From the Macbook Pro on my desk to the Apple Watch on my wrist, I am an Apple fanboi. Most people in the design world are much the same, in love with the simplicity and elegance of Apple products. They always seemed to be the embodiment of Dieter Rams’ 10 principles of good design:
These are not also known as the ten commandments for nothing, and Apple followed them religiously. When I finally dumped my Blackberry for an iPhone 4S, I was in awe of it, a solid glass and metal monolith that was a joy to fondle. It was not perfect, given that I would often hold it upside-down and backwards, but it was a thing of beauty.
When I upgraded to the iPhone 6 (I had to for my hearables to work), I liked the size and the slenderness but it did not have the design caché of the 4S.
It certainly breaks Rule 2 about good design being aesthetic; it's not nearly as beautiful. What are these lines on the back? And the camera! Rule number 8! It actually sticks out! What were they thinking? And they moved the power button from the top to the side, so that when I take photos, I often accidentally hit it and turn off the phone. Rule number 2.
To top it all off, it breaks rule number 7 — it's not long-lasting. It doesn’t have a big enough battery to run all day if you're on the road, using it as a camera, dictating machine and using maps. I would be running around looking for outlets or borrowing chargers. Yes, it’s thin, but there just isn’t enough battery to do all the things I have to do in a day, which is the minimum a phone should do.
And Apple must have realized all this, because the company just introduced what it calls a Smart Battery Case for the 6 and 6S phones, which is essentially an admission of guilt. The tech reviewers are jumping all over that, and some are commenting about the design as well. Lauren Goode at the Verge is particularly dismissive:
I’ll start with design. Design is a big word, and it encompasses many things, and it is a religion at Apple, so maybe I should say “looks.” The case has a bump. It’s the first thing you’re going to notice when you see it. And it’s not a look-at-the-way-the-lens-extends-from-the-body bump, it’s a my-iPhone-ate-my-iPod bump. It looks like you tried to shove a few too many credit cards and ID cards into the back of your iPhone case.
But let's also hear from a designer, Rain Noe of Core 77, who does not like the bump at all. He thinks it will make it harder to get in and out of a pocket, and if you press the Home button when the phone is on your desk, it's not going to stay flat. But most of all, he is wistful for the days when Apple seemed to do a better job of it.
So why did they do it? Apple has always done whatever they wanted to do, absent any customer feedback, taking Henry Ford’s “If I ask my customers what they wanted, they’d have said a faster horse” philosophy. That was fine with me when Steve Jobs was in charge, because he actually knew what I wanted and consistently delivered it. But the Apple sheen has long since worn off for me.
Dieter Rams’ commandments, and his work, were a big influence on Steve Jobs and Apple’s design head, Jony Ive, who has said that Rams “remains utterly alone in producing a body of work so consistently beautiful, so right and so accessible.” But he seems to be losing it; the Smart Battery case seems like a quickie solution to fixing the iPhone 6’s inadequacy. It is neither unobtrusive (Rule 5) or, in my opinion, honest (Rule 7), making us pay another hundred bucks to make a phone do what it should have done all along, which is run all day. I will probably buy one (because of course, my phone is always running out of power) but I’m disappointed.