OPINION: Design Talks – for the iPhone 4S critics

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But it still looks the same...

1 million pre-orders in the first 24 hours perhaps isn’t the greatest context in which to read this article, but suffice to say, Apple’s sales numbers rarely have any coalescence with the activities of their business. The original iPhone 4 was marred by antenna problems, only to cleverly be called ‘antennagate’ in the closed circles of tech fans whilst consistently ranking as the best selling smartphone worldwide. So to say that I’m unsurprised over my knowledge of the iPhone 4S’s phenomenal pre-order statistics would be an understatement. However, the post-show disappointment that almost everyone expressed on the day of the iPhone 4S’s unveiling leaves a lot worth talking about, and a lot of lessons to learn.

iPhone 4S has… left the crowd legitimately nonchalant and unexcited

Now, the iPhone 4S was always going to an inevitable sales success, piggybacking upon the success of its older siblings. Apple’s sales numbers and preorder statistics are no longer a way to measure the success of the company like it is for many others, Apple’s success goes beyond the superficiality of money and numbers because Apple’s monotonously consistent success makes the numerical stats almost secondary. iPhone 4S has disappointed, not in its monetary success but as a product. It’s the first Apple product in a very long time that has left the crowd legitimately nonchalant and unexcited, and as a first move for Tim Cook, this can’t possibly be a good thing.

Perhaps one of the most important lessons that Steve Jobs taught us in his tenure is that design is important. In fact, design is often more important than the very things inside that make the magic happen. That’s not to say that you’re better off having an aesthetically marvellous rock than a turd-shaped phone, but it’s saying that from a very very direct and impressionistic stand point, design talks to an audience much more than specs and inner hardware ever can. Design is more than just encasing a product, it’s about expressing that very product. Innovative design encapsulates and communicates innovative products. Poor design therefore often isn’t a sufficient conveying and justification of something that may be really great. Contrary to Barney Stinson’s highly clever strategies, you only ever do get one shot to make a first impression, and design is the sole makeup of a first impression, because naturally, it’s the first thing you see.

Contrary to Barney Stinson’s highly clever strategies, you only ever do get one shot to make a first impression

Design when utilised effectively, isn’t just about encapsulating and transforming ideas and creations into tangible items, but it’s a method to manifest and exemplify the stance, core and beliefs of a corporation. It’s a method of subtle, but rather direct communication. Let’s take Apple again for instance – perhaps their most iconic design, the original quasi-transparent blue iMac exemplified the companies slogan and belief to ‘Think Different’. I never saw a computer like that before. Apple effectively used the physical design of the iMac to materialise their belief in challenging the status quo and thus lending credibility to what otherwise would have been a purely shallow and superficial marketing message. The original iPod, another timeless and iconic design was an aura of innovation, creativity and forward thinking. Its design effectively communicated what really was an innovative, creative and forward thinking idea. Had the iPod simply been a generic design lacking its novel click wheel, sure it still would have been a market success but minus the buzz, excitement and word of mouth that it had garnered.

So to throw all of this talk back into context, a large reason why the iPhone 4S has been so critically received is due to its lack of physical design alteration or improvement. The hardware improvements within the phone itself are undeserving of the criticism it has warranted, and Siri from what I’ve seen is perhaps even worthy of the label ‘revolutionary’. Disappointingly, Apple packed it all in the same stylish albeit ageing casing, eliminating much of the ‘first impression’ hype it would have otherwise harvested – the kind of hype that the original iPod had entranced. Design is an immediately obvious visual representation of progression, and in keeping the new design, Apple have undermined what is really a significant step forward.

We can blame the rumour mill and the hype machine for a lot, for feeding us with false expectations and unrealised dreams. But, we can also blame Apple in part for what ultimately was a disappointing product unveiling. Rumours are rumours for a reason and hype is a hype for a reason, they’re not just pure dreams and imaginings, they’re expectations and this is the first time in a very long time that Apple has failed to live up to the lofty expectations of consumers and pundits. Having said that, the worthy progressions that iPhone 4S has made are simply unsung by a crowd left with a bitter after-taste created by the harsh deceitfulness of first impressions. Just because the iPhone 4S looks the same doesn’t mean it is the same, and when they say ‘don’t judge a book by its cover’, this is one of those times when you’ll get a lot more out of opening the book.

But Apple, suffice to say, it’s always the flashy covers that get the most attention and I would expect you to have first-hand knowledge of that. But to hide new innovations inside an old box is the very best way to disguise the magnitude of your own creations.

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