Friday, December 23, 2011

Love For The iPhone 4S

I really don't understand the disappointment being thrown at the iPhone 4s. I love the design. No other company on Earth has yet to match its quality, beauty, and overall impact. While I suspected the release of an iPhone 5, I wished for one more iteration of the 4's design.

The problem with the 4 was that Apple made a conscious decision to put form before function, which they have done before with their computers, but never to the true deficit of the final product. They may have chosen lesser internals, or made that annoying "puck" mouse for the old iMac, but the antenna issue was the equivalent of them having had chosen a keyboard that didn't work if you rested your palms on it while typing, and then integrated it into the monitor. It was bad.

But they have completely transcended that issue with the newest phone. All of the beauty, none of the problems. If I didn't hate Apple so much, I would be making sweet, sweet love to that phone. But I hate Apple.

To me, it embodies the nature of great product design insofar as it is aesthetic. Good design is practical concerns combined with aesthetics. Practically, all design must come down to interaction, and there are two ways to measure this: the time it takes to achieve a set goal, and the amount of a set interaction that takes place over a period of time. For example, how quickly can someone activate a switch? The faster, the better. Or for the second type, how many photos are taken with a camera over a two hour time frame? The more, the better.

The first process is that of the engineer as designer. There is a goal that must be met and a time that mustn't be exceeded. The second one is more like a psychologist as designer. There is a set, quantifiable goal, but a nearly limitless number of ways to achieve that goal. The product can be made easier to use; it can be made of a particular material to foster physical contact; it can be designed to communicate a concept, like "industrial," "artistic," or "exclusive"; it can be made to piggyback with other products and foster interaction via their qualities (e.g. iPhone accessories); or it can be designed to integrate in with the extant aesthetic of a customer's house or clothing.

It is in that way that aesthetics can be quantifiable. By designing a "pretty" product, people are driven to interact with it. They want to use it. That is one of the biggest things that Apple achieved starting way back with the iMac. People wanted to use their products, so even if they weren't necessarily better, it didn't matter. Customers used the products more, they felt more in tune with the products, and as such the products became more integrated in with the customers' lives. Eventually, the products became part of personal identities.

Steve Jobs may not have been explicitly aware of this principle (I once thought he was, but after his biography came out, I no longer think so) but he did understand the concept of beauty. For him, he didn't want to make products that he thought would merely sell, he wanted to make products that were beautiful. He was shrewd in business and marketing, but for him, those determinations were easy. The difficult part was deciding whether the product that would sell could be made in an elegant and beautiful way. If not, don't bother making it. Concentrate on things that can be made beautifully.

Jobs obviously wanted to make a tablet for a long time, but only when technology reached the point where it could be made elegantly did he decide to make it. That elegance elicits interaction, which makes people want the product, which makes people integrate the brand in with their life, which makes them want more of that brand.

Apple, and its dedication to beauty, is the very definition of the Paul Randian concept of brand: customers build a connection between experiences with the company that provides goods and services and a unified personality that is created with marketing, thus producing a brand. This brand then becomes part of the experience, resulting in a feedback loop that, as long as the products and services remain strong, continually reinforces the brand. This is the key to Apple's success. This is the reason why I want to have sex with the iPhone.

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