Design and Popularity

How devices are designed has more to do with the vision which contextualises that design: difficult to use hardware and irritating software convey little vision or little talent to manifest a big vision. When Blackberry released their messaging system, it was based on the vision of easy texting. Android was updated in 2009-2011 based on the vision of an insecure version of iPhoneOS. The design of those two products became manifested, singular, visions.

Jobs had a vision of simplified computing dating back to the 1970s from Lisa to NeXT to OSX and iTunes. With Ives, Jobs found an industrial designer who could manifest his hardware vision. Ives’ vision of simple, elegant and modern design reflected earlier Apple products such as the mouse rather than command line interface, a clear black and white monitor rather than using low resolution TVs as monitors, and simplifying connectors. The vision at Apple is multiple, not singular.

Ives was involved in Apple product design from 1992, yet his most impactful design may be the Bondi Blue iMac released in 1998. At that time, most computers were barely running the incomprehensibly awful Windows 95 on incredibly slow and hot Socket 4 CPUS with no Internet. Wifi didn’t exist in public at that time. Most computers were in cheap steel boxes painted beige. It was a very sad era in computing thanks to Intel and Microsoft.

Then iMac splashed the market in rainbow colours, unheard-of USB, built-in LAN and a CD-ROM: Jobs’ and Ives’ vision of good design for both hardware and software placed Apple as a company with a great vision. Jobs’ successfully saving of QuickTime technologies from Gates’ machinations ensured the iMac could uniquely play video. iMac’s rounded edges, transparency and ease of use heralded Apple’s vision.

Rounded corners extended into diamond-cut, chamfered edges and curved cases. Why? Aesthetics! The iMac evolved into a massive 27” display which seemed to float in mid-air, the iPhones 6 to 11 were the most comfortable to hold, and the iPad used to leave fingers un-dinted. Apple Watch arrived years after the competition and demonstrated Apple’s aesthetic: comfortable and pleasing to use and behold. Over the past few years, though, Apple’s vision seems to be changing.

The Macintosh originally did away with 3.5” floppies in favour of 2.5”; the iMac did away with floppies in favour of CD-ROM and adopted USB; the MacBook was the first to include WiFi; Lightning leapt ahead of USB in terms of reliability and ease of use which USB-C has only just caught up with; Macs and iPads all ship with USB-C now.  MacBook Air is one of the two most influential laptop designs in history on par with the PowerBook designed by Sony: the thin wedge and the palm rest under the keyboard. However, Jobs’ vision of simplicity and ease of use has recently been diluted.

Reading through many comments, a common theme/incessant criticism of Apple’s products are a lack of ports and a desire for more battery life. With the new MacBook Pro, Apple has capitulated with a choice of ports resembling models from ten years ago. To house the extra batteries, the MBP has gone from thin with a rounded base to a thick brick. The physical advantage of a wedge shape is that wrists can rest comfortably whilst typing; the aesthetic advantage is that beautiful design. MacBook Air💕

If we argue for the MBP getting heavier as it is usually used on a desk, then we do not need larger batteries and a large, ugly, square chassis to house them. If we argue that we need more battery life because the MBP is portable, then we certainly don’t need to carry around the extra weight. The result is that the MBP now looks like something designed in 2006. Not elegant, not stylish, not movable, and not comfortable to use.

Happily, I assume the dozens of people who buy the bulky MBPs just for the extra battery life will be quite pleased with the ports and performance, and the thousands who need the HDMI and the thousands more who need the SD slot will also be greatly pleased. The vision for this product seems to be one of ‘catering to the clamour’ rather than one of ‘lead with good design’. This is the AWD SUV for people who never leave the suburbs: ‘I need more, just in case’. It ought to be very popular!

Final niggle: non-FaceID notch? Considering the bottom bezel is quite thick, and that the menu bar can be made pitch black, why, oh why, was this notch designed like this? Jobs’ and Ives’ aesthetic vision is certainly being diluted with the mundane. I hope Cook and Howarth improve the future aesthetic of Apple’s products.