Thoughts on Joshua Topolsky’s “Apple is really bad at design” essay

I find it remarkable when people write with judgment, with venom. Joshua Topolsky’s “Apple is really bad at design” post is full of both.

The tone is over the top, the headline clickbait, and there’s a constant sense of “Apple is doomed” and “Steve would never have allowed this” that there seems no shortage of in the press.

I do agree with some of the points in the post. Every one of them was a complaint about design in the service of compromise.

There’s the Apple Pencil having no home, being eminently losable, and charging by sticking straight out of the iPad. But as a product? It’s outstanding, beautifully balanced, a marvel of low latency. The Apple Pencil is an incredible achievement.

There’s the removal of the headphone jack and the ungainly dongle use it forces. This image makes the point.

The idea was to promote bluetooth headphones, the design a compromise to serve a future that arrived with the AirPods.

But the tipping point for this article is the iPhone X notch.

Plenty has been written about the mind-numbing, face-palming, irritating stupidity of the notch. And yet, I can’t stop thinking about it. I would love to say that this awful design compromise is an anomaly for Apple. But it would be more accurate to describe it as the norm.

I am not at all a fan of the notch design. But I do see the notch and the iPhone X as the first steps on a brand new path for Apple.

The early versions of Mac OS X (the macOS predecessor that coincided with Steve’s return to Apple, the one based on Unix) were full of compromise. The original design was a bridge between the long established look and feel of the original Mac and this newfangled NeXT OS. At the time, there were many complaints, and most were valid.

To me, the notch represents a compromise. I won’t pretend any insight into Apple’s thinking, but I can sense the design pressure forced by the addition of Face ID and the need to ship product.

But the notch is the bridge to the future. I think of the iPhone X as the first of a new product type, a phone spec’ed with different hardware requirements, built from the ground up to serve future technologies like augmented reality.

Over time, I expect that hardware/camera/AI advances will allow the notch to get much smaller and, perhaps, disappear altogether.