About page.
But the march of technology moves ever-forward and Apple Watch is the device on everyone’s lips these days. We’ve learned a great deal about the Watch at Apple’s September and March press events and, as the next major product in Apple’s lineup, Twelve South wanted to get in on the action early.
Was it obvious that Apple Watch wearers would want a stand for their new device? “Apple made it crystal clear that this is an every night charge and so immediately you think ‘How does that happen?’ Their charging disk is beautiful but you also have this beautiful watch that you don’t just want to toss on your bedside, right?” Green drew inspiration from Twelve South’s current product lineup, and saw an opportunity.
“We were already handling that for iPhone users with a really popular product of ours called HiRise. Lots of our customers adore that product and use it to charge their iPhones and their iPads at their bedside.
That’s how I charge my iPhone every single night.” With the Watch presenting a similar scenario, this made it “almost a no-brainer” to make HiRise for Apple Watch. “I mean, our customers and fans of HiRise for iPhone would really hang us if we didn’t give them a way to handle their Watch next to their iPhone.”
Green shows me his prototype HiRise stand for the Apple Watch. In the looks department, it is very much reminiscent of the HiRise Deluxe for iPhone and iPad, like a younger sibling.
It’s still a little rough around the edges, and I was asked not to photograph it — these press images will have to do — but even in its unfinished state it’s enough to see the thoughtfulness of the design, which he is more than happy to talk me through.
At first glance, the design might seem obvious, but Green and Co. really pondered how an average Watch wearer might use such a product. “It’s all fine and good to have a HiRise Watch stand but what is that product for? What are the unique needs that the Apple Watch will present beyond just the charging function?” Twelve South has got out early with its Apple Watch stand but it’s not the only product that will be on the market later this spring.
Is Green fazed? “There are some early ideas out there for stands and one of the things that we thought others perhaps overlooked was in the assumption that the person is going to carefully reconnect their Watch band to set it just so on the stand. Most often, that’s not how I go to bed! So, assuming that a person wasn’t going to come home and carefully reconnect their watch to sit it on the stand was one of the first things.”
For Green, the stand has to handle the Apple Watch and all the different bands equally well, especially with clasps or buckles undone. “If you just come in and take it of and pretty casually connect it there, it has to work and look elegant doing so.”
Designing one stand that can accommodate a plethora of bands was a challenge. Twelve South opted for a slot in the HiRise design to accommodate discrepancies in strap design. “So, on one hand I said that people won’t reconnect their watch.
On the other hand, the metal bands don’t disconnect so you’ll still have to leave it looped. HiRise handles it both ways.” Indeed, HiRise for Apple Watch allows the lower portion of the band to be sequestered behind the stand, resting gently, leaving the focus on the Apple Watch face. “A disconnected band on HiRise looks as elegant as if it were connected and I think that’s really important,” says Green.
Materially, the $49.99 HiRise for Apple Watch ensures every point of contact between the Watch and the stand is cushioned. Over the top, surrounding the charging disk, and lining the slot is soft silicon with a leather strip along the base of the stand to the rear providing ample protection for your choice of buckle. “There’s no real better way to take care of a thousand dollar watch,” according to Green.
HiRise for Apple Watch is so considerate of its users’ needs, in fact, that it even accommodates moments when that need is explicitly not using it.
The product incorporates the inductive charging disk supplied with each Apple Watch — a channel behind the core support and under the leather panel hold your cable tight — but the company was keen not to steal that away from you and make it inaccessible when you need to take it with you.
“Unless you purchase more, you’re going to need take this out for an overnight trip, right? We didn’t want to trap or encumber your charging disk at all. So it goes in very easily and it also removes very easily, in seconds,” says Green.
In that way, he believes HiRise for Apple Watch “does what it needs to do” and is mindful of its users. “Three pieces, no tools. Goes in and comes out easy. Holds the watch upright where you can still interact with it while it’s charging — which you’re going to do! — and is band agnostic.”
Although Green is confident that Twelve South has created a stand worthy of the Apple Watch that will be attached to it, designing and manufacturing an accessory to a product that very few people have had the chance to try was not without its challenges.
How has Twelve South coped with such pressures? “Apple has communicated an extensive amount of information about this since last year. So we can think through a lot of the challenges and test them out.
You can go get a drugstore watch and try out a lot of the hypothetical scenarios with it and get very comfortable. But when it comes down to it, the charging disk itself has to fit perfectly and we’ve announced we’re shipping in May.”
The time between Apple Watch’s public launch in late April and HiRise for Apple Watch going on sale will be used to finalize the design before mass production, tightening up all the measurements and making the final pieces extremely precise — something Twelve South is known for and expected to do.
“We’ve made our best guesses with the public information available and experimented with non-amazing watches that can test out our basic physical theories as well. In other words, we can get 99% there.” I press about the development of the new HiRise and if he is confident that Twelve South will make the self-imposed May deadline. Green is coy, simply stating “I think we might beat that deadline”.
Throughout our meeting Green was open and positive about the development process, but considered in the words he selected. The Twelve South Co-Founder’s love of Apple products was most evident when he was placed back into the role of the consumer and asked which Apple Watch he intends to buy: “Fantastic question.
It changes every day.” It’s obvious it’s something Green has put some thought into as he rattles off the pros and cons of the Apple Watch Sport, the stainless steel Apple Watch, and their respective straps. “Fortunately, or unfortunately, as the case may be, we have to get a small selection of them for photography! So, let’s see, today… I really like the Link Bracelet.
It’s certainly not the least expensive. But darn it, it would look fantastic in photographs so I might have to make the sacrifice and get that one for the sake of the company.” A nice excuse, if you can swing it. “It’s the excuse for the whole company! My wife sometimes says that the only reason we started Twelve South was so that I had an excuse to get every single piece of Apple hardware. And I’ve never once denied it!”
It’s clear that Green relishes designing for Apple products and working closely with Apple’s retail team. “We have a wonderful partnership with Apple. We certainly show the Apple retail team almost everything we do and they certainly don’t take everything we do and that’s ok, that’s fine. They are aware of HiRise for Apple Watch, they’ve seen this, and we’ll see what ends up in stores.”