Writing for The Atlantic this week, Ian Bogost published an embarrassingly hollow piece arguing why Apple’s design prowess is nothing more than a myth. With more than 1500 words at his disposal, Bogost strains to come up with any compelling or even mildly convincing evidence to support his rather bold and eye-catching claim.
The jumping off point for Bogost’s breathtakingly broad premise is a recent Reuters report which lists all of the design details that went into constructing Apple’s soon to be opened spaceship campus. Now to be fair, the Reuters report admittedly paints Apple as a company so far removed from reality that it almost reads like an article from The Onion.
One of the most vexing features was the doorways, which Apple wanted to be perfectly flat, with no threshold. The construction team pushed back, but Apple held firm.
The rationale? If engineers had to adjust their gait while entering the building, they risked distraction from their work, according to a former construction manager.
In fact, the entire Reuters piece strongly suggests that Apple has no idea what it’s doing in the design space as it pertains to architecture and building construction. Nonetheless, to use Apple’s deficiencies in this area as proof that the company lacks design expertise in the consumer electronics space is incongruous.
One of the more glaringly off-base examples Bogost relies on in a struggle to bolster his argument is Touch ID, the fingerprint recognition system Apple originally introduced on the iPhone 5s a few years ago.
Without equivocation, Touch ID is a remarkably reliable and secure technology that has all but eradicated the need for clunky passcodes. What’s more, Touch ID forms the bedrock of ApplePay, a feature that allows iPhone owners to seamlessly pay for goods and services with their fingerprint.
So why does Bogost take umbrage with Touch ID?
But even the slightest disturbance on a finger makes Touch ID unreliable. Washed your hands recently? Ate a banana? Dug in the dirt of the garden? Touched something too warm, or too cold, for too long? Good luck authenticating with your fingerprint. A mere inconvenience when unlocking the phone, but Apple Pay won’t work at all without Touch ID. So fat chance using that new digital wallet on a rainy day, or after tactilely interacting with worldly substances.
There are so many things to unpack here it’s hard to know where to begin.
For starters, the argument that Touch ID is inoperable if a user’s fingers are warm or cold is downright false, if not purposefully misleading. The notion that even the “slightest disturbance” on a finger makes Touch ID unreliable is so off the mark it makes me question if Bogost actually uses Touch ID on a regular basis.
Second, criticizing Touch ID because it requires the sensor to get an accurate read on a user’s fingerprint is a feature of the technology, not a shortcoming. Bogost might as well go ahead and criticize Touch ID for not working when a user happens to be wearing a pair of leather gloves.
Third, the broad impact of Touch ID cannot be overemphasized. Touch ID has made every single iPhone more secure while bringing fingerprint recognition technology into the mainstream. Even today, nearly 3.5 years after the iPhone 5s hit store shelves, Touch ID remains the most seamless implementation of fingerprint recognition technology on the smartphone market today.
From there, Bogost takes us on a lazy journey where he criticizes curious things such as Apple’s autocorrect software and the iPhone’s Reachability feature. Bogost even manages to minimize the impact of the iPod by focusing on some of the software flaws in iTunes.
Take the iPod. It made listening to a whole music library easy, but iTunes always made managing that library difficult and confusing—even destructive.
It’s as if Bogost is arguing that the automobile wasn’t a clever invention worthy of praise because there are car accidents.
In short, Bogost willfully ignores a vast array of Apple innovations and instead amplifies instances of Apple software being susceptible to bugs. He also exhibits an odd tendency of focusing on arguably irrelevant details. As an example, here’s what Bogost has to say about the original MacBook Air.
In 2008, [Steve Jobs] revealed the first run of the impossibly-thin MacBook Air by sliding it dramatically out of a manila envelope. Amazing! Less so, but not shown: the inch-thick power adapter needed to charge the device.
Is this guy for real?
Apple of course isn’t perfect, but going to the opposite extreme and arguing that the company has only “standardized excellence in design at the surface level” is downright laughable.
As John Gruber notes, “Bogost’s argument wasn’t that Apple is actually bad at design. His argument was simply that Apple’s products aren’t perfect. It’s a nonsense argument.”
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