Photos of the alleged next generation iPhone leaked recently and unlike the vast majority of people who don’t like the change, my first response is nothing but positive. Now, I proudly where my Apple fanboy status on my sleeve, so you have to trust me when I say that I think this new design is an improvement. If you permit me to geek out about the subtleties of design for a few minutes, I will explain one by one why the biggest criticisms of the new design are actually strengths.
Complaint 1: “What happened to the rounded corners?
I can appreciate a gratuitous rounded edge as much as the next designer, but let’s break this down. What happens when you eliminate all edges from a cube? Answer: you blur the boundaries between the edges. In other words, you start to lose the sides. The old design really just has a front side. The sides, top, bottom, and back are all a perfectly rounded curve. That would be fine if this object could exist completely without buttons, speakers, ports, or a headphone jack. These are all areas where flat objects are coming into contact with a rounded surface. This causes design flaws. For example…
Plug your headphones into your iPhone and run your finger across the area where the two meet. Your finger (and jeans, or shirt, or anything else that comes in contact with this point) will catch on the edge. Functionally, this is dangerous because it increases the likelihood that your headphones will get disconnected. Visually, it creates a hole that exposes the underside of the headphone cord.
The same can be said about the buttons. Have you felt the vibrate on/off switch? Feel it. Right now. It’s pretty rough. The same with the main power button on the top. Being placed on the highest point of the rounded edge only accentuates this because it puts itself out there just begging to get bumped or catch on something.
Connect your ipod to the usb cord. Just look at it. Does that connection look well designed to you? No, it looks clunky and awkward. Very unApple when you think about it.
Flat sides on the new design addresses these issues. Now things can connect to it snugly and firmly. It doesn’t have to apologize for having a top and bottom, they are right where they should be. It doesn’t have to apologize for having buttons now, either. Having curves for the sake of being round isn’t enough to make something well-designed. Things need to have purpose, and now they do.
Complaint 2: “Why two buttons for volume up/down? I thought Apple was anti-buttons.”
I would be surprised if anyone really loves the current unibutton. If you do, please explain it to me. Currently you have an awkward large button thing that to my touch doesn’t feel that great. Apple has alway been great about getting buttons to feel really great. They have the right amount of resistance, and the feedback is pleasing. I can’t say I get that from the current button. Obviously, I don’t know what the new buttons will feel like, but they look right. They are small, slightly raised, and I bet they feel more like a button than the current version.
Not sure about the vibrate on/off button. This seems like it should be a switch, not a button. The jpg looks like a button, so I am not sure how that will work. More than anything else, this is what makes me think that this might be a prototype that could change dramatically before it hits the shelves.
Complaint 3: “I see a seem, I see a seem!”
The reason I embrace this is because I have a major complaint about the iPhone that is purely functional. I would like to know that if I needed to, I could open it up and replace the battery. I have no idea how I would crack my iPhone open without damaging it. Seeing a seem makes me think that maybe this thing could open up without damage or special tools. I kind of doubt that Apple will make it that easy, though. Wouldn’t it be great if you could upgrade your memory, swap out the battery, and replace the SIM card easily with just a small screwdriver? I would gladly accept a small seem in exchange for that functionality.
Complaint 4: “The back is plastic!”
If you look side by side, the new iPhone actually has more metal showing. The current phone has a thin aluminum rim on the front that looks more like decoration than serving any practical use. Now that the steel is firmly on the sides it has purpose. It looks like this thing is reinforced. It says that despite having a plastic back, it is solid steel all the way through. The seem actually reinforces that feeling. It makes it look solid and substantial. Would I rather it had a solid aluminum back? Well, yeah, but that isn’t a fair criticism when the existing iPhone has more plastic than this one.
So count me as one of the few who really hopes this version makes it into the hands of consumers. It will be interesting to see how this plays out…