Apple's victory is complete. The company has set the bar for PC and mobile device design, and has influenced the design process across the entire technology industry. Apple [AAPL] has defined the technology industry.
You don't have to look too far to find evidence of this. Take Apple's MacBook range -- these thin, aluminium systems were unique to the market when the Titanium PowerBook first appears, now everyone (HP to Samsung to Dell) seems to offer a similar seeming system.
Apple has also defined mobile device design. That fracas over "rounded corners" in the iPad and its imitators can't hide the fact that most tablets seem incredibly similar in appearance to an iPad -- at least to any ordinary human being. Thin rectangular oblongs with touch displays may have been an Apple-first implementation, but that didn't stop others "innovating" in the same direction.
It's the same deal for smartphones, of course -- indeed, about the only difference most ordinary people may be aware of in these is likely to be the size of the display. They later learn to compare the efficiency and availability of tech support.
Apple's influence doesn’t end with physical design of the final product. We now see a trend in which competitors are beginning to emulate the way its design department develops new devices. There's no way this can be anything other than good for consumers, because this move to Apple-influenced design processes means competitors are beginning to "sweat the details."
At Apple, details are important. No, I'm not referring to the appearance of the final product or its close integration with the OS, I'm talking about the little details that most of us won't be aware of: Things like spring-loaded hinges in early gen notebooks, the relative position of the display in relation to the keyboard, the pattern of the circuit board, even the first impression created by product packaging.
(Before any of the usual broken records mention Maps, I'll observe that Jony Ive wasn't involved in that project in the past.)
More sweat, less gristle
Apple puts a lot of thought into these details, as Jony Ive once revealed:
"When we were developing the notebooks, we worked really, really, really hard to make sure that when you opened it up, the display was the display," he said during a talk at London's Design Museum in 2004.
"One thing probably none of you have got a clue about," he said, "We worked really, really hard to develop a mechanism that basically spring-loads the clutch so that at a point when you are opening it you counter-balance the display. And it's one of the points we spent so much time working out, so that the product was so much nicer than anything else."
This attention to details is fundamental to the reputation Apple has achieved.
It has been almost a decade since Ive talked about this. Across that decade we've seen numerous transformation across the PC industry. Apple has consistently increased its business while the rest of the industry has flatlined or declined.
While growing from a 2/3% player in the PC business on a global basis to become a c.10% player, Apple also managed to set the bar for smartphone development with the iPhone, a root and branch improvement on anything that had come before.
Because Apple didn't simply focus on the immediate look and feel of its products, but also on the details inside those solutions. Those component choices are important, as they affect overall system performance and utility. When it comes to mobile devices, components need to be light, efficient and frugal on power. They need to work effectively with other components and provide adequate on-component support for the way the operating system works.
Even though this makes sense from an engineering perspective, it has taken nearly a decade for system manufacturers to recognize that the beauty of Apple's devices isn't just skin deep, it's also about inner beauty.
Like everything else in existence deep design decision demands deep examination of everything that constitutes the eventual product. To create the best possible product you need to sweat the details.
This lesson is finally reaching some of the beige box shifters, lookalike product designers and wannabe second-tier manufacturers, at least according to Digitimes:
"Notebook brand vendors have started conducting product R&D themselves and are directly discussing with hinge makers about development ideas, skipping ODMs, which used to do R&D for brand vendors, according to sources from upstream component makers."
It seems "brand vendors" have begun working to self-design components including cooling modules, product chassis and batteries, the report claims, pointing to Apple and Samsung's PC market success as cause of the move to internal R&D.
In other words, a full decade since Apple began to dominate the mobile computing markets with portable Macs and iPods the company has finally pushed home its message that good design demands more than putting a brand on a box.
The company has transformed itself from a much mocked niche player into the industry's most dominant creative force as a result. This proves the value of its design-centric business plan, with the caveat that design isn't just about look and feel, but about what happens under the hood.
With the industry now moving in the same direction, it's hard to deny the premise of this piece: Apple has proved the value of its business plan. The move by others to emulate its design process means that today Apple's victory is complete. By implication this is a platform-agnostic victory for the benefit consumers everywhere.
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