Life is a Mystery

12 March 2012

New is not always better

Every now and then the Apple pundocracy really misses the boat. Mind you, I’m happy they do, it gives the company plenty of chances to surprise people anew. It is nice to be underestimated, and here we are underestimating Apple again. Rebecca Greenfield writes about “The Post-Steve Jobs Decline of Apple’s Genius Design Theory” at the Atlantic Wire today. She concludes:

Now we know: huge profits for not-so-new products. As far as revolutionizing technology goes, there is no post-Steve Jobs Apple.

The article notes that neither the iPhone 4GS nor the new iPad offer anything genuinely new to the user in terms of design. These are both last year’s designs reused. The case of the iPad, which actually grows slightly thicker and heavier, is worse than status quo, she argues.

Did she miss the fact that the iPhone 3 and iPhone 3GS looked much the same? Did she miss the fact that the MacBook Pro has hardly change in appearance in 5 years, and that the iMac’s evolution in design has been a subtle progression over those same years? The Mac Mini is pretty much as it was when it was first introduced. Internally all these machines have made great strides, but Apple does not vary the external design without a significant reason to do so. It is a classic misunderstand of design, especially as Jobs espoused it, to only pay attention to the outside of objects.

I am glad Apple does business this way. It is constantly innovating, but if it just threw every innovation at users year after year, I think we’d all get pretty worn out, or maybe worse, dependent on the design fix. Instead, Apple seems to give its innovations the honor of some time on stage, a chance to settle in. It does not panic or push, it takes a leisurely stroll (from the consumer’s perspective) though a chaotic market.

Remember that “antennagate” issue with the iPhone4? Not only did Apple not change the hardware back then, it didn’t even change it (much) a year later with the 4GS. Does anyone complain about dropped calls? Not much. Meanwhile, Apple lined up a long list of suppliers to build this phone and pretty much all of them can continue building the 4GS with very little retooling. This is how it piles up big profits. The new iPad will even be able to take advantage of some soft cases made for its iPad2 sibling.

Meanwhile, the innovations are there, and they are incredibly significant. The iPhone 4GS brought forth Siri and has sold better than any iPhone to date. Pretty good for last year’s design. I believe the new iPad’s “retina” display and faster graphics will also be massively popular.

Apple’s competitors litter the streets with their meaningless iterations of products. Quick: what’s the latest Samsung phone or the most powerful Android tablet? Not sure? Neither is anyone else. Apple’s customers get a calm and reassuring message from Apple’s approach to the market: you know you will get the best from us, we won’t let you down. It just works.

In an article in today’s London Evening Standard, “Sir Jonathan Ive: The iMan cometh,” Jony Ive talks a bit about the competition:

… most of our competitors are interesting in doing something different, or want to appear new – I think those are completely the wrong goals. A product has to be genuinely better. This requires real discipline, and that’s what drives us – a sincere, genuine appetite to do something that is better. Committees just don’t work, and it’s not about price, schedule or a bizarre marketing goal to appear different – they are corporate goals with scant regard for people who use the product.

Apple respects the customer using their products. This respect shows up in a myriad ways, from the low-key branding (put a case on an iPhone or iPad and event he Apple logo goes away) to the fierce simplicity (one button!) to the reuse of external designs that are getting the job done. An Apple product is not new for the sake of being new, it is new for the sake of being better. And guess what? People, real people if not the pundit sort, recognize better when they see it, even when the package is quite familiar.

Jonyandsteve

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Eric Celeste / Saint Paul, Minnesota / 651.323.2009 / efc@clst.org