Editorial: Apple's Design, Paragon of Aesthetics

Computer design is either good or bad. There are few companies today taking design as serious as Apple. They may not be the market leader fiscally; in terms of design and quality-control they are, though. Whatever your stance towards them is, one has to acknowledge their expertise in making a seemingly mundane object aesthetically outstanding. I'm a Windows user primarily, but even I glimpse the ingenious design of Apple products. They aren't just arbitrary shapes. It makes it clear that the team around Jonathan Ive, Senior VP Industrial Design, takes great care in what they do.

Apple has launched iconic products such as the iPod, iPhone and iMac. These are prominent for their one-button-one-scroll interface, multi-touch technology and all-in-one offering, respectively. Take the iMac, for instance, and look at its evolution from a half-orb to a flat-panel all-in-one powerhouse. It's undeniably one of the most beautiful computers on the market today. If any speculation on the future of computer design is valid, then the iMac would be a good example. Simplicity may well be what defines clarity. It baffles people, instead of frustrating them.

At Apple everything's shiny, elegant and sleek. Decidedly so, Apple's design is timeless. Jonathan Ive has created an aesthetic identity, which is unique and captivating. A Macbook Pro is a stunning piece of electronics. From an engineering point-of-view it's also very innovative. Using the so-called unibody-construction MacBooks have become a paradigm of clear computer design. This has also helped perfect the fusion between aesthetics and foolproof usability.

It's not the products that are timeless, though; it's the principles by which they are created. To make something markedly simple is an easy task. However, to make it so without compromising its sophistication is not as easy. Few products are timeless. Especially in industrial design it's hard to stand out, and stand the test of time. Innovation is the only way to advance a mundane product to something which is indispensable. If a computer's design is organic it will blend in with its environment, making it an intuitive part of our home or workspace.


Image Credit: Flickr

The aluminum unibody of the MacBook feels robust and precious. That's what the consumer pays for, a premium for the Apple brand and the quality it stands for. Ignore the stubborn and sometimes contracted Mac fans, and realize the real beauty of these computers. You might call me a hypocrite, since I never have and never intend to purchase an Apple machine. Be that as it may, I admire the design philosophy of Jonathan Ive and his team. They assert extreme quality control.


Image Credit: Flickr

A few years ago, they brought out the G4 Cube, which was unfortunately badly received by consumers. Apple had to cancel its production, just one year after its launch. Few recognized that it was a feat. I loved the look and feel of the cube, especially the translucent quality of it. It ran quiet, without the whirr of a fan. It seems nothing in Apple design is a contrivance for the sake of appearance. They rid their hardware of everything that vies for your attention, but doesn't need to be there. With the iMac, for instance, it's just about your content. There is no noise, nothing disrupts the aesthetic. You are consumed by the image.

People tend to love unassuming design, whether it's computers or furniture. 'Modern' means to be honest and subtle. And I concur that many Windows based computers look like they've been designed by kindergarten kids. In the Mac Pro it's so easy to upgrade or expand hardware. Everything seems considered to provide a satisfying customer experience. Its anodized aluminum enclosure has a matte sheen, and is labeled by a large Apple logo on either side. At no angle, however, is the design overwhelming; it's rather imposingly simple. That's precisely the point. To let the user know a computer is there to be used, that's its primary function. A computer cannot appear like a machine from the future, though. It must spread an ambience of normality.


Image Credit: Flickr

The iPhone's interface is as brilliant as it's uncomplicated. I owned an iPod Touch for a while, and it was a joy to use. It felt like using tomorrow's technology today. From a mere visual point-of-view it's a masterpiece of engineering and looks. A lot of it is just gimmicks, fancy tricks to impress your friends. There are features, which facilitate quotidian tasks, though. Like finding a suitable restaurant to invite your would-be girlfriend is done in a jiffy. Street-view, in addition to the compass, can be extremely useful when you are in a foreign city. People tend to forget how all this comes from a careful assessment of daily-life situations.

