iPhone 5 - Form follows function

| By Daniel Pasco

In the past week many pundits have claimed:

And rinse, wash, repeat around the tech blogosphere. Somehow this amazing device that is clearly “aces”, is also the most boring thing since sliced bread. But viewing the iPhone’s evolution this way is fundamentally misguided. The same author from above gets miraculously close to hitting on just what is unique about what Apple is doing:

This is the key — change for the sake of being different, without being better, is bad. Well-designed tools tend to become static things: the basic problems have been solved. There is a ton of room for refinement, but not for large scale changes.

Good Design Is Long Lasting

Dieter Rams, who was highly influential to Apple’s industrial design sensibilities, summed it up best in one of his 10 Principles of Good Design:

Most of our everyday tools - table knives and forks, claw hammers, steering wheels - have not seen any radical changes because at some point, someone figured out the best form to suit the function. It is hard to find a way to change these things that will actually result in something better. iPhone is no exception.

Apple captured the essentials of the iPhone’s design before they released the original model in 2007: a dominating screen, one simple button on the main face, touch-based keyboards and as few switches and ports as reasonably possible. The primary purpose of the device is to get out of the user’s way and what they are trying to do. When you’re running an app, or making a call, the iPhone becomes that app. When powered down, the device is beautiful in a minimalist, modern way, but every single aspect of the hardware serves an important function.

They nailed the design from the start. Certainly there is room for refinement and polish, but the soul of this design is long-lasting.

Refinements

What Apple is doing is pouring vast amounts of money and time into continuously refining their great, long-lasting design concept. They are folding in new technology and production processes where they meet specific needs. The result is something really nice.

What’s exciting about the new iPhone is what’s on the inside, both physically inside the phone, and what those things can do for the apps running on iOS 6. Airplay mirroring, which was introduced in iOS 5, is a great example of this. Airplay didn’t require hardware modifications, just innovation in the underpinnings of the operating system itself.

Apple is doing their own chip fab, to get things faster, smaller, and lighter. They’re using their control of hardware and software to make this design even more perfect. Other competitors don’t have the advantage of that vertical integration. It’s going to be hard to match.

As a result of this customization, the iPhone 5 is reportedly twice as fast as the 4S, without sacrificing battery life.

This is especially exciting because some of our clients are only interested in supporting the latest, most powerful iOS device in the lineup. The apps they want to build need to push the platform to the limits of its capabilities. I can’t wait to see what our apps can do on the new iPhone when we pull out all the stops.

I’ll be standing in line to get mine tomorrow morning.