Blog Post

Defending Apple’s Good Looks

Apple Leopard

The Apple nay-sayers of today offer what they think is a solid argument against the Apple consumer; that Apple’s “game” is solely based on good looks alone and, as such, Apple consumers are nothing more then superficial ego-consumers who buy the product solely for social value. Trend, it would seem, is the buying power for Apple.

Now, before judgment is cast upon my soul, hear me out and see where I’m going with this. First, as a complete Apple fan boy you would think I fall into this argument as well. I, just as any other Apple consumer, may be attracted first by a product’s look, feel, and possible “trend” status. Ultimately however, it’s more than that. Steve Jobs’ goal has always been to meld form with function, and that’s where the meat balances the potatoes. We as consumers can appreciate a beautiful-looking piece of technology, but what is more important is the utility we receive from it. Therefore, arguably, the user experience is the sole foundation for a products success.

To get a better idea of what I mean, let’s take a look at three “competing” products. We’ll base this solely on the actual user experience, operating systems alone.

  • Form and Function equal – Leopard
  • Form but no function – Windows Vista
  • Function but no form – Linux

Function but no form

Let’s go from the bottom up. Linux provides a secure foundation for developers to continue building upon. Just as the Linux community grows, the operating system itself seems organic, and grows with them. An open-source operating system, completely free to use, yet has never become mainstream. Why is that? Could it be due to the lack of form? Maybe by design Linux looks and feels more complicated; perhaps its role as a “developer tool” makes basic users quiver in fear. Whatever the reason, Linux never had the break that OSX has had since its onset.

Form but no function

I hope many will agree that, while Vista is one beautiful piece of glass, it’s a hollow space past the surface. Its innumerable new, eye-catching features are tantalizing, but on a practical scale, it shows little variation from the preceding XP. Coincidentally, like most beauty in this world, it seems to come with a price: either your sanity, or your RAM. It begs the question, why would users put up with such a bad relationship? Naturally, the operating system’s open quality led to its massive globalization, but at what further cost? Interoperability was what seemed to hold Microsoft together, but now with more customization available and the growing abilities of Web 2.0 sharing and creating, it seems more relevant now than ever to rethink what the true balance of form and function is.

Form and Function equal

The key to Apple’s success is their ability to balance function and form. Never will a device hyperextend itself at the risk of failing. Only the most secure features are added slowly into newer upgrades. The jump from Tiger to Leopard alone reflects this. Instead of recreating a completely new operating system that requires massive hardware upgrades, or so many new features that the system itself feels completely unique and unfamiliar, we see a simple system that reflects characteristics of its ancestors. A few features, here, a few features there, and you’re still secure in your space.

So judge us as you will, but remember, that in a world of trend, somethings are popular for a reason.

18 Responses to “Defending Apple’s Good Looks”

  1. Everyone’s that’s enjoyed it so far, thanks. The response has been great to see.

    bombastiator: I happen to like the space looking effect. Feels more futuristic, but chances are I won’t keep it for long.

    Honza, thanks that made my day =)

    Tom and the “debate team”: I agree far more with Joe, the fact is as soon as I switched to OS X, I’ve found new and exciting utilities to use, namely Quicksilver. I think the Windows versions (Skylight, and others) are clunky, ugly, and have very, very few features. That being said I do understand Windows more in a business setting. At work, our company relies heavily on Outlook and Windows for scheduling, networking, etc. I see that changing too eventually, def slowly, but steadily.

  2. Joe I can see what you’re saying, and I think you tend to get better apps in Linux too. But considering that there will always be something I want to run in Windows, be it a game or app, then what it comes down to for me is do I have dual boot OSX and Windows, or dual boot Linux and Windows. I think both solutions work equally well, but if I go for OSX / Windows I either spend twice as much on hardware, or get half the machine specifications for the same money. This is why I’d like to see OSX on standard PCs. That said I don’t think it would be a good move for Apple.

  3. the majority of interesting little apps you find kicking around the web and want to try out.

    I thought this at first, too, when I moved fully to Mac a few years ago. But what I’ve found is actually quite the opposite. 1) most of the “little tools” written for Windows are complete crap. 2) I have been hardpressed to find a tool or app that I used regularly on Windows that does not have a Mac equivalent. The only program I need to run regularly on Windows is MS Money, but that’s a major application, not just a hacker tool or whatever.

    I like to think of it in this way. For almost any Windows utility or app, there are 100 different tools or programs you can use. 95 of those programs are shit – they look like shit, and the often function like shit. The other 5 are OK, and you might find one or two that are really good.