Design of any kind is certainly subject to personal opinion. In the end it's the consumer who decides whether a device looks and feels great. With Apple that's always the case. Now, I have reservations concerning Apple, however, it's unfair not to applaud their vision. Just like there are timeless watches, by famous manufacturers such as Omega or Jeager-leCoultre, there can be timeless computers. Only the hardware inside becomes obsolete as the years decline. Yet, the enclosure, the keyboard and mouse can have shapes that are ever stylish. A company that understands the principles of today's standards in industrial design can be sure to be at the top. One could argue that there are people who buy electronics for the design and the status it proclaims. Apprehension solely doesn't suffice to make a statement, though. Confidence is important too; the second and third iteration of the iPhone share the same design. It would be wise to limit the times a product's design changes. Familiarity can also be a winning factor.

Unfortunately this is often suppressed by bizarre corporate decisions. Nevertheless, Apple has the commodity of choosing which products to make and how to make them. This gives them quite a lot of freedom to continue realizing their vision.

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It's all just a matter of style vs. function, pretty much whatever you're talking about, & nowhere is it as true as with Apple products, where you pay for style first & foremost. I've read & heard loads about the great design & controls on an iPod, but nothing about how your tunes sound on it vs. a $30 player. Everyone knows about the great features on an iPhone, but in the US where it's tethered to AT&T, it can't compare to a $30 Verizon cheapie when it comes to making/taking phone calls. Ignoring the OS for a moment, is a MAC better because of the case?... customers do pay plenty for it, considering the hardware it contains isn't that different from what's available in the PC world. What about the way components are laid out inside?... for 90% of the market there are only two, functional considerations: airflow for cooling & low (or no) noise from fans. Weight is irrelevant unless you're always carrying it. Easy upgrading only makes a difference when/if you're upgrading components -- not the 99-100% of the time you're actually using it.

That' NOT to say don't buy anything Apple. And that's NOT a critique of their designs. You can buy a designer bag, or pick up a canvas one at the grocery for $0.50... your choice.


So beautiful :_)

Am I the only one that noticed that OSX started to look really good only after Vista came out? And that Sony VAIO was much more attractive than the original iMacs?

So just to clarify, you think that Mac got ideas for leopard from Vista?

And you are also comparing Sony laptops to Mac desktops?

Fail....

jambro said,
So just to clarify, you think that Mac got ideas for leopard from Vista?

And you are also comparing Sony laptops to Mac desktops?

Fail....

BUHAHAHAHAHAHAH

Regarding looking good... I dunno. After all these Google Chrome commercials, I feel REALLY aware of how OS X still defaults to a gray theme, while Windows has been bluish/transparent now for the past three releases. With the playful mocking Google makes of the software standard in their Chrome ads ("This is your browser. It's typically gray."), I can't help but smirk a little when I see the latest and greatest Mac OS...... still sporting gray everywhere.

(including in the screenshots of Google Chrome for Mac)

jambro said,
So just to clarify, you think that Mac got ideas for leopard from Vista?

And you are also comparing Sony laptops to Mac desktops?

Fail....

I'm just disagreeing with the editorial. I don't think Apple's design has always been good, and they learned a lot from their competitors. Apple's design sensibility has become better and better with time imo, because they did learn--and I like Apple's current designs.

It doesn't matter that I'm comparing laptops to both laptops and desktops -- Sony still had a better sense of design. And OSX when it first came out did have ugly pinstripes, then steel chrome.. and after Vista came out they opted to make it minimal, removing textures and using transparency more effectively.

So I think Apple's hardware and software today is very beautiful... but I always disagreed with people who years ago were saying Apple's designs were beautiful when , at that time, I didn't think they were.

The only thing I give Apple credit for is the original design of the iPod and its software. They were really revolutionary at the time. Oh, and by the way, quality control is not all about the materials used to make a prodcut.

Nowadays anyone can produce cool-looking, stylish products. Apple is not better than anyone else. They just decide to make more expensive products and go with the form over substance approach. Other do the other way around.

The iPhone design was great but I think it has been matched or surpassed by competing brands now.

About design and taste, everyone has a different one and it is a matter choice and needs.

Maybe you should actually own a MacBook Pro and then you'll realise just how much better the software is. Or not because you're so used to Windows and all its registry/dll/installation Wizards crap.

Every trackpad fails in comparison to my MacBook unibody's smooth and large size. Even HP Envy tried to copy the design with non-satisfactory results.

