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.

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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.

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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.

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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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