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Form or function – what is Apple’s 1st ambition? Will it be for the best?

With Jony Ive now a name in Apple’s history books, what are Apple? Are they still design led, or is Apple silicon now more important?

Apple
image courtesy of author

Think different

Since the companies’ inception in April 1976, that strap-line has been at the core of Apple’s heartbeat. Apple has always prided themselves on design, creativity, and an unorthodox thought process.

Jobs, Wozniak & Wayne set out to redefine personal computing, and wasted no time in stealing a blaze. With only their second computer, the Apple II, they had a sell-out success on their hands, that led to the company being made public, only four years in to its journey.

Developing amazing, groundbreaking, and intuitive GUI’s, Apple went from strength to strength, making some great machines, and history along the way.

The ‘design first’ era

As we all know, in 1985, Steve Jobs went off to found NeXT in a hugely acrimonious period in Apple’s history. Being just a breath away from bankruptcy, in 1997, the company bought NeXT to resolve Apple’s unsuccessful operating system strategy. With that buyout came the return of Jobs.

Five years earlier, a certain English lad, Jony Ive had joined Apple. He immediately caught the eye and creative appeal, of Jobs, and the two set to work, creating some design icons. The iMac, Power Mac G4 Cube, iPod, iPhone, iPad, MacBook, all became a reality with these two at the helm. It was not only product either, but some of their early retail stores were down to the pair as well.

Ive has now severed all ties with Apple, as it became clear, that the objectives of Tim Cook, and Jony Ive, did not align quite as well.

Which brings us to a new dawn in the history of Apple. Through the 2000s, Apple became synonymous with beautiful designs, and at times being criticised of placing form over factor. The desire for ever thinner devices, with less, and less ports was clear for all to see. In some cases, it could be argued, making the user experience less premium.

But now, with a more cautious numbers man, Tim Cook running the show, functionality has risen to the fore, as we enter the era of Apple silicon. Oddly, and as if to prove you can never please all the people, all the time, there is a body of voices saying that Apple are no longer interested in taking risks.

Has Apple gone full circle? Are they now becoming a chip company first, with computer design and software flailing in its wake?

Does design still matter?

The era of firsts has been and gone. We won’t, and indeed, can’t, ever replicate those crazy days of the early and mid-2000s. Everything was new, exciting, and moving at pace. Many of us were experiencing smartphones for the first time. The same is true of tablets and the full online experience. iPhones found their way in to our lives, and we’d never seen anything of the like before.

Over time, clearly, we become accustomed and anodised to the fantastic designs we now take for granted.

The biggest leap forward, for this generation, will undoubtedly have been the recent switch and migration, for Apple, from Intel, to their own Apple silicon. It is probably as an exciting time as we’ve witnessed, since those earlier, halcyon days.

But is Apple now more focused on chip than design? Are they resting on their design laurels?

Where next

In the smartphone arena, the only major area of advancement, has been in foldables. This week saw the release of the Samsung Galaxy Fold 4. It has been well enough received, and looks pretty. But Apple, has steadfastly refused to go down the foldable route. Being the trillion dollar net-worth company they are, I’m certain that if they wanted to be part of that circus, then they could have been. Clearly, there has been a reason they have not thrown their hat in that ring.

The pursuit of perfection could be one reason. Judging by those with hands-on time with the Fold 4, there remains a visible, and physical crease on the screen. Perhaps, for all Apple tried, they simply could not get the screen smooth enough to satisfy their demands.

Apple Watch has come under fire too. It’s staid, same-ish, and boring, is the argument. Yet with a watch, basically, you have only two directions you can choose – square or round. Whilst round sounds appealing, in reality, would it work? The amount of real estate you’d lose in reading messages on a round face, is a huge problem. The entire Apple Watch ecosystem is built around the shape face we have…because it works! Change would really only be for changes sake.

We are likely to be getting an all-new Apple Watch Pro this autumn, but don’t hold your breath for any radical re-designs. The face may be slightly larger, the edges, marginally flatter and, possibly, it may be made of stronger materials, but design-wise, expect a status quo. It is the worlds’ best-selling watch – one would assume for a reason.

Tablets are tablets, pretty much, be it Samsung or Apple, which leads us to the Mac.

AirPods – boring or the best?

iPhone – not much can be added to that story. It is what it is, and remains to icon of all smartphones.

Is the MacBook a good design?

Clearly, I am biased, but I happen to like the route they have taken with the new MacBook’s – both Pro & Air. The notch was a bold move, sure, but one that actually fits the character and layout of the machine.

Over the range of MacBooks, we now have more ports, larger batteries, with a longer battery life, and improved keyboards. The displays are better, and overall, they have gone back to their roots. Does that make them utilitarian or boring?

Re-inventing, for the sake of re-invention, is a fool’s game. Apple spent many years down the warren of pretty design first, but now because of Apple silicon, can get back to giving us what we want. Some site the Dell XPS 13 as an example of modern laptop design. Well, for my money, I know which I prefer the look of!

Wrapping up

Apple, certainly for the foreseeable future, will not be a chip supplier first. Yes, they are now a big player in the chip market, but only for use in their hardware & devices.

Apple are stylising their product line, around what they can now achieve with Apple silicon. Chip before computer? I reckon not. But now, freed of any restraints from third-parties, Apple are free to envision the future they truly want.

Possibly, for the first time in their history, Apple are now free to be, well, Apple.

The products we are about to see coming out, such as the long-awaited headset, the Mac Pro and the new HomePod, will be a true reflection of Apple’s midterm vision of the future.

I have to say, surrounded, as I am, by Apple gear, the designs looks pretty cool to this old pair of eyes. The MacBook Air remains a joy to use, the MacBook Pro a beast, which delivers on every front, my Apple TV 4K, the best TV experience I’ve had, and the Studio Display, expensive, but gorgeous.

Unless, some pretty bad turns are planned, I have to say, this post Ive era is not looking too shabby at all.

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