See this is what's cute. There was an earlier post criticizing PC laptops for always labeling everything, but damned if I can make it through one Macbook thread without hearing 'unibody' five hundred thousand billion times.

well most of the common PC's are designed in asia, thus the cheap look. For example have a look at some of the cars from asia...

WAR-DOG said,
well most of the common PC's are designed in asia, thus the cheap look. For example have a look at some of the cars from asia...

They don't look cheap just because they are designed in asia. They look cheap because they are way cheaper than apple branded computer

Yeah, because Apple never buys ideas from design farm firms, and their quality control hasn't been in the news of late at all, amiright.

Just taking a wild guess, among the ones who are criticizing Apple designs... how many of you studied industrial design or know about Dieter Rams... no google friends

So by this logic if I do not have a PhD in English, I am not entitled to have an opinion on English Literature (nor should I be allowed to publish my works). Beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.

I'm confused, sanct. Are you saying I have to be taught what good design is in order to think Apple's designs are good?

Apple has done well at positioning themselves as the authority on design in their markets. Apple has shaped the design "taste" of all of us to some extent, so it is no surprise that we have become attracted to their products.

This is no small feet, and kudos to Apple for accomplishing that this decade.

I love articles like this. They ALWAYS ALWAYS ALWAYS neglect to remember the elegant and simple design of every Apple laptop up until the last year or so that were so simple and beautiful AND SHOWED THEIR LOGO UPSIDE DOWN ON THE LID FOR ALL TO SEE!

I mean the ONE spot where you get free advertising every time it's open and being used and your expert design team took years to realize it's upside down to anyone who doesnt own the damn thing already.

Wow, there must be something wrong with me, I got bored of using an iPhone after 5 minutes and a Mac after 10. Get Windows or Linux: customisability, customisability, customisability

Billus said,
Wow, there must be something wrong with me, I got bored of using an iPhone after 5 minutes and a Mac after 10. Get Windows or Linux: customisability, customisability, customisability

If you want an OS with more customability you go with Linux and not with Windows.
The point is that you've used Windows your whole life and you think that that is the only OS in the world so you trash talk anything else thats out there on the market making a real noob out of yourself.

Euphoria said,
If you want an OS with more customability you go with Linux and not with Windows.
The point is that you've used Windows your whole life and you think that that is the only OS in the world so you trash talk anything else thats out there on the market making a real noob out of yourself.

Windows Mobile or Google Android. Windows Mobile you'll find is much more customisable. Oh and for your information, I do use Linux for multimedia purposes. Someone needs to burst your bubble.

LOL. Hmmm, I got the impression that Billus used Linux and/or Windows so saying definitively that he "used Windows your whole life and you think that that is the only OS in the world" means you should read before writing. The real noob is exposed.

I agree 100% with the article. In my opinion, no PC manufacturer out there knows how to make a beautiful computer. They always have to ruin it by :
- labeling every single freakin part, such as 3.0 Advanced Mega Pixel Webcam X-clusive Face-Recognition™;
- plastic, plastic, plastic
- Thick
- exaggerated plastic molded curves
- "design" imprints, abstract art slapped onto your computer
- excessive multimedia buttons
- trackpad too small, plastic cheap and ancient (scrolling on the right side, left and right buttons, etc)
- extended battery protuding from the case, looks fugly as hell, and still doesn't match the Macbook's battery life in some cases
- more squeaky plastic
- Amazing stickers such as: Windows Vista powered, Windows 7 capable, ATI Graphics powered, Intel powered, Dolby Surround powered, as well as a huge sticker with PC specs, including the awesome new AntennaMaxGain Wireless Technology�� *ahem* (Wireless N);

I think you get the point.
That is why I bought a Macbook Pro 13" (to be used with Windows 7, mind you) and I love it. Apple just gets it. NOBODY else does. Lenovo's design makes me want to barf. Seems like they're stuck in 1998.

I think the stickers look cool and it helps the everyday consumer know what he or she gets. If it's such a pain, you can just peel them off and most of the time they leave no sticky stuff behind. I think your just jealous of current PC/laptop owners that their laptops are much better looking then yours and look different from everyone else's. Maybe if Apple had some advanced features in their Macbooks they could label it too. Honestly, the motion sensor is a gimick, you can't change or replace the battery yourself and basically, you need to polish it wherever you go just so it looks ok to have.

