What’s Going on with Apple’s Consistently Inconsistent Design?

What's Going on with Apple's Consistently Inconsistent Design?
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The piano music. The British accent. When you watch a video voiced by Jony Ive, Apple’s chief design officer, you feel like you’re being schooled about design in an almost hypnotic way.

Most recently we learned about how Apple created the polish on the Jet Black iPhone 7 and removed the headphone jack. We learned about how Apple uses the speaker inside the Apple Watch 2 to eject excess water. It’s amazing, and while we tend to laugh at the spectacle, we’re jealous because his talent is so far beyond ours.

So how is it that this design prodigy that we have so much faith in, the man who may or may not make the iPhone 8 the most radically redesigned and beautiful device ever, is also responsible for some weirdness that we struggle to explain?

For example, why are iPhone app designs so inconsistent? On one hand you have a clock app with a black screen, white and orange accents, and thin fonts – but you have a News app that’s white and colorful with weird thick text that seems like it was designed by some other company? There’s nothing particularly wrong with the News app design but it looks nothing like ‘Apple’, i.e. elegant. The fact that I think I can design the News App better than it is now is probably a hint that it’s not very good.

Why is the Apple Watch square, yet the app icons and accents are all round? Not a reason to pass up the Watch, but a head-scratcher for sure. Give me a round Apple Watch and these instantly become better icons.

And about those icons: Why are some perfect and make sense for what they are, while others seem so out of place? The Apple Store icon is simple and beautiful. The Apple News icon looks like a leftover reject from Netscape. That sounds harsh, but it’s absolutely true.

Why is the latest Apple TV so tall? It’s like twice the size of the original. And am I the only person who thinks Apple would be so much better off giving up on the standalone remote and revamping the Remote app in such a way where it truly is the ultimate remote? Then, Apple could combine it with the new Home app and you could control your TV and your lights at the same time without switching apps.

Why is Spotify so beautiful to look at and use, but Apple Music so darn confusing?

Why do I have so many examples?

Why are AirPods, Apple’s first foray into wireless headphones (not counting Beats), presented so they look like EarPods with the wires chopped off? The negative press was just a matter of time. A company that’s so good at PR surely could see that coming a mile away. How many headlines about AirPods have you seen where that comparison isn’t made?

I’m hesitant to play the Steve card, but when Jobs introduced products, he loved to say how Apple took something amazing and turned it into something you didn’t know you couldn’t live without. I remember his face when he introduced the first iPod and compared its beauty and simplicity to all those MP3 players out there. Apple wasn’t the first to create a portable device for listening to downloaded music, but they were the first to make one that’s a status symbol and now a collector’s item.

AirPods are nothing like that. Despite the amazing new wireless W1 chip powering them, AirPods come across as rushed-to-market afterthoughts and far from well thought out and Ive-approved hardware.

Apple took a pair of uncomfortable headphones — pretty universally agreed upon that they’re uncomfortable — and made a wireless version that pretty much fits the same way. And don’t even get me started on the fact that people say they don’t sound much better than the wired ones. For the price, that’s inexcusable. There’s more than just convenience to think about.

Granted the new wireless chip means there’s a lot possible going forward, like a way to ping the AirPods if we lose them just as the Apple Watch can ping an iPhone that succumbed to the couch cushions. The W1 chip plays a role in the latest Beats headphones and no doubt will going forward. But the fact that there are companies that have already brought similar wireless buds to market that are drool worthy compared to AirPods is problematic. It never used to be that way. Now, we instantly compare these to another brand and talk about how we hope Apple can catch up someday. Catch up? Someday? Apple? What’s happening here?

And if you think good and consistent design doesn’t matter, I’d say you’re wrong. It has a domino effect that potentially reaches every device.

But Apple has done plenty of things right.

Take Maps. Here’s an area where Apple deserves some credit. Up until iOS 10 the only true map app that was worth your time was Google Maps but Apple has really closed the gap there. I’m actually thinking of switching to Apple’s version, but I’m not quite there yet. But it shouldn’t be only one app where Apple is winning the game.

When the iPhone was young, I would do almost anything to stay loyal to Apple-created apps. I had to be imagining it when I heard that a third party app was just as good if not better than an Apple app. Eventually you’re sure and you stick all the stock Apple apps in a folder hidden as far from the light of day as possible (because Apple wouldn’t let you delete or remove them). Now there’s a better app for everything. Almost any weather app is better than Apple’s weather app. Skype is better than FaceTime. Word is better than Pages. And coincidentally (probably) what does Apple do in iOS 10? It finally makes many of its stock apps removable.

I’m all for cheering on the little guy, but wouldn’t Apple have been better off doubling down and working hard on improving its stock apps so that people wouldn’t want to delete them? But in 2016 if your weather app doesn’t show you radar, well, there’s not much I can say that Apple hasn’t already been said.

Yes, when Apple lets its guard down everyone notices. Ive’s videos don’t have as much cachet as they used to because of the inconsistencies.

So what does Apple need to do? I have a logical suggestion.

2017 is the 10th anniversary of the iPhone, and the rumors have already started about how this iPhone, the iPhone 8 as it should be named, will break the mold and be the redesign we’ve longed to see, the one that separates the Steve Jobs iPhone and the Tim Cook iPhone. Depending on what you read and choose to believe, the next iPhone could be ceramic with a screen on both sides and nothing but a curved piece of glass. (P.S. I do not believe it will be called the iPhone 8.)

I do believe, however, that next year’s iPhone will be special. I don’t believe Apple removed the headphone jack now solely to embrace a wireless world. I believe Apple removed the jack in this version so that would be the story. Imagine if Apple waited to remove the jack until the redesign. The headlines would all read the same “The most beautiful iPhone ever but without a headphone jack!” This way we have a year or two to get used to no headphone jack and by then it seems like no big deal.

So if Apple has a special iPhone planned, it’s time for Apple to reinvent the stock icons. It’s time for part of a presentation to be devoted to those apps and for the company to make fun of itself for finally allowing for a way to remove them and then reintroducing them in a way that only Apple can. It would show Apple’s commitment to design goes way behind the occasional piece of hardware and extends to all of your interactions.

Consistency is key – And I hope Apple’s future software and hardware updates redeem the traditional, clean, modern, and, most importantly, uniform Apple design we all know and love.

What stands out to you as Apple’s strangest design choice as of late?
Let us know in the comments below.

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