I bought my first (white) Macbook in 2008, with no prior experience with Macs or actually any Apple product at the time. This was before the great Apple hype had spread to my then-environment, right at the time when many people still assumed that only graphic designers use Macs. Within five minutes of booting my machine, my impression went from ‘Oh this is pretty’ to ‘Wow, this just works’. The glare of my first impression of the Mac is one of the factors that drove me into HCI and consequently into UX.
I am not an Apple fan boy. I have the utmost respect for Microsoft for producing Metro UI, a completely novel paradigm in Interaction Design & Information Architecture. While I have some issues with Metro from a Usability perspective (especially on the Lumia), Microsoft has definitely come up with an innovation that Apple has evidently been lacking or maybe fearing doing recently. Android, however, looks like a sci-fi skin of iOS to me. Sure the widgets are cool and the notification center was there before on iOS (don’t hate), but there’s nothing groundbreaking about the design or the UX. Yet, it is a very powerful OS with awesome functionalities (my favorite is the embedded sharing, of course), and most devices running it sport specs that would kick the iPhone’s ass any day. I swear, I’m no Apple fan boy.
As a result of my studies and interest, I have become very familiar with Apple’s design philosophy which stems from Steve Jobs’ vision and is channelled through Jony Ive's masterful craft. Aesthetic minimalism, usability, and emotion are all at the very core of this philosophy, which extends its influence from Dieter Rams, the person who made Braun products remarkable in their austere aesthetic and user friendliness. Knowing all of the above, I still am dumbfounded by how the UI on Mac OS X & iOS is an overkill of skeuomorphism, realistic design, and excessive metaphors.
With the new iPhone coming out in a few weeks, the rumor pot is boiling with daily speculations that range between fairly reasonable and outright ridiculous. As crazy as it is today with the radically advanced specs on mobile phones, I don’t really consider their improvement a challenge as Moore’s law has proven to be uncannily accurate. What I and this post are concerned with is the design of the new iPhone from a usability and aesthetic point of view.
I don’t believe in rumors or leaks, but rather in predictions by industry specialists or at least people who follow up and have a clue about the topic, with an added tinge of common sense. However, the latest so-called leaks and renders to come out have been quite consistent, showing an elongated iPhone 4(S) with a 4 inch screen (keeping the same width but moving to 16:9 format), an aluminum back, a narrower dock, and a pair of ill-fitting Braun-style grilles as speakers. Ugly? Most certainly, but what’s worse is that it basically looks the same as the previous version, as if no drastic design overhaul has been done.
Another point to bring up is the screen size. While other manufacturers are going for at least 4-inch screens, Apple has so far remained faithful to its usual 3.5” screen size due to its ergonomic & usability value. To be more specific, all spots on a 3.5” screen are easily accessible by the user’s thumb if the phone is held and used with one hand only. The bigger the screen gets, the harder that job has proven to be. While sales are showing increasing revenue and great market interest in bigger screen sizes, it would be quite unorthodox for Apple to follow suit. The company’s always had it in its principles to prioritise product over market, in aims to set the market standards itself. Were the new iPhone to be released with a larger screen, sales would undoubtedly even further increase. Consequently though, Apple would be publicly tarnishing the image it’s historically portrayed about its principles being its main priority and driving force. Apple’s marketing credibility will thus be definitely questioned and rendered vulnerable to future criticism that would surely come back to haunt it, time and time again.
Any reasonable person should shoo these rumors off as plain stupid, as Apple’s higher hand in the industry has always been due to the priority it gives to ergonomics, usability, and design. The iPhone 3G was followed by the 3GS with the same design a year later, and so was the 4 by the 4S. Last year’s 4S release, which had the same design as the iPhone 4, was initially met with disappointment and mixed feelings as leaks of a completely redesigned product had been circulating prior to the keynote. Therefore, it only makes sense that the next iPhone be completely redesigned, especially after hearing claims that it was the last device Jobs worked on before his death, in addition to Jony Ive’s statement from a few months ago saying that he’s working on his most exciting project ever. And if somehow it ends up looking like the afore-mentioned, crappy-looking leak, then Jony Ive’s lost his touch and the competition is set to gain further ground on Apple’s expense.
The new design I would love to see (and to a certain extent expect) would be one with a slim, curved, aluminum back, with sharp edges that align it along the lines of the current Macbook Air. Naturally, I would also prefer the new iPhone to keep its screen size at the traditional 3.5 inches, due to its proven ergonomic value.
Here’s a mockup that would best visualize my description, looks pretty badass in my humble opinion.