I bought the Macbook Pro 2 days ago, and I prefer Windows 7 over OS X. I didn't buy a PC laptop because NONE of them appealed to me. Looks are extremely important to me. The ones that did look decent, had abysmal battery life, or there was a lack of a keyboard backlight , which I love. So no, I'm definitely not jealous.

Maybe if Apple had some advanced features in their Macbooks they could label it too.
HA! Yes they could, but THEY WON'T. Apple likes simplicity, and so do I.

Billus said,
I think your just jealous of current PC/laptop owners that their laptops are much better looking then yours and look different from everyone else's.

Mac users can buy both so how would that make him jealous?

He obvious choose the macBook Pro over any other notebook, so what you're saying doesn't make any sense


Apple designs the best looking hardware btw.

Pharos said,
I agree 100% with the article. In my opinion, no PC manufacturer out there knows how to make a beautiful computer. They always have to ruin it by :
- labeling every single freakin part, such as 3.0 Advanced Mega Pixel Webcam X-clusive Face-Recognition™;
- plastic, plastic, plastic
- Thick
- exaggerated plastic molded curves
- "design" imprints, abstract art slapped onto your computer
- excessive multimedia buttons
- trackpad too small, plastic cheap and ancient (scrolling on the right side, left and right buttons, etc)
- extended battery protuding from the case, looks fugly as hell, and still doesn't match the Macbook's battery life in some cases
- more squeaky plastic
- Amazing stickers such as: Windows Vista powered, Windows 7 capable, ATI Graphics powered, Intel powered, Dolby Surround powered, as well as a huge sticker with PC specs, including the awesome new AntennaMaxGain Wireless Technology�� *ahem* (Wireless N);

I think you get the point.
That is why I bought a Macbook Pro 13" (to be used with Windows 7, mind you) and I love it. Apple just gets it. NOBODY else does. Lenovo's design makes me want to barf. Seems like they're stuck in 1998.

Generally speaking, Most PC users buy their systems not for their looks but for how they function. I couldn't care less if a laptops made out of aluminium, carbon fiber, magnesium or even stainless steel. As long as it functions and has good features price and purpose who cares. Lets not add paying in organ selling to pay for it. Desire for design over something like a desktop or laptop computers tend to say more about the user/owner then the company who makes it. In apples case you're paying for the brand name above everything else that's about at least 20% over the top of hardware prices at standard value which PC makers use. At the end of the day you really have to wonder why and if it's really worth it. Each to their own though.

Nice article although I'd agree with the earlier comment that their design is not the same as their quality control (I don't think it's at all exceptional).

The comment about the G4 cube not having a fan is all well and good, but the damn thing near enough melted. I thought that was the real reason it was pulled off the market.

Nah, I think it's biggest issue was price, for less you could get a powermac (G4 at the time) so very few people opted for the less powerful cube.

Great editorial there!

Whilst I love Apples' designs and the interfaces on most of their devices, I have to say Microsoft are becoming much better than they used to be and, in my opinion, actually design nicer software than Apple. The whole design and interface of the Zune desktop software, the interface on the Zune device, the Aero theme for Windows and the Office 2010 design are all examples of interfaces and designs I think are better than anything Apple have produced Not to mention the design of the Zune hardware - I find that more attractive than any of Apple's portable devices.

I conpletely agree besides aero better than the OS X interface. OS X is my preference. Other than that, he has the greatest point. In terms of features, they have their pros and cons, but aesthetics and design wise, I agree.

http://wp.me/pFXkY-h
- I'll remove it by request

Microsoft design nicer software than Apple?

Have you used OS X?

I am so very bitterly disapointed with Windows 7. They have more or less taken Vista and given it a new taskbar. Woopdee ****ing do. Maybe they should concentrate on fixing their ****ty NT kernel and start making a real OS which doesn't rely on a registry.

jambro said,
Microsoft design nicer software than Apple?

Have you used OS X?

