Apple has great design is the biggest myth in technology today. The latest victim of this ideology comes in the form a remarkable report on the late Steve Jobs’s final project, still in production: a new, $5 billion Cupertino headquarters for Apple Inc. The building is meant to be “as flawless as a hand-held device,” a process supposedly brought about by “treating the construction of the vast complex the same way they approach the design of pocket-sized electronics.”
The only problem with this conclusion: Apple has never accomplished sufficiently great design in its electronics to justify lionizing the pedantry of design at the new Apple campus.
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Notable Design Flaws
If Apple designs at its best when attending closely to details like those revealed in the construction of its spaceship headquarters, then presumably the details of its products would stand out as worthy precedents. Yet, in truth, Apple’s products hide a shambles of bad design under the perfection of sleek exteriors.
The new model ships only with USB-C ports, but all of Apple’s current devices, including the iPhone 7 and a rechargeable Bluetooth keyboard and mouse come with USB-A cables, which cannot connect to the new laptop.
Touch ID, which allows users to authenticate to unlock the phone, download products from the App Store, and make payments at participating retailers with Apple Pay. But even the slightest disturbance on a finger makes Touch ID unreliable.
Auto correct as funny as it once was to guffaw over its foibles, the feature hasn’t become smarter. Users have become more acclimated to managing its errors when writing; how much typing has become retyping, correcting corrections?
The larger 4.7-inch screens made reaching the edges of the screen with one palm difficult, even for users with large hands. Apple’s solution, dubbed Reachability, was an awkward one: double-tapping the home button would lurch the whole screen down for easier address.
The iPod made listening to a whole music library easy, but iTunes always made managing that library difficult and confusing—even destructive.
frequently stops working; on the iPhone, it successfully sends less reliably than text messages once did, particularly when reception is poor.
Keynote, Apple’s PowerPoint alternative, randomly changes the formatting of text in presentation notes—a charming surprise to discover during an actual keynote. iWork, the Apple office app suite of which Keynote is a part, never came close to competing with Microsoft and Google’s commensurate products.
Some Apple fanatics will blame these more recent misfortunes of design on the vacuum created by Steve Jobs’s death. But this explanation isn’t sufficient. After all, Apple’s design chief Jony Ive, has remained in charge of the company’s design efforts.
Furthermore, Steve Jobs’s design philosophy was fascist more than it was exacting. The man was a not a demigod of design, but its dictator. He made things get made the way he wanted them made, and his users appreciated his definitiveness and lack of compromise. They mistook those conceits for virtues in the objects themselves and enjoyed it. At a time when every company bows to even the most absurd demands of the consumer, Apple never cared what its customers thought, or wanted. Instead it told them what to like, and how to like it.
In the process, Apple standardized excellence in design at the surface level, while failing to achieve that distinction holistically. Apple’s products are beautiful objects, no doubt. But beautiful objects whose operation never matched their appearance. Beautiful objects that lied about the depths of that beauty.
My 2 cents:
Hating on the leader is alive and well apparently. It is no small irony that the captains of hating on the Microsoft empire now get a taste of their own medicine as overwhelming success breads constant and intense scrutiny. “You either die a hero or live to become a villain” said Harvey Dent in Batman: The Dark Knight.
However, behind the fad lies truth: Apple’s losing its touch, whatever its touch is or was. Some, myself included, had chalked off early market criticism of Apple as a result of inflated expectations: under Jobs, Apple flew too close to the sun and spoiled its investors. Some thought that the market was simply not ready for the first trillion dollar company.
But the repeating underwhelming sales, unimaginative product development (ie. absence of the “next iPhone”) and persistence of the aforementioned extensive, and by no means exhaustive, list of Apple product bugs challenges one of Apple’s fundamental tenants: impecable design from a user perspective.
On one hand, Apple’s problems are very much subject to the self-fulfilling prophecies heaped on by speculators: you keep hearing you have fundamental flaws and you start acting like you do. But, absent speculation, Apple’s back-end and software flaws are finally surfacing in an age where customers aren’t as easy to bully around. The answer to the natural question “why doesn’t Apple care as deeply about its metaphorical back-end as it does about its front-end” might prove more complicated.
My take? A history of isolation and product design “dictatorship” has backed Apple into a corner. We now see a relative commoditization of hardware (ie. Xiaomi can produce an acceptable copy of the iPhone)and a customer shift to software preferences. Developer incentives is Apple’s Achilles Heel vs. open source rivals Android so much so that incentives to develop for Apple has been contingent on Apple’s hardware success.
Apple’s perfect exterior is finally succumbing to its flawed interior.