Mythperceptions: No, Apple is actually pretty good at design


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You know that thing you think you know? Well, what if the Macalope told you that it was wrong?

Turns out it’s not, but what if he were to tell you that it is? Well, you don’t have to ask because, writing for The Atlantic, Ian Bogost is here to tell us about “The Myth of Apple's Great Design.” (Tip o’ the antlers to Draino Runkster, @papanic and Peter Ryan.)

Apple has great design is the biggest myth in technology today.

As opposed to Apple’s doomed? Well… OK. You’re wrong, but OK.

Seriously. Remember back in March of 2014 when Trip Chowdhry said Apple needed to produce a watch in 60 days or the company would “disappear”? You try to tell kids today that story and they just say “Get out of here, old man, you’re a dirty rotten liar and you’re not supposed to be in this ball pit.”

Power move for when you get kicked out of a ball pit, by the way: Just take like five balls with you. They’ll sigh and roll their eyes but they won’t stop you.

Apple has never accomplished sufficiently great design in its electronics to justify lionizing the pedantry of design at the new Apple campus.

YOU DON’T DESERVE A NICE CAMPUS. If you’re such a fan of design, Apple, name design’s first three albums.

The Macalope himself doesn’t care about Apple’s new campus because it doesn’t affect his life and he finds all the reporting about it kind of tedious. But does a well-designed showcase campus suit Apple perfectly? Of course.

At base, such a claim seems preposterous.

Also in the middle. Again about 3/4 of the way up. And at the summit. Basically this is Mt. Preposterous.

In truth, Apple’s products hide a shambles of bad design under the perfection of sleek exteriors.

Ha! Stupid Apple customers! You’re just buying a veneer of design with a mess underneath! All 78 million of you last quarter. Dopes.

Take Apple’s late-2016 MacBook Pro…

Please! [rimshot]

Turns out the new MacBook Pro only has Thunderbolt/USB-C ports. Who knew? But this is not Apple saying “Oh, just get an adapter to connect your iPhone to your MacBook.” This is Apple saying “Don’t connect your iPhone to your MacBook.” It’s also Apple saying, oh, hey, connect power to any port you want. We don’t care.

Given the choice between a USB-C port and the crappy plastic power connector on the name-brand Windows laptop the Macalope has that has broken twice in 18 months he’s owned it, he’ll take USB-C every time.

Again, Bogost’s article follows a well-used pattern: If there’s a problem with something Apple makes, flail your arms about it like an air dancer at a used car lot. If there’s a benefit to the choice Apple made there, don’t mention it.

…even the slightest disturbance on a finger makes Touch ID unreliable.

This article is a shambles of exaggerations under the veneer of trying to make a point. Touch ID is extremely reliable. Does it have trouble sometimes when your fingers are wet or otherwise harder to read? Sure. But compared to having to type a passcode in every single time it’s incredibly more convenient and that convenience makes it easier to improve security by having a longer passcode.

A mere inconvenience when unlocking the phone, but Apple Pay won’t work at all without Touch ID.

Unless you have an Apple Watch. In which case it works fine.

Well, great, actually.

And what about autocorrect?

What about it? If it doesn’t work for you, turn it off. Is Apple’s worse than anyone else’s? No.

The fact that not everything Apple does is perfect doesn’t mean they aren’t good at design (or at the very least better than their competitors). If Apple secretly sucks at design someone should tell Samsung before they churn out a Galaxy phone that looks just like the iPhone 7. Someone should tell a Windows laptop OEM before they make another laptop that looks just like a MacBook.

Likewise, the larger, 4.7-inch screens offered since the 2014 iPhone 6 made reaching the edges of the screen with one palm difficult, even for users with large hands.

If only Apple made a smaller phone.

Apple’s solution, dubbed Reachability, was an awkward one…

Reachability is, in the Macalope’s opinion, 10 pounds of hot garbage in a 5-pound sack made out of other hot garbage. The hot garbage sack full of other hot garbage is then served on a pile of organic, fair trade, central American hot garbage with a light dusting of… anyone? Anyone? No, not Danish hot garbage, it’s out of season. Chilean hot garbage. The correct answer was Chilean.

That’s why the Macalope has an iPhone SE.

Maybe there’s a better solution to the problem that Apple hasn’t thought up. But a fair number of customers wanted larger phones, so simply not making a bigger phone wasn’t really an option.

Some Apple fanatics will blame these more recent misfortunes of design on the vacuum created by Steve Jobs’s death.

That doesn’t sound like most Apple fanatics the Macalope knows. That sounds like Apple detractors.

Take the iPod. It made listening to a whole music library easy, but iTunes always made managing that library difficult and confusing—even destructive.

Baloney. Hogwash. Balderdash. Scattergories. In its early iterations iTunes was a pretty simple and easy way to manage your music. It only really became an overly complicated mess when it had to manage the iPhone and the App Store in addition to music, movies and TV shows. Apple hasn’t managed a lot of its growth elegantly. But it still knows how to churn out some nicely made devices that are frequently rated the best in their categories.

Bogost’s whole point with this article seems to be “Apple is not perfect so it doesn’t deserve a nice campus.” Well, the horny one hates to be the one to tell him, but lots of people who aren’t perfect have nice houses. Some of them are real jerks who won’t let you play in their kids' ball pits, as a matter of fact.

The Macalope has made this point before but it’s one Bogost seems not to get: Apple products are never perfect, because we do not live in a world of perfect celestial spheres. What Apple usually manages to do, though, is make products that are so great during most usage that they make you forget the imperfections. So, if you believed Apple’s products were perfect then, yes, Bogost is right. That was a myth. But the Macalope has used products from Apple competitors and, in most cases, speaking personally, they’re worse.

Computer users won’t use floppy disks because there is no floppy drive. Later, likewise optical drives. Later, likewise mini-stereo headphone jacks. To ascribe such choices to design—or to courage—is a mistake.

We can all agree that the “courage” comment was an over-the-top, self-administered back slap that would have best been left un-administered. But because you can deride that ill-chosen remark doesn’t mean that removing floppy drives and optical drives and VGA ports and SCSI connectors doesn’t improve design. We can argue about the timing, but if your program doesn’t do some garbage collection, it’s eventually going to run out of room to keep functioning.

Maybe the problem isn’t Apple’s choices, it’s the fact that so many Apple competitors refuse to make their own choices of the same kind.

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