Apple designs win awards. They’re often brilliant designs—from advertising to software to hardware innovation.
Yet, sometimes I pull my hair out when I see Apple doing something that seems so mind numbingly stupid. Does Apple design their products, hardware and software, in a complete vacuum? Yes.
Brilliance doesn’t often see the light of day while toiling away in a committee. Windows Vista, for all the bulk of featuritis, is clearly a product of a committee mentality. Throw enough stuff in the stew, and everyone gets a little of what they like.
On the other hand, Apple seems to work like a secretive chef, a mad scientist in a castle, the geeky nerdy guys in a garage with an idea and few social skills.
I’m convinced that Apple, for all their product brilliance, insight, innovation and engineering skills, pretty much operates in a vacuum. In fact, I’m also convinced that Apple doesn’t really want outside perspective.
Would Dr. Frankenstein go to the village police chief and get his opinion on reanimation? It’s not that Apple doesn’t care about their customers. Maybe they care about doing what they think is best even more than what the customer wants.
A simple case in point, and I’m sure you can come up with a dozen more annoying little things Apple does in every product, is the new Dock in Mac OS X Leopard. In Tiger, click and hold a folder at the right end of the Dock, and a pop up dialog box would reveal the contents of said folder.
Come on, that was very handy, and a great way to navigate through files on your Mac without sloshing over to Tiger’s broken Finder to find files. Create an alias of your Mac’s hard drive, drop it onto the Dock, and navigate until the cows come home.
What’s new in Leopard? No more cows. No more navigation of Dock items. Now we have stacks. I don’t like stacks. I have yet to meet a new Leopard user who likes stacks. What we like is the Grid view. See? Stacks sucks. Grid view is wonderful. Apple is bi-polar about design.
All one has to do is back up a decade to the original iMac. Inexpensive, full of personality, easy to set up and use. Brilliant. So what does Apple do for an encore? Poor candy coated gloss over the iBooks and iMacs and make them look like toys from Fisher Price. When it became clear that Apple couldn’t sell iMacs through Best Buy, I half expected the Mac maker to cut a deal with Toys R Us.
Wil and I argued about whether or not to include his little article on Mac360 about Leopard’s ability to sneak porn onto a Mac. Regardless of how you feel about such unglamorous material, Apple’s use of those features is ideally suited for such prurient actions. It’s as if Apple’s software engineers tried to build in features that would let them get away with some corporate policy against visiting such web sites.
It doesn’t take much to find other lapses within Apple’s streaks of brilliance. How about Mail in the iPod touch? There’s WiFi, but no Mail. Is that ludicrous by design, or did Apple figure no one using an iPod needs to worry about Mail? If so, why have a browser?
I could go on and on but don’t really want to rant. Apple is our favorite bi-polar toy and gadget maker, by far. There are many examples of why it is obvious that Apple designs in a vacuum, and why it works for them. We love their products, Apple makes money hand over fist, and they get more than their share of press and awards. Who can argue with the track record?
I can. There are plenty of spots on the track record of brilliant products through the years, even in their new Golden Age, Apple both delights and mystifies. Can you find a messy spot on Apple’s Leopard, or Mac, or iPod or iPhone?