    On Mac, though, you might only find 5, 8 or 10 tools that do the same thing. But on the whole, the form and function of all the Mac tools are much higher than the plethora of crap that is out there for Windows. Then of the limited number of Mac tools, half of them will be OK to Good, and the other half will be great, usually with a couple standouts that are excellent.

  4. I disagree with your assignments of form and functionality to the 3 OS choices. You can’t get past the fact that there are lots of things that you can do on Windows which at this point in time you can’t really do on Linux or Mac, so how can you say Windows is not “function”. Examples of this are most games, and the majority of interesting little apps you find kicking around the web and want to try out.
    Personally I choose to use linux (PCLinuxOS) for most of my needs (browsing, word processing, email etc), then drop into Windows for games and other odds and sods. I’d be keen to give OS X a decent appraisal and see whether it would replace Linux in my case, but whenever I look at Mac hardware I always get to the checkout and see what I’m actually getting for my money and decide not too. For instance they’re still holding dvd writers to randsome on the lower price models – in this day and age!!! I say we need OS X on PC.

  5. I agree with the poster above, G4 Mini user for 2-3 years. Never had a problem and lovin the form. Ordered a MacBook a couple of days ago and it’s currently sitting on the shelves in my post office. Gotta love it! And oh, I’m european.

  6. I think one of the best articles I have read on TAB for a while. I’m also a switcher (2 years later I’m still on my first mac, a G4 mini) after being a PC user since Dos 3 and Windows 3.0. Not looking back with regret, at all :-)

  7. bombastiator

    As a quick aside o the for issue, I have to say I find the purple space splash screen particularly hideous. To thouse that do not I challenge you to look at the screen and repeat to yourself “giant space sphincter” It’s kind of like one of those hidden image pictures. Once it’s pointed out it’s all you can see.

  8. You are right. I have used windows and linux during the years, I’m far from being an expert but as you said windows is form (well used be just “and” where linux is just function. Tried to use both windows and linux side by side for years to do different things.
    Went to buy a mac, because it looked great and hear that I could use bash and other nice old unix apps plus some new great mac apps I wanted in.
    I have had a macbook pro 15,4″ since 2-3 weeks after the first model was out (core duo that is) and I love it. At first I thought it would be hard, but it just works great feels safe and looks nice.
    TAB forums plus the blog has helped me a lot to get into the mac community. Thanks guys/gals.

  9. I’m glad you enjoyed the article, and I’m really excited to see it up. I agree though, OS X isn’t as mainstream “yet”, but I see more new users adopting and adapting to it, so I think Apple’s clearly hedging their way forward. It’ll be interested to see how the market swings in the next 10 years.

  10. I agree with the article with one caveat … Ubuntu is getting closer with each release to Mac OS X. The newest release is far better than WinXP or Vista. I am impressed with what that community is putting together.

  11. i’ve been making this argument for a while now, for OS X. I sometimes hear that OS X or Mac apps are just “eye candy”. It has been shown in the past couple years that basically anything you can do on a PC, you can do on a Mac too. For nearly every popular Windows application, there is an equivalent Mac application. So once the “function” is equal, why shouldn’t some attention be paid to the “form”? I mean, if my OS and Applications do everything I need them to do, is there any reason they shouldn’t look good while doing it?

    and I also take issue with people who claim that Vista is “on par” with OS X, or that “vista ripped off OS X” or whatever. yes, it’s true that Vista is flashy and bubbly and glassy and bright and transparent and all that jazz. It really does look like a more modern or futuristic Windows. But if you actually look at the interface element, it is nothing like OS X. Just comparing the new Windows Explorer and any of the OS X Finders makes that clear. Sure, the Vista Explorer looks better than XP Explorer, I guess, but it’s so overwhelming – they just try to throw so much information and options at you in one little screen. This is where Apple realizes that Form and Function are fully intertwined, but creating an interface in Finder that looks good, is simple, elegant, but fully functional. (actually, i though Finder =< 10.4 sucked. it was too simple. i really only like Finder 10.5, though)

  12. Steve Grenier

    Well said. I completely agree. Its sad some people always look at Apple as the trendy thing, they don’t really look at the usability of it. As a Windows user for 10+ years switching to OS X just a year ago. I have to say the difference is major. I can’t say it enough how much a relief it is using OS X, it works, its stable, its fast, and it gives me all the tools I need at easy access and hides the important things so it doesn’t look overwhelming. Even with the various annoyances its far better than Windows.