Posted in good design, things we like, what really matters by hemmant jha on July 17, 2010

That it does not work perfectly is unfortunate.

That a possibly significant performance issue might have been missed in testing is just plain sloppy.

That they might have tried to cover it up with a software update is understandable, but not nice.

That a consumer products company constantly tries to push the design envelope, creates products that people love, and generally gets better with time is pretty damn special.

At the end of the day, the iPhone 4 is a phone. If it works for you, great. If not, no real damage done. If a product bothers you, return it. Or don’t buy it in the first place. When all is said and done, the only reason this case is so spotlit is because everybody expects Apple products to be special and close to perfect. When was the last time you saw people lining up for days to buy a computer, which is what the iPhone really is, or the iPad? Would you even want to hear about a sticky keyboard on a Blackberry? Or a buggy OS on some other brand? Not many people care, and for good reason.

Critics realize this, certainly – bloggers are paid by the number of hits a piece gets. It makes good business sense to cover a slipup from Apple. It is perfect sensationalist fodder, and for good reason. Other than very few landmark examples of specialized phones, what else besides the iPhone is worth writing about? What else in consumer electronics polarizes as much as Apple and its offspring?

The iPhone 4 will make it into the thinkmore collection of design objects – it is significant in ways that will probably never be discussed in populist media. We hope to write our own thoughts about its design and about what its presence means for design in general. In so many ways, it sets a benchmark for what can and should be expected of a successful marriage of design and engineering. Critics delight in appropriating the design thoughts of Dieter Rams when talking about Apple design, but most critics of design have never designed anything. They have no idea what it takes to create a product, let alone one that is progressive in ways they cannot begin to understand. Professional criticism from those quarters is not worth much – read at your own peril.

This storm in a teacup is summed up best in the immortal words of Anton Ego, food critic from the movie Ratatouille [those of you who have not watched this yet really ought to] :

“In many ways, the work of a critic is easy. We risk very little yet enjoy a position over those who offer up their work and their selves to our judgment. We thrive on negative criticism, which is fun to write and to read. But the bitter truth we critics must face, is that in the grand scheme of things, the average piece of junk is probably more meaningful than our criticism designating it so.”


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