OS X on the Mac, iPod touch, and iPhone made one thing very clear. Apple is dumbing down products for mass appeal.
Depending on what you want from Apple’s products, the dumber approach is both good and bad. One may argue both sides, but allow me to focus on the dumber approach.
Don’t misunderstand my intent. This isn’t a hit piece designed to rake Apple across the digital coals just to get a few extra hits on a lazy Friday afternoon.
The truth is obvious. Apple makes what is normally complex, much easier to use, and that design philosophy shows up in the Mac with OS X Leopard, the iPhone, the iPod, even within Apple’s professional media software.
Apple should be applauded for bringing the complexities of high technology to levels that mere mortals can use and enjoy, even if we don’t understand or care about what goes on behind the scenes.
It’s hard to argue with that, right? Conversely, it’s hard to argue with this: to broaden mass market appeal—for Macs, iPods, iPhones, iLife—Apple has begun a quiet dumbing down of some products and features.
That simplifying of Apple’s products makes them less complex to new customers, and arguably easier to use, but makes them somewhat dumber to the rest of us.
I have a few examples that have raised their ugly collective feature-decreased heads in recent weeks. First, iMovie. The iMovie of yesteryear was an attractive, easy to use, non-lineor video editor which could let iLife users slap together a video production with a minimum of bother and expense.
Apple dumbed down the iMovie in iLife ‘08, the latest version, in an effort to broaden appeal. Apparently, the old iMovie was too difficult for the millions of Windows PC users switching to the Mac, and had to be fixed.
Apple made iMovie easier to use by removing many of the features that made it such a value in previous versions. Isn’t that dumbing down?
In Mac OS X Leopard, Apple modified the Firewall. Instead of protecting your Mac by monitoring and controlling traffic to the 65,000 plus ports on your Mac, Apple really dumbed down access to the Firewall in Leopard. It’s now called an “application firewall” (Apple’s term) which opens access to the Mac on a per application basis.
That dumbing down process is perfect for the millions and millions of newbies coming to the Mac from Windows, but is a step or two backwards for the rest of us. Apple seems so much to want to control the interface experience for the masses, that some loyal Apple product users sense a dumbing down of features.
Other examples of Apple’s new found love affair with the mass market show up in the new iPod touch, an iPod version of the iPhone. Where’s Mail? There’s WiFi. There’s Safari to browse the web. Where’s Mail? Apparently, high end iPod users need WiFi, need a browser to surf the web, but don’t use Mail?
Apple, with OS X Leopard, has allowed more of a gaudy, colorful, non-functional look to appear here and there, perhaps designed to give the Mac a more familiar look to Windows users who switch to a Mac. Apple, what’s with the translucent Menu Bar in Leopard (only in Macs with a graphics card sufficient to display the Menu Bar’s bleed-through look to the desktop)?
It serves no purpose other than to look colorful. Otherwise, it’s a dumbed down menu bar that appeals only to those in need of a Fisher-Price interface.
Again, Apple needs to be applauded for a track record that does a wonderful job of diluting complexity, making that which is difficult, simple and enjoyable. The buying public is showing their approval by purchasing Apple’s products—Macs, iPhones, iPods, Leopard, iLife, etc.—in record numbers. In return, Apple is working diligently to create products that are even easier to use than anything offered by competitors. Many customers obviously love that approach.
However, some long time Apple customers are grumbling that the recent dumb down efforts are too obviously smacking of a company increasingly becoming more interested in promoting themselves as a mass market maker of cool and stylish gadgets, even if some features of said products take backward steps in usability.