By: Rudy Sanchez
Apple is in a design funk.
As a matter of fact, they have been for a while. Gone are the halcyon days of anticipating product announcements via mesmerizing “Steve Notes,” waiting to see how Apple will change our lives yet again. From the iMac to the iPad, Apple has taken what computing is and redefined it time and again, in a slick and cool way only they knew how.
But that’s history. You wouldn’t know the Apple of yesterday based on the Apple of today.
Even last week’s announcement of the iPhone XS and the Apple Watch 4—despite the watch doubling as a useful “I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up” medical device—felt flat.
The modern Apple ecosystem requires a dizzying amount of cables to make everything work harmoniously. With USB-C, theoretically Apple could just transition all of their products to this standard, and Apple users could rely on the same cables to charge, sync and use all their products. Instead, in addition to USB-C, they still use lightning, USB-A, and in the case of some Beats products, micro USB.
The iPhone X generation is a marvel of technology and design, but there are nagging issues that one has to imagine wouldn’t have passed muster at the old Apple. If “naked” (case-less), the phone doesn’t sit flat due to a seemingly unnecessary protruding bezel. Sometimes it’s native UI conflicts with an app’s AI—horizontally navigating a screen or unintentionally swiping up will trigger app switches or take you back home. This wasn’t even a problem when iPhones had home buttons. And the notch? The notch holds all the tech goodness that makes FaceID, Animoji and stellar selfies possible, but one wonders if the Apple of yesterday would have figured out how to do it without that unseemly notch?
Even Apple’s packaging has grown stale and tired. Apple has packaged their products in the same white box design for several generations now—it’s functional and adequate, but mostly it’s just more of the same. Even the whole “Designed in California” thing has been co-opted by so many companies that it’s become a cliche, even for Apple.
Maybe the packaging is a microcosm of the current attitude at Cupertino: instead of “think different” the attitude now seems to be “good enough.” And Apple products are good. I’m writing this on a 6th generation iPad, which, coupled with a Brydge keyboard, has functionally replaced my laptop, my iPhone X is my favorite phone since the 4 (which, for its time, was the best phone Apple ever designed, and I still consider a beautiful device). But I’ve always held Apple to a higher standard—they’re supposed to push the limits of technology while making it accessible for non-techies.
So how does Apple get its groove back? Start with the low hanging fruit, like the packaging. Apple has focused on designing more sustainable packaging, a worthy effort, but why not also add some pizazz, some flare? Apple isn’t, or at least wasn’t, an either/or type of company, they could do it all before, and probably can today. A visible change in packaging would get consumers buzzing, and it would signify a change— here’s a new Apple, and maybe even a better Apple.
They should also design all of their products to work together. Start simple, drop lightning, go all USB-C and ship USB-C cables. This would help restore some of the magic the Apple user experience once was while eliminating the frustration of having to purchase an additional adapter, cables and hubs.
There will be a transition period when consumers will still have lighting cables and lighting products, but we’ve been through that process before when iPhones and iPads went from 30-pin to lightning. A transition to all USB-C will be less painful than the current state of affairs.
Unless something can be done well, something to the “old” Apple standard, then they need to work harder to get there or wait. iPhone cameras are great, but they should be flatter. Physical function keys are much more efficient, and while Touch Bar is a nifty piece of technology, it still feels like a step backward.
Now isn’t the time for Apple to rest on their laurels. If Apple is Imperial Rome, then the barbarians at the gate are Samsung, Hauwei, and Google. If the once mighty brand can’t get back on track, those barbarians may just send Apple back to the dark ages, a time when they were so mismanaged and rudderless that they nearly went extinct.
Rudy Sanchez is a product marketing consultant based in Southern California. Once described by a friend as her “technology life coach,” he is a techie and avid lifelong gamer. When he’s not writing or helping clients improve their products, he’s either watching comedies on Netflix, playing the latest shooter or battle royale game or out exploring the world via Ingress and Pokémon Go.
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