Charlie's Blog: Rotten Apple


Rotten Apple

Good design is aesthetic.

The new Apple iPhone battery case is a tombstone on the grave of Steve Jobs. Jobs would never have let this thing go into production. But it now exists like a worm in the legacy of Apple and its founder. How did this happen?

The one word I hear about the new case is "ugly." Over and over, critics can't get over the ugliness of the thing. Naturally, I have to laugh because I have thought Apple products were crappy for years. But they did have one singular virtue. They were beautiful to look at. Most of this is credit to Apple's product designer Jony Ive, a disciple of Dieter Rams. Steve Jobs was less a creator and more of an editor. Jobs had taste in a world full of nerds.

The new case is tasteless. Other products like the Apple Watch were COA--Crap On Arrival. Without the Jobs veto, Apple will turn out more and more crap. As for the rest of their products, they will degrade considerably. Critics will lament this turn of events as some kind of tragedy, but I believe that the aesthetic of Apple will now match the inferiority of its products. Let me elaborate.

The first problem I have had with Apple products is the fact that they were hideously expensive. Bill Gates bested Jobs simply by opening up an avenue for cheaper consumer products. Likewise, Google has repeated the Gates trick with the Android software that powers an array of smartphones at many different price points. It doesn't cost more to produce Apple products than these other products. Apple just charges more. The thing people forget about all those great Dieter Rams designs is that they were for common household products that were cheap. What is wrong with cheap?

The second problem I have had with Apple products is that they lack durability. This may be a personal issue because I am a rough-and-tumble blue collar guy, but I know an iPhone would last exactly one day in my pocket. My current rugged flip phone is scarred pretty badly from the abuse it gets, so I know I can never own a smartphone in its current form. I realize that durability and beauty conflict with each other.

Take the Sonim smartphone. Now, I think this beast is beautiful, but I can understand why others would see ugliness where I see beauty. The iPhone is beautiful in its design, but it is really indistinguishable from the Sonim when you cram it into one of those protective cases. It's like painting a Mona Lisa to hang in a closet.

The third problem that I have with Apple products is its closed ecosystem. Apple works pretty hard to get you into their world of products and software such that there is no escape. Then, they grind you to pieces with their upgrade cycle. It is easy to enter the world of Apple but good luck finding the exit. If you're going to be a buyer of Apple products, save yourself the hassle and go all in. Otherwise, stay out.

Where does Apple go from here? All I can say is that when Jobs was alive he was the dictator. Now, the market will be the dictator. Apple will carry on with something left of Jobs in its DNA, but it will degrade as compromise creeps in. People will leave Apple like air leaking from a balloon, and they will not return.