Hail Hydra: Why Apple shouldn’t make multi-use devices

Apple's modus operandi is making devices suited to particular uses.


The irony of being Apple is being criticized both for not providing enough choice and for making too many products.

Writing for Fast Company, Mark Wilson asks:

“Apple Has One Or Two Products, So Why Are They Selling So Many?” (tip o’ the antlers to Gary Coronado)

Or, why are there use cases?

The iPad Pro is still just a big iPad that you can use with some really nice peripherals.

The Macalope is so old he remembers when the iPad was just a big iPhone. By which he means he is older than five years old.

These days, there’s an iPad in every color for every occasion…

Apple asks that you not use a white iPad past Labor Day.

Why can I touch some Apple screens and not others? There seems to be no logic grounding these decisions at all.

Well, you can touch all of them if you want, you’re just not going to get a reaction from Mac devices. But that’s confusing? Knowing iOS devices have touch-based input but Macs do not is oh-so-confusing compared to the magical realm of “hell if we know if it’s a touchscreen” Windows laptops? Not to mention Windows’ own “this part’s for touch and this part’s for a mouse” split personality. That’s an operating system you expect to find talking to a corpse in a rocking chair. That’s what’s clear? Huh. OK. We shall have to agree to disagree on that particular point.

The logic here is actually pretty clear. Touch input is for mobile devices. Shedding the mouse and keyboard is what makes them mobile. This isn’t rocket science. It’s actually computer science.

Atop this confusion, pile on an Apple Watch with a new OS…


But just Apple. Apparently. Samsung’s Tizen-based watch is A-OK, presumably, since it doesn’t rate a mention. Unless there’s some other reason it’s not getting mentioned, a reason that escapes the Macalope somehow.

Most of these products aren’t distinct by any true necessity. They’re all just microprocessors with screens and radio antennas, squeezed into a growingly complex line of physical and cost-analyzed niches where Apple can attempt to shill another product into our lives.

All these life conveniences are so inconvenient! A toaster and an oven?! Who am I, Elon Musk?!

…why is Apple selling us on an Apple TV rather than broadcasting my iPhone’s content to my TV? Yes, you’d still need an HDMI dongle, or some sort of integrated AirPlay…

The reality is that we don’t live in a world where you can have one device that does everything, certainly not well. Besides, not everyone wants what you want. The Macalope, for example, never wanted a big phone. He’d much rather have a 4-inch iPhone with the internals of the iPhone 6s. But here he is stuck with this stupid big phone. Thanks for nothing, humanity.

Your MacBook Air has a 13-inch screen and a keyboard, so why is Apple presuming that screen couldn’t snap off to be an iPad?

Because the batteries are all under the keyboard?

That’s kind of a joke, but there are practical concerns at play. You move the batteries to behind the screen and you’ve made a top-heavy laptop that doesn’t feel as good. Try using a Surface in your lap. It’s possible, but it’s not as good an experience.

Apple tries to make the best device for a refined set of use cases. That’s their thing. If you don’t like that, you’re in luck. There are other companies that try to make devices suited to every use case. Unfortunately, they’re pretty much all confusing pieces of crap.

But you can still buy them!

We all know that Apple makes their money off hard products like the iPad, not services, like Google or Amazon.

Thank God.

As Dieter Rams put it, “Good design is as little design as possible,” and these days, Apple sure is designing a lot of versions of a lot of products.

You probably didn’t want to include that quote since it runs exactly contrary to your thesis. Here’s the rest of that principle from Rams:

Less, but better–because it concentrates on the essential aspects, and the products are not burdened with nonessentials. Back to purity, back to simplicity.

This is precisely what Apple is doing by not trying to make devices that suit every use case. There is very little question that Apple makes the best laptops in the industry and they don’t have touch input screens. Those two things are related, not antithetical.

If you don’t want one of their devices, if it’s designed for a use case you don’t have, the solution is pretty simple: Don’t buy it. For example, the Macalope does not recommend the Apple Watch for everyone. He likes his, but if you’re less tied to technology for your everyday life (and, let’s face it, that could be a healthier choice mentally), you probably don’t need one. But if you don’t want touch input in Windows? Too bad, it’s baked in to the experience. The problems that presented are exactly why Microsoft had to de-emphasize touch when moving from Windows 8 to Windows 10.

You could argue that Apple’s spreading itself too thin by making more devices, but that’s a business argument, not a design argument. And if they can keep making finely tuned devices, who cares if they make a thousand different ones?

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