Apple has a very clear design ethos: simple and elegant. No unnecessary buttons, colors, corners or materials. Macs are all Aluminum, and have a black bezel topped with glass. iPad is the same. The iPhone likewise, is constructed from glass and metal. But, am I the only one that finds it a little dull and plain now? The first generation iPhone came out just over 4 years ago, and we’re now on our 5th generation, I have to say the evolution from 1st to 5th gen has been pretty minimal.
The first iPhone was a little chunkier, was made of – you guessed it – glass and Aluminum and had the same front panel as what we see now. Same sized display, same looking earpiece, same home key. iPhone 3G/3GS looked virtually identical from the front, it was only when you turned it over that you noticed any difference. Then the iPhone 4 was released, to change the world “again”. But when it first launched, it underwhelmed me from a design point of view. My first thoughts when the prototype appeared were “but that’s square, and ugly, I hope that’s not the finished article.” The face, yet again, was the same. It may well be that Apple’s trying to solidify its brand identity somehow by keeping the same look on the front, but to me it appears lazy. It’s like Porsche cars, they’ve looked the same for the past 50 years.
Let’s look at Android, and its “pure” Android handsets. The difference between the G1 and the G2 was pretty striking. Different materials were used, different mechanisms to reveal the keyboard. It had obviously evolved. The G1 had a tracker ball, physical menu/back buttons, a weird swivelling display. G2 had an optical trackpad and replaced all its hard keys with a set of touch sensitive ones. The display slid up and over with its “Z” hinge.
The Nexus range has also had a pretty major makeover. Since the original Nexus One was designed by a different manufacturer, we’ll just compare the most recent Samsung made devices. Although the Nexus S and Galaxy Nexus are vaguely similar, the difference between them is immediately apparent. The newer device is bigger, slimmer, and sexier. Its display dominates the front as all touch-sensitive keys have been replaced with virtual, on-screen ones. This means the bezel is slimmer, and makes for a much more minimal look.
How is it, that Apple, a company known for wanting simplicity and minimalism, has been beaten to a button-free front panel by Palm (Pre 3), Samsung and Nokia (N9)? I can’t stress how important the look of a phone’s face is. It’s the one part of your phone that you look at the most. It’s your first impression of the handset, and your last. Looking at any of the iPhones face-on, there’s no difference. (Unless you get a white iPhone 4/4S, even then, the color is the only unique feature – ignoring the front-facing camera.) Then there’s the back of the device. It doesn’t need to look as pretty as the front, it just needs to feel good in your hand. iPhone 4/4S certainly doesn’t, it’s slippy, sharp and uncomfortable.
Apple clearly innovated the smartphone space in 2007 when it launched a phone with only one key on the front. Back then, it was incredible. Every touch screen device at the time came with at least 4-5 keys on the front for various tasks. Fast forward a few years, and Apple’s kept exactly the same design. It now looks dated, old and irrelevant. Apple’s next iPhone needs to put design back at the heart, making it more minimal. Be bold, designers, get rid of that home key and lets see if you can make a handset controlled only by intuitive gestures. Sometimes we feel like having a big, shiny device, not one designed with arrogance, but one that wows. If Palm, Nokia and Samsung can do it, why can’t you?
Here endeth the rant.
What do you feel about Apple’s design policy? Does the iPhone need an extreme makeover? Or are you perfectly happy with the way it’s always been?