Engineer-Designer-Investor / USA
The 'Father of the iPod', keeps pushing boundaries and shaping the future of consumer tech and entrepreneurship.
Tony Fadell, often referred to as the "Father of the iPod", is a renowned entrepreneur whose contributions have left a mark on the digital landscape. With a career spanning decades at Apple and founding Nest Labs, Fadell has consistently pushed the boundaries of what's possible in consumer electronics, driving innovation in product design user experience and creating an entire market segment of smart appliances. In this interview, we delve into his relation to Ressence and the TYPE 2, as well as his views on design thinking, disruptive technologies, and the pivotal role of pioneers.
photos: Julien Faure / Williamson Adams
Tony, thank you for joining us today. You have known Ressence and Benoît, the founder for quite some time now, but how did you discover Ressence?
I discovered Ressence about eight years ago, when I was just flipping through a magazine on technology, which featured a stunning image of a Ressence TYPE 3. You could see all of the numerals, all the markings floating to the top of the sapphire crystal. I started reading the article and I got more and more excited because Benoît was oil filling that cavity between the dial and the sapphire crystal to bring this special image to happen.
Aside from the technology, as I marveled at the design, the aesthetics, and every intricate detail of this watch, I instantly fell in love. At that moment, I knew I had to make that watch mine and I embarked on a journey to uncover more about the brand and the visionary behind it.
When did you and Benoît Mintiens start discussing potential collaboration?
Benoît and I started a relationship probably just a few months after I purchased my first TYPE 3. That was because I asked him to send me a letter to have a provenance of the watch. He was very nice and he sent it right away. Then about a year and a half later, Benoît called me to discuss a special project. That's when he told me about the initial idea for the TYPE 2. I was flattered that he would like to get me involved with his vision of what he thought was a perfect combination of an analog and a digital watch.
What issue did the TYPE 2 aim to solve in the world of mechanical watches?
Mechanical watches have reached a pinnacle in design. We've explored various technologies, yet a fundamental limitation remains: the watch may not consistently keep time when not worn, because, one way or another, it wears down from a hand-wound or automatic point of view. So how do we take this quintessentially mechanical device which represents the epitome of micromechanical engineering? That was the inspiration for what the TYPE 2 is.
"To find innovative applications of technology, one must truly examine the problems and everyday pain points that people encounter."
What was your role in the development of the TYPE 2?
The TYPE 2 is totally Benoît's design. My involvement was about giving Benoît the confidence to move forward with something into the unknown. He was venturing into a place that most watchmakers wouldn’t dare to go into. He took bold steps to make the TYPE 2. I was kind of his wingman, the person prodding him, helping him to define and further understand what it is he was trying to do and make sure he was going to be successful at it without overstepping. He couldn't address everything he wanted to with the TYPE 2, but he did solve a significant number of challenges. It set the stage for future innovations, as he has numerous ideas for where to take it next.
To your mind, why should fine watchmaking accept and embrace these new technologies?
A lot of people have tried to ignore things because it's not traditional. It's like people who have been ignoring electric cars but now this revolution is already behind us. Fine watchmaking and collectors should really take advantage of looking at new things. They do it all the time for new types of materials or mechanisms. We would have never attained this level of advancement in micromechanical devices for watchmaking had we not embraced novel and innovative technologies over the past few decades. This is a true mechanical watch with all the heritage and tradition and love for the craft. Benoît just added one element to it to allow you to have an even better experience.
As a forward-thinking engineer yourself, how has your experience introducing disruptive technologies into businesses shaped your perspective on innovation and handling scepticism?
My career has been defined by disruptive technology, with the iPod, then the iPhone, and then a thermostat called Nest. However, it really started before that at a company called General Magic. Each time we brought out innovations, there were people who really understood the technology, understood the future and embraced them. Then, there were the ones who laughed and mocked it. I think that if you're on the side of innovation, craft, artistry and technology in service of humanity, you need to look at new things and embrace the potential for progress, without paying attention to the critics.
How do you approach user-centered design and identify hidden problems, since people often overlook the potential for change and only react to existing solutions?
To find innovative applications of technology, one must truly examine the problems and everyday pain points that people encounter. Often, there are numerous issues surrounding us that go unnoticed because we've become accustomed to them. We overlook these problems, assuming they are immutable, part of the status quo.
It takes the eye of a designer, like Benoît, to look closely and throw away those conventions. To uncover solutions, one must adopt the mindset of a beginner, seeing everything with fresh eyes, just as a child does. In this state of wonder and curiosity, you're keen to comprehend how things function and why. Cultivating this mindset is key to identifying issues and deficiencies, regardless of their scale.
What, in your opinion, is the significance of design thinking in today's world, and how does it guide us in creating truly meaningful and useful experiences?
Design thinking is really about how you choose to live in the world. It is a state of constant wondering what do you want not just for yourself, but for your family, your community, and the planet. It is thinking holistically. With design thinking, you need to think about all of the problems as well as the delights and the joys and the emotions that come with a properly rationally and emotionally driven design. When you think holistically, circularly, as well as emotionally and rationally, that's how you can really get into design thinking. You can't just have novelty. The TYPE 2 is not about novelty. The e-Crown is not about novelty. It's about a really useful experience and technology to make everyday life easier.
Ressence stands as a pioneering force in watch design and its related technologies. Why is the role of a pioneer in its industry so important?
We need pioneers to continue making discoveries and driving innovation. Every time we think we've learned and discovered the apex of something, we then go further and we ask more questions. We don't stop. We continue to ask questions, and then we can find more and more interesting answers and continue. The process of discovery is unfolding. This is the process in which Benoît and his team at Ressence engage — constantly asking questions and discovering innovative solutions to address problems. That is the process of design and design thinking.
Do you think there is a limit to improving on something?
There's never a limit to improving things. There's always something else we can learn and always something we can try to perfect. There's a reason why you can never attain perfection, because we can keep looking at the details and continue to innovate around them. We'll get closer and closer, but we will never attain perfection. That's the beauty of this craft; it's a journey, not a destination. I can only imagine what the next version of the TYPE 2 is going to be like. Let's see where we go from there.