It’s time for Apple to reconsider design

Anthony Caruana
2 July, 2015
View more articles fromthe author
AAA
News

I have to admit I’m a card-carrying member of the Apple fan club. But that doesn’t mean I think everything it does is perfect. And, as the editor of Macworld Australia, I’m in the privileged position of being able to try out lots of its latest and greatest gear.

However, I’m also the owner of a number of Apple devices that I’ve have paid for with my own hard earned money. That’s important because I want you all to understand I’m not approaching what I’m about to say as a commentator, but as an Apple customer.

Apple seems to be obsessed with making its devices as thin as possible. We read a lot of Apple press releases for new products and almost every single one makes mention of how the new device is thinner than its predecessor and how the designers have managed to shave a few millimetres from the size.

Back when laptops were almost two inches thick and desktop computers required a small crane to move, shaving size away was a good thing. But that obsession is now impacting on functionality in some significant ways.

When the MacBook Air was released at the start of 2008, it was a revelation. Somehow, Apple managed to shoehorn enough of what was needed in a portable computer into a body that fitted into an envelope. There were compromises – no integrated Ethernet port, just two USB ports and limited storage. However, those compromises were covered by the reduced weight, the new MagPort power connector and the use-case for the MacBook Air. It was specifically made as a computer for the traveller.

Since January 2008, the MacBook Air has remained largely unchanged. A smaller, 11in version was introduced and a SD Card port added. We’ve seen Lightning and DisplayPort connectors come as well, but these have represented progression.

The most recent iMacs have a razor-thin profile as well. But the previous models had a couple of important features that we found handy. The DVD drive and SD card slot were easily accessed on the side of the display. While I rarely lament the loss of the optical drive – I really can’t remember the last time I needed to load something from a disk to a computer – moving the SD Card to the back makes it far less accessible.

The new MacBook highlights this fascination with thinness.

While the new Force Touch touchpad works quite well, the keyboard, with its vastly reduced key movement and the single USB port are retrograde steps. And the loss of the MagSafe connector is another step back in my view.

I’m all for reducing the amount of material used in making a device in order to reduce the environmental impact. And, for frequent travellers, shaving the weight off is a good thing. But, when I take the new MacBook on the road, I have to carry an extra dongle for when I need to use a USB stick.

So, what am I looking for?

I’m happy for Apple to make its devices thinner and support new standards like USB-C, but not at the cost of making me less productive or making its devices harder to use. I’d prefer to see an iMac that is a full 10mm at the edges (shock!) if it made the USB ports easier to reach.

And the same goes with the MacBook. Would another 1.5mm have really compromised the weight and aesthetics? Another millimetre and we’d have a keyboard that was far more comfortable to type on.

Steve Jobs was once quoted in The New Times saying, “That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.”

Much of what we’re seeing from Apple reflects beautiful design that doesn’t quite work.

8 Comments

8 people were compelled to have their say. We encourage you to do the same..

  1. Brad Chapman says:

    I agree. My new Macbook Pro is following this path.
    No ethernet, firewire long gone, no easy path to the data connections for projectors. The HDMI to data connector is fiercely expensive and only the really knowledgeable stores know it exists – Not AppleStores!!!!
    Don’t even know yet if thunderbolt to data is available, but then, the Macbook shows that even thunderbolt is being killed off.

  2. Another thought says:

    I would like longer battery life in iPhones and so I am not bothered if it requires the phones to be slightly thicker.

  3. Peter Schaper says:

    The problem isn’t only with hardware, since the release of OS-X Apple’s software development has been focussing on cosmetics at the expense of functionality. I’m still using my computer for the things I did in the 1980s and 90s, I’m not into lifestyle apps and social media, and although the Dock now does a better job than the Apple Menu did in the Classic OS other functionality has been lost, like record and play macros and stationery that actually works for me, and stupidities have been added, like buttons that aren’t visible until you click on the correct region to reveal them. A computer is first and foremost a tool, not a painting on a wall, and recent generations of Apple programmers seem to have lost sight of that.

  4. Robbie says:

    Having the sleep button moved to the side of the current iPhone instead of on the top drives me mental. The number of times I have gone to take a photo using the volume button and hitting the sleep button with my thumb are endless. Stupid and pointless move. Plus the the curved edge combined with the thinness make it VERY slippery now.

  5. simon says:

    I have also noticed a decrease in satisfaction with usability in apple products inthe last couple of years particularly itunes.
    the new macbook pro 4core absolutely nails it though a real joy to use.
    btw can you shed some light on how customers should feedback disapproval to the apple mothership?

  6. Macworld Australia Staff says:

    Thanks Simon.

    Apple has a feedback system at https://www.apple.com/feedback/

    Cheers
    Anthony

  7. Cameron says:

    What most of those complaining about the new MacBook seem to forget is the audience it is targeted at – those who do almost everything they need to wirelessly, so rarely have a need for a USB adapter

    I’ve got one and in the 6 weeks I’ve had it – and I use it every day – I’ve needed to attach a USB device once, and that was only to install some software that I only need to install once

    Stop complaining about things without thinking about the rationale behind why the design decisions are made…I for one love the new Macbook

  8. Macworld Australia Staff says:

    Thanks for your point of view. I get that it’s about a particular use-case but USB is still THE connectivity standard for peripherals. The MacBook is not a great laptop for travellers. it may be thin and light but no USB port means i have to carry a bunch of extra stuff – I can use a MacBook Pro to charge a couple of devices overnight without carrying an extra charger. And the loss of MagSafe is a backwards step too.

Leave a Comment

Please keep your comments friendly on the topic.

Contact us