Disregard for Hardware in a Software World

Om Malik, writing for The New Yorker:

That Samsung is facing such steep costs suggests the appeal of the original Apple design. When I asked John Maeda, the former president of the Rhode Island School of Design, why, then, people have turned on the design of the iPhone 7, he pointed out that perhaps these critics “seem to believe that there’s some as yet unimaginable transcendence that can happen in a small, palm-shaped, rectangular device.” Maeda said that he spent time with designers at Sony and felt their frustration designing a television set “because all you can really do is design the rectangle that the TV sits within. . . . Everything else around that screen really doesn’t matter.” The same problem holds for the iPhone. All that matters is the screen—its size, brightness, and resolution. “Now that we have all those dimensions sated, it’s basically the challenge of designing a TV set all over again,” he added.

Regarding the designers at Sony, they’re literally thinking within the the box. This is like a mobile phone designer saying in 2006, “All you can really do is either a clamshell design or something like a Palm Treo or Blackberry,” then you fast forward to 2007 and the iPhone exists. Clearly there are some small-minded people working at Sony.

To say that, “everything around the screen […] doesn’t really matter” misses the point and many opportunities completely. What a shitty way to think. Disregard for hardware is why Samsung currently has exploding phones major airlines are banning from flights.

Hardware and software are two sides of the same coin.

In September Vlad Savov wrote a great piece for The Verge on how hard it’s getting for competitors to keep up with the iPhone:

It is to Android manufacturers’ great credit that they’ve been able to build phones the size of an iPhone with specs many times better. But even once they’ve negotiated the RAM, display, battery, and design issues, they come up against the classic problem of fragmentation. Each new generation of iPhone has only one processor and two screen sizes and resolutions — so game designers and app developers know the exact hardware that they’re targeting with their new software. With Android, on the other hand, there’s a diversity of processor and graphics chips, unevenness in screen sizes and resolutions, and never any certain minimum standard of either hardware spec or software API.

This only speaks to the internal hardware that optimizes performance. There’s the external hardware you feel when you have a phone in your hands and it’s one of the main reasons so many people covet Apple products. The fit and finish. Yes, Steve Jobs’ dad taught him to use quality wood on the back side of a cabinet no one would see, but he knew damn well the front mattered a hell of a lot too. It all matters.

Hardware continues to evolve. In most cases it’s incremental with the occasional leap every so often. Apple is barely scratching the surface of what’s possible. They were the first to introduce pressure sensitivity on their multi-touch screens with 3-D Touch on the iPhone 6S. Before that they were the first to introduce a fingerprint reader on the Home button in the form of Touch ID on the iPhone 5S.

Steve Jobs famously said (via):

Most people make the mistake of thinking design is what it looks like. That’s not what we think design is. It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.

On the flip side of that quote, design is not just how it works, but what it looks and feels like.

It’s also really great if it the battery doesn’t explode in your pants.