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Behind the scenes: How Apple designed its most exclusive product ever


Apple fans, hold onto your hats. The trillion-dollar company behind the iPhone has something brand new: a hunk of precisely engineered and polished aluminum, handcrafted by the company’s world-famous design team. It’s carefully packaged like a Christmas present, it’s special-delivered to some lucky people’s front doors … and you can’t get one.

In fact, you’ll never even see it in person.

Limited to a run of exactly 15 (plus a spare or two to have around Apple Park), this is Apple’s most exclusive product of all time. I was lucky enough to see one, and I swore an oath not to share pictures, although I can describe it for you. It’s pretty amazing – but not as amazing as the people it honors.

I’m talking about the new trophy Apple’s designers put together, a special physical award to honor the Best Apps of 2020. Handmade from the same aluminum alloy that the company’s iconic phones and computers are hewn from, the solid metal ingot is instantly iconic: A real-world App Store icon, a physical version of a digital item handed out for a digital version of a physical event.

“It’s a beautiful object that recognizes their incredible work and our deepest appreciation” — Phil Schiller

“We are excited to present the first-ever physical App Store Best of 2020 Award to these winning developers — it’s a beautiful object that recognizes their incredible work and our deepest appreciation,” Phil Schiller, Apple Fellow and the man behind the App Store, exclusively told Digital Trends.

Attention to detail

Apple is rightly respected for its attention to detail, and everything about the award speaks to that. It was conceived and crafted by the same design team that makes the company’s products, dreamed up during one of their regular Tuesday afternoon sessions. It is handmade of the same metal that goes into the company’s products: 6R01, Apple’s own custom grade of aluminum that is made up of a 100% recycled mix of excess aluminum from Mac products’ manufacturing process.

The byproducts of products built into a product to honor product design – could anything be more unique?

Handmade things usually get their charm from their little imperfections (that’s what makes Aunt Shirley’s sweaters so unique!), yet somehow, Apple’s craftspeople built something as precise as the gadgets that roll off the assembly lines, bead blasted to precision.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

And of course, like any Apple product, it came in a custom box, surrounded by a separate sleeve, with handmade paper wrapping (all recyclable, of course). Half the joy of buying a new Apple product is the unboxing experience; the design team wanted to ensure that Apple’s award winners had that same experience, of unwrapping a present, getting closer to the thing as layers are removed.

Attention to detail is the Apple way. That’s why the company delivered trophies to the winners at the same time Monday morning, right before a special meeting with Apple CEO Tim Cook himself. Coordinating deliveries from Guatemala City to Poland to Shanghai isn’t easy; doing it all at the same time is near impossible.

The byproducts of products built into a product to honor product design.

The trophy itself speaks to the same attention yo detail, an almost fanatical obsession over something only a handful of people will ever see. One side carries the A of the App Store, which the design team felt would be iconic and instantly recognizable. The other side of the trophy (something unseen by any outside of the design team and the trophy winners themselves) carries a laurel wreath of the sort a marathon runner might win. It was created from the outline of the App Store icon, rotated and replicated three times.

Exactly one year ago, Apple invited a few hundred folks to its Duane Street townhouse, an ordinary address in Tribeca secretly owned by the wealthiest corporation in the world. Within its plain exterior is a swanky, sprawling loft, each of its five floors filled with libraries and roof desks and an internal elevator. There’s also the sort of brushed stainless-steel kitchen you’d see on Pimp My Crib.

Attending that event felt like being part of a pretty exclusive crowd. This year? Physical events are clearly out of the question, so Apple held a quiet, virtual event to honor the best apps of the year that was somehow even more exclusive.

“We are thrilled with the Best of 2020 winners — these 15 outstanding apps and games from visionary innovators represent so much great work by developers on the App Store,” Schiller told us. “It is particularly meaningful to honor these winners this year as apps have become even more integral to our daily lives and helped so many of us.”

The most exclusive Apple product of all time is a heck of a way to say thank you.

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