Ally Winning, European Editor, PSD
Design is always a tricky business, and sometimes it's the most innocuous things that provoke the largest outcry. There have been many instances in the past when a simple design decision, which has been made for the most logical reasons, turns into a nightmare on launch.
Perhaps the most famous of these snafus came last year, when Apple launched its iPhone 7. Almost all the fanfare from the launch was drowned out by the outcry from the company’s customers. Apple had dropped the earphone jack from the product. For many of the people who had stuck with Apple products through some previous controversial design choices, this was a step too far.
The ear buds were synonymous with the iPhone and iPod. The distinctive white buds became a symbol of the brand and were even used prominently in the company’s advertising. People could immediately identify an iPhone owner by their earphones. The media even informed us that muggers were targeting potential victims by the easily identifiable earbuds they wore. Why would Apple drop this iconic symbol in favour of two expensive wireless buds, which would easily be lost?
Of course, if buds are misplaced, customers will have to return to Apple for replacements, but that wasn’t the main reason for the initial decision. Water ingress is the reason for the majority of phone failures, and it is extremely difficult to prevent it when your design has holes in it that lead directly to the internal electronics. Plugs can be used to prevent ingress, but this can mess up an elegant design. Take the socket out and you can easily seal the phone. The iPhone 7 is certified to IP67, meaning that it can actually be submerged in a meter of water for 30 minutes, which should actually have been a major selling point for consumers. It also brings the bonus that the design is more structurally sound, and it allows for a more compact and flexible design.
Apple has always been bold with its design choices and the company’s decisions can affect the whole market. If there’s not a standard that can fit the purpose Apple requires, then the company knows that it can create its own, and it has a huge user base that will normally buy in great numbers. If there is a standard that will fit the purpose, then Apple will adopt it, even if it hasn’t been widely adopted by the industry. USB 3.0 is a good example of this type of choice. Apple picked USB 3.0 from almost obscurity, when it announced it would it as the only socket in its MacBook Air and MacBook Pro ranges. Third party vendors stepped up with peripherals and the adoption of the standard grew exponentially.
The iPhone 8 is due for launch, and if the industry rumours are true, it looks like the only controversial design choice this time is the decision to leave out the home button. I’m sure Apple executives are holding their breath to see how the once loyal, but now fickle, customer base reacts. The loss of a button doesn’t seem too controversial, but just ask Microsoft the reaction it got when it dropped the start button from its Windows 8 software.