I am so very bitterly disapointed with Windows 7. They have more or less taken Vista and given it a new taskbar. Woopdee ****ing do. Maybe they should concentrate on fixing their ****ty NT kernel and start making a real OS which doesn't rely on a registry.

Why dropping a registry when OSX is getting it?

Your ignorance of the subject is oozing through the cracks of my ugly-ass monitor. You are hereby banned from using words "kernel" and "NT".

@Max1978
Your bad grammar is oozing through my monitor. What did you actually mean by "Why dropping a registry when OSX is getting it?" - am i missing something?

My ignorance of the subject? Huh? The NT kernel is ****. The windows registry is pointless. Am i missing something else?

Wasn't aware that you were the keeper of Operating system terminology, i should have consulted you before throwing around words like "kernel" and "NT". A thousand apologies.

The NT kernel is highly regarded even by many in the Linux community. Hating on it is probably why Max1978 was so quick to assume you didn't know what you were talking about. Can you even give an example of a more advanced kernel and why?

As an aside, can you bother to respond to the part where Max said OS X is getting a registry? Since you feel that a registry is unnecessary and figured that into your calculation of Apple's software superiority.

Or you can just disregard it, I suppose...

To be honest i wasn't aware of plans for OSX to get a registry...can you link me to a source for that? The closest thing to a registry that i was aware of is prefrences.

With regards to my comments on the NT kernel, perhaps abit rash - i am currently just ****ted off at microsoft because of a bug with AD user accounts. I am of the opinion that a unix approach to the kernel would be so much better in terms of security. There are also performance gains with a unix/linux style kernel in its process scheduling.

The registry just ****es me off and is at the root of alot of performance issues, especially with new machines. A real OS shouldn't need a registry...thats why i am surprised to hear that Mac would be getting one.

I really just want some inovation out of microsoft. Really, the way in which they present your computer to you through their OS hasn't changed much since 95. They still use the same old Program files and Windows folder structure they always have. It just feels like stuff is all over the place in windows.

Meh wasn't trying to troll thats how it came accross.

So what is your proposal to replacing the registry? Store all program settings in config.xml next to the executable? :P
Why shouldnt a "real OS" have a registry? Any OS needs a thread- and multi-user- safe storage for settings. Then they can call it whatever they want.
And how does the registry affect the performance btw?

The Mac pretty much does have a registry but in folder and file form. Look in /Library. And know the facts before posting jambro.

edit - OS X does that it.

The problem in Windows performance wise are drivers. Apple tests all drivers and has what, 15 different computers? The hardware kexts which are needed to be written is miniscule and therefore, won't have as many problems as thousands (or even hundreds of thousands) or devices used in Windows. Not trying to diss Apple (I prefer using OS X) but using a "hackintosh" (or even a mac) yields performance that is similar to Windows on the same machine. And bringing in Linux into the argument isn't helping either.

The truth is, all these operating systems are great. *GASP* There, I said it.

To tell ya the truth, they all run about the same speed. Speed is not an issue. The only time when there was a stability issue that I'm award of, was for Microsoft in the late 90's. And once again, they're not microsoft's issue. It's the manufacturers who coded drivers. In the late 90's there weren't drivers for this new platform. The Vista break was the fact that many manufacturers didn't recode for a break of that same, old platform, drivers. The amount of people who test and modify code before releasing it (open-source) is what makes Linux so great.

But what also sucks about Linux is the lack of trust (it's free, after all), lack of adoption, and lack of software (most home users won't switch to usually commercial programs; eg Quicken).

Apple and OS X have a problem about testing; many problems in the OS that have occured over the past 10 years were caused because of this. The guest account deletion problem at the Snow Leopard release should have been easily caught.

Again, all OS's have had their embarresment's. Yet we all seem to bash them when they have one.

And that's a rant if I've ever heard one. But IMHO it's all true.

@Weez Puuz - i am well aware of /Library, i was replying to Max1978's suggestion that Mac was 'getting a registry' as though it was a new development - not an existing feature of the OS.

The Windows registry is a mess. Really no other way to put it. In comparison to OS X and Linux, it is a inferior implementation of centralised configuration. The unix /etc approach makes life so much easier, and less risk for completely ****ing up your system through corruption of the registry.

