Why Apple’s iPod design is smarter than it looks

by Andy Polaine on September 10, 2005

John Welch’s article about iDevelopers creating accessories for the iPod is enlightening. He makes a great case (no pun intended, and if you don’t get it, read his article) for why accessory manufacturers aren’t making them for anyone else much – basically, you need 3-4 templates for any of the iPods to date, but for other players you might need as many as 45, and they’ll keep changing.

Now, apart from the sheer beauty of the thing (and let’s face it the iPod nano is very sexy), it’s also smart design. Though Apple have had a habit of constantly changing their connectors, with the iPod they keep their parts inventory small, I would imagine, by keeping the design relatively similar. Not only that, but their design approach is to keep reducing and collapsing elements until it is so simple “it seems inevitable” in the words of Jonathan Ive.

I recently bought one of the new iMacs for a home machine and, I have to say, it’s constantly pleasurable to sit at and use. Rather too much so sometimes in fact. There is a significant difference of ethos between OS X and Windows to do with play vs work that is quