"Bad Design" at Apple

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It’s easy to get up in arms about Apple’s divisive design decisions as of late. So much that people are hoppin’ on the ol’ “Apple is doomed” bandwagon.

Now, I could sit here, put on my apologetic hat, and write another multithousand-word post dissecting each of these decisions in excruciating detail, and how Apple came to the designs we see now - which can be done, in spite of the vitriol on social media that says otherwise. But it’s part of a bigger problem - Apple appearing to spread itself thinner and thinner year-over-year, and how it affects its decision making in the design of their hardware and software - which warrants its own post.

I predict that such discussions within the tech blogosphere will start happening sometime next year - The Accidental Tech Podcast already started doing it. I hope that it’ll pressure Apple to refocus and reorganise their priorities towards refinement of its products.

But right now, we’re in the early knee-jerk stages, and I haven’t come across a better article that sums it all up than this one by Antonio Villas-Boas for Tech Insider. He opens:

 

"This year, we've seen some of the most questionable Apple design choices in recent memory.

The iPhone, iPad, new Macs, and Apple TV look great, but it's a different case when you look at the new line of accessories the company launched in 2015."

 

Let’s set things straight: People have complained about design choices - regarding the mentioned product lines that he think “look great”, I should add - for years. Look at the iPhone. When the iPhone 5 came out, people complained about chipping on the chamfered edge. When the 6 came out, people laughed at the antenna design (which I personally found, and still find, unsightly), as well as the camera bump adopted from the iPod touch.

But no, let’s focus on the decisions that occurred just recently, that have yet to receive actual complaints from regular customers who’ve actually used the products in question.

The rest of the article, regardless of the credibility of the complaint, goes on to pick and choose anything that’ll adhere to this “bad design” narrative. The section where he focuses on the iPad Pro accessories is especially jarring to me.

First, well… this:

It’s cleverly captioned, ‘Who at Apple saw this and thought "yeah, this works.” ’ Easy answer: no one, because I can’t imagine there being any instance wherein this exact scenario would actually happen. The Pencil charges quickly enough that you won’t have it charged for long, and it isn't likely that you’ll have the Pencil out the same time you’re using a keyboard. Also, whenever the user has the Lightning dongle on them, they can just attach a cable instead of attaching it to the iPad.

There have been complaints directed at the Smart Keyboard also, as mentioned by Villas-Boas, particularly at a) the lack of shortcuts, and b) key travel and feel. For a), to complain about that would be admitting that this device isn’t even for you, because you’re looking to project your exclusively-PC habits onto a tablet. This is for people who want a better typing, and purely typing, experience on the iPad. It’s not a Mac. For b), I’d like to redirect you to the MacBook. Why the key travel and feel? Thinner hardware.

Then of course, the climax of the narrative aims at, you guessed it, that darn battery case.

 

"Apple's new battery case looks odd. It's like the Apple's silicone case for iPhone, but with a weird growth on its back.

"What's even stranger is how the battery indicator light is only found inside the case while most other battery cases have the indicator light on the exterior."

 

You should even read the tweets he often sprinkles in every now and then.

At this point, I think Villas-Boas is literally determining each feature and putting a negative spin on it. Even going as far as complaining that Apple doesn’t do it like everyone else. Surprise, surprise.

And he should know better than to link to tweets from The Verge, who, in my experience of being part of their readership once, have a knack for creating impression-based narratives as Villas-Boas does here.

He closes:

 

“...the Magic Mouse should be able to charge while it's still in use, and the new iPhone Smart Battery Case looks so awkward that you'll wish Apple had just made the iPhone slightly thicker in the first place in order to give you more battery life. As a tentpole for innovation, it's surprising this is the best Apple can do.”

 

It wouldn’t be a narrative without a rhetorical ending. Although I should point out: that last sentence would make sense… if you didn’t rave about, oh I don’t know, Apple’s core products and how they “look great” as an opening to your article.

Here’s what I think. As a design nerd, these design decisions actually peeve me. Take the Pencil for example - even with the Pro flat on the table, charging the Pencil looks stupid.

But as a design nerd, I should know that it’s like that by intention. There’s a certain obviousness to simply plugging it in the way it’s meant to. Any other way that was technologically possible probably wouldn’t have enabled that to happen, or at least would’ve involved other tradeoffs that Apple wasn’t willing to make. At this point, the tech press has to know this. They already give Apple the benefit of the doubt in so many other respects, why not design, the thing that the company revolves around?

And, at the end of the day, these problems are so freaking trivial. These are, essentially, first world problems. I should’ve just said that and been done with. Nothing here should really impede the work of those who are meant to use these accessories to a significant degree. A better place to direct criticism would be Apple’s pricing strategies, even as they expand into new markets.

Granted, Apple’s released a lot of new products, even product categories, over the past couple of years. I think they’ve failed to supplement these new products with adequate design narratives, much like they did in the second Jobs era, which is ironic given that they’ve been opening up and letting executives talk to the press more freely.

But it’s not entirely their fault that it’s come to all this incessant whining and complaining masquerading as satire. Maybe it’s time to think about what these decisions are indicative of instead of the passive “haha, look at this, doesn’t it look stupid” brouhaha as of late.

(Via Tech Insider)