Wednesday, July 25, 2007

You are unbuttoned, you must be from Apple

You're going to have to file down those fingers, pal--A few weeks ago, during the iPhone hype season, I did a brief discourse on the aesthetics of Apple and how its industrial design philosophy is dramatically different from other companies, one of the reasons the company stirs such passion. This came in the context of the new cell phone which had only an on/off button. Everything else required that you press icons on the screen.  Apple's Jonathan Ive (Apple's chief designer) and Steve Jobs design from form to function. Sometimes, it turns out, that's good news; sometimes it isn't.

For instance: One of the more serious criticisms of the iPhone is that you can't replace the battery. You have to ship your iPhone to Apple. They send you a loaner while they remove your old battery, put in a new one, and then ship your phone back to you--a drag. But people who have taken the iPhone apart have figured out why: the battery setup is the result of the exterior design of the iPhone. In order to make the iPhone look like it does, as slim and sleek, they had to use a battery that was not easily replaced. Any other company would have sent the design back to the shop and told them to design around a replaceable battery. Not Jobs and Ive. They sent it back to find a battery that fit the case. So the user crashes into the design. The iPod has the same issue--a battery that you can't replace yourself--for the same reason. It would screw up the design.

However, another criticism was the lack of keyboard. You could not have the iPhone look like an iPhone with a button keyboard like the Blackberry. In this case, the user wins. Unless you have really, really tiny fingers, pressing icons on a screen is vastly more efficient than trying to press teeny buttons with big fingers. And it would look just as awful as a Blackberry. 

The Wall Street Journal has an interesting (and free on the web) take on all this. Steve Jobs hates buttons. He has minimized the buttons on every product Apple designed during his tenures, starting with the original Mac, which didn't even have arrow keys. The MacBook I'm using now has one-third fewer buttons that a similar HP or Dell laptop. The iPod has no buttons, the iPhone only one, and the mouse I'm using has one, not three. The Journal points out that Jobs doesn't even have buttons on his black shirts. (One presumes he uses a zipper on his jeans). According to the Journal, the main criteria for getting along in Apple's design department is not to add keys to a product unless there is a compelling reason, and there aren't any. Can't you see that discussion going on at the Dell design shop? Does Dell have a design shop?

No comments: