The Pursuit of Perfection: Hidden Gems in Apple Design

Apple Logo

If you ask any of the Apple “fanboys” why they are so devoted to Apple, at least one of the reasons you will hear is that Apple “sweats the small stuff,” which really proves its dedication to user experience and attention to detail.

Here’s a few of my favorites that demonstrate Apple’s attention, not just to its hardware and software, but to even the product packaging. See how many you may have noticed before, and feel free to add any that I might have missed in the comments below.

Serial Numbers

AirPort Extreme Serial Number Location In the world of computers, serial numbers are important for a variety of reasons, including verifying warranty status and determining the correct specifications, to name a few. Many Apple products feature, in addition to their standard serial number, a barcode that makes reading this serial number much easier for Geniuses or other technicians.

Though some newer models have forgone barcodes, such as the 2009 model MacBook Pros and MacBook Air, barcodes can still be found on many other Apple products. In addition to serial numbers represented as barcodes, some Macs, like the Mac Pro, also include a barcode for the system’s MAC address. Though it changes from model to model, Apple has often put these barcodes and serial numbers in easily accessible places.

On the Power Mac G5, the serial number was located on the inside of the tower, behind the aluminum side panel. On iMac G4s and eMacs, the serial number was located on the inside of the optical drive cover. This really made it easy to quickly locate a serial number if you couldn’t access it through the OS.

Fiat Lux a la Mac

As many people leave their Macs running non-stop throughout the day, they have likely stumbled upon the infamous sleep light. Much like a heartbeat (or “snoring”), the little light pulses while your Mac sleeps. When the iMac G5 originally shipped, its sleep light indicator was bright! It didn’t bother people during the day, but for those who kept their iMac in an office or bedroom, it could light up the whole room at night. Apple issued a firmware update that reduced the sleep light’s brightness during evening hours, giving a much more relaxing pulse than before.

Beyond sleep lights, other indicators on newer Macs are typically hidden until needed. Take for instance the iSight indicator light, built into displays, which is seemingly non-existent until the camera is activated. Similar to the sleep light on the unibody MacBook Pros, the power light on the new aluminum Apple Wireless Keyboard blends in seamlessly until its activated. The thin aluminum that has been perforated with tiny holes for the light to shine through, but when there is no light, the keyboard looks seamless.

MagSafe ConnectorIndicator lights on power adapters are also worthy of mention. With once quick glance, you can easily see what is going on. If the light is amber, the battery is charging. If the light is green, the battery is fully charged and ready to go.

Another interesting use of light is the Apple logo on the rear of the portables. The light that illuminates this logo is simply excess ambient light from your display. Go ahead and take a look. Lower the brightness on your display and watch the apple dim.

Product Shots

iMac Clock View The next time you see a promotional shot for an Apple product, take notice of the time. For many years, whenever a Mac has been shown displaying the OS X desktop, the clock indicates the system version that the Mac ships pre-installed. This trend even carries forth to Apple’s retail stores, where display signage and wall banners that showcase Leopard prominently feature the system clock at 10:50. Due to only having 60 minutes in an hour, showing a clock at 10:60 for Snow Leopard would not make much sense. Pre-release screenshots from Apple still display 10:50, so this trend will likely end soon.

In the iPhone arena, all of the promotional images of the iPhone and iPod touch all display 9:42 (except one preliminary image,which displayed 9:41). What’s the significance of this? Some think it may relate to the time the iPhone was originally introduced; others see it as a somewhat disjointed homage to Douglas Adam’s “Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy.” Most of my research seems to confirm that 9:42 was the actual time of the iPhone announcement during Steve’s keynote in 2007.

Hidden OS X Easter Eggs

Clock Widget Apple’s attention to detail moves beyond the hardware and into its software as well. Take for example the Clock widget in the Dashboard. Look closely at the second hand and notice how it vibrates much like a real clock does.

For those that use Mail, as you drag the divider between the date column to expand or make the column smaller, the formatting of the date dynamically adjusts to fit. If there’s room to display the time, it shows up. As you make the column smaller, the formatting reduces to fit. Most email applications would just truncate whatever did not fit in the column.

This is just a small list of a huge number of little details found on a lot of Apple products that really make them a joy to use. The tipping point, so to speak, is that Apple doesn’t market any of these as “features,” it’s just the fact that they took the time to integrate them subtly into the Apple experience that makes it all worthwhile.

If you’ve found other examples of Apple’s attention to detail, let us know in the comments!

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