Apple’s obsession with design has more to do with functionality than looks

Gadgets come. Gadgets go. But few arrive on the scene with as much a bang as Apple’s. Call it hype or hoopla but the company has redefined mobile computing devices in the past decade. The iPod, iPhone and iPad are game changers in their respective categories and it has become a nominal expectation among enthusiasts to expect minor miracles every time Apple calls for a launch. 

A former professor from my online journalism class, around the time iPad 2 was launched, said it was disappointing that it did not feature Star Trek-style teleporters. “Anything less, neither me nor the legions are going to be happy,” he joked. It is anybody’s guess now that the iPhone 5 will be analysed, celebrated, debated and parodied for a few more days to come. There is not much point dwelling on the phone until someone actually gets to use it. 

What is more interesting to explore is what the smartphone or any other personal computing device has come to be in recent years. Just how important is the aesthetic appeal of these devices as compared to their practical use? Are we prejudiced, as we are in other walks of life, towards the external beauty of something that it blinds us from seeing beyond? Apple and its products fall right into “gorgeous looking gadget” category.

I got my first personal computer in 1995 and have been enamoured by technology ever since. It did not matter it was a clunky-looking device in an industrial grey casing. My first tryst with Apple was as late as November last, when I finally took a bite with the iMac. But the cynic in me and the inner voice that said “all that glitters can’t be gold” dissolved in a few days. Apple’s obsession with design has more to do with functionality than looks; in fact the drop-dead gorgeous looks, I would say, are merely a by-product of a fundamental difference in approach the company has towards building its products. 

Starting from christening the company ‘Apple’ — so as to not intimidate the average consumer — to building products that look like a piece of art rather than machine, Steve Jobs’ vision was to appeal to the masses than to the geeks. In the final chapters of Walter Issaccson’s acclaimed biography of the visionary leader, Steve Jobs says that he considered Apple’s approach towards personal computing as being the same as a company building a household appliance. Just as one need not know what is within a refrigerator or a washing machine — as long as it delivers.

And it looks so darn good that you can get yourself to smile at it even if your iMac, iPad, iPod or iPhone is switched off and set in a corner. Is it any surprise that Apple’s computers are constantly referenced in pop culture? Even my favourite serial killer from television is forever seen working on it.

To me, the launch of iPhone 5 was a chance to wonder just how much one company had changed lifestyles across the globe.