I am not, believe it or not, a Mac fanboy or a Linux fanboy. I agree that all OSes have their up sides and down sides - it just seems to me that for general every day use, OSX has it over the other two. Obviously there are circumstances where you need Windows, and for the most part it is a stable and easy to use OS...there are just some really annoying 'features' included with it.

I've also noticed a huge decline in tech support calls from family members since they have switched to either Mac or Linux - which to me speaks volumes.

jambro said,
Microsoft design nicer software than Apple?

Have you used OS X?

I am so very bitterly disapointed with Windows 7. They have more or less taken Vista and given it a new taskbar. Woopdee ****ing do. Maybe they should concentrate on fixing their ****ty NT kernel and start making a real OS which doesn't rely on a registry.

Ok.

Please explain to me what exactly is wrong with the NT kernel? And while you're at it take a shot at the registry too.

Wait..what, oh you can't?

It's funny to see people use words like kernel and registry and calling it ****ty, just to look like they even have a clue about their designs and functions. I would say the NT kernel is a great piece of work and probably the best thing of Windows as a whole. But yeah, you don't like the new taskbar, so that kind of sums up your superficial view.

At least MS actually created a kernel, Apple just took one from another OS.

I think the iPod 3-G was awesome. I loved how it looked and so streamlined. Everything from there is just evolution.

However, there are many laptops out there that have been done and looked great before Apple. I sure think the Asus W40 I think it was? Where it had the illuminated keyboard and a slim design. That was a nice laptop.

However, I do admit Apple does impressive stuff. Mostly because they're thin and curvy.

Having used the old MBP keyboard for years and having tried the new one on my gf's 13" MBP I have to say i prefer the new one. It's WAY better

Xilo said,
I much prefer the older keyboard on the laptops. The new one sucks. :/

You're crazy, the new keyboard is loads better.

How much did Apple pay you to write this? Seriously, Dell's E-series latitude line is just as stylish. HP did the silver and black color scheme long before Apple debut their Unibody Macbook Pro. The G4 cube was nice, as was the original iPod with jog wheel. The current Macbook Pro line is just trying to fit in with everyone else.

Tom W said,
They paid us $104.98.

It's more to look back at the history of Apple design.

That's weird, usually Apple has higher prices.

Tom W said,
They paid us $104.98.

It's more to look back at the history of Apple design.


I will give you $105.0 if you write an unbiased article

greenwizard88 said,
How much did Apple pay you to write this?

It's not really far fetched to consider Apple to be among the companies that put the most effort into design. :-p
Seriously, Dell's E-series latitude line is just as stylish.

But could you write a historic article about their stylish devices?

Jugalator said,
It's not really far fetched to consider Apple to be among the companies that put the most effort into design. :-p

But could you write a historic article about their stylish devices?


pay me $500.00 I will write an historic article about any company..and it will be stylish

Jugalator said,
It's not really far fetched to consider Apple to be among the companies that put the most effort into design. :-p

But could you write a historic article about their stylish devices?

I'd buy an older dell machine faster then can say yes over this piece of history

greenwizard88 said,
Seriously, Dell's E-series latitude line is just as stylish.

I had to make an account just to reply to this. Sorry what? The E-seriers latitude line is just as stylish? Were you actually able to type that with a striaght face?

We are moving all of our corporate laptops over to E6400's. For lack of a better word they look cheap. They look so very cheap, and they retail for the same as my Macbook Pro.

So you own a Macbook Pro? Have you used one? Do you have any idea what you are talking about at all? There is not a laptop on the market which comes close to the elegance of design that you get with a Macbook Pro.

Which model of HP are you talking about?

They may not be the market leader fiscally; in terms of design and quality-control they are, though.

Sorry, but I gotta pull you up on this. Apple's QC has been declining steadily for years.

But is it as timeless as my Thinkpad? ;)

(In all honesty though, the iPhone is brilliant in user experience, features, and industrial design. I love mine.)

chconline said,
But is it as timeless as my Thinkpad? ;)

(In all honesty though, the iPhone is brilliant in user experience, features, and industrial design. I love mine.)

+1

chconline said,
(In all honesty though, the iPhone is brilliant in user experience, features, and industrial design. I love mine.)

+3