The State of Apple’s Design Mojo

Rick Tetzeli has a good feature for Fortune on the state of Apple’s design, with a wide range of sources (including yours truly):
For many Apple critics, the story ends right here. Siri’s not great, the Touch Bar’s kind of a mess, the operating systems are pretty but somewhat confusing, and the reassuring Home button has been killed … the list goes on. Apple’s far from perfect. Point made. But here’s the thing: Pick just about any time in Apple’s history, and you’ll find a similar set of worrying choices and seeming failures — even during those halcyon days of Steve Jobs’ triumphant second tenure at the company. 1998: that beautiful, bulbous, Bondi Blue iMac is actually an underpowered computer with an unreliable mouse and a CD slot that few consumers could use productively. 2000: The Power Mac G4 Cube, so gorgeous it becomes part of the collection the Museum of Modern Art, doesn’t deliver the power and features heavy users demand. 2001: The first iPod is released, but it’s not really ready for primetime, since the scroll wheel is clunky and the device works only with Macs, which account for just 2.6% of worldwide PC sales. 2005: Apple’s in the phone business! With something called the Rokr, a kludgy music player/cell phone that the company developed with Motorola. 2007: The iPhone is introduced, with few applications and poor connectivity. 2011: The iPad is introduced, and, as my brother-in-law Mark told me at the time, “I can’t imagine anyone ever using this for anything interesting.” (He’s bought four since then.)
The problem with the Touch Bar, to my mind, is not that it’s a bad idea that Apple should abandon. It’s that the first version isn’t good enough. The Apple approach to dealing with the mixed (at best) reaction to the Touch Bar should be to go back to the drawing board and make it better. Keep what’s good and interesting about what it is now, and fix the issues people are complaining about. (Also, a personal niggle: I don’t think there was anything “clunky” about the original iPod scroll wheel. In fact, I liked the original iPod’s mechanical scroll wheel, which physically spun, better than the capacitive touch scroll wheel that replaced it. From a Mac user’s perspective, the original iPod was an amazing device. If you want something from iPod history to cite as an example of questionable Apple design, I suggest either the 2007 “Fat” Nano or the 2009 iPod Shuffle that literally had no playback buttons at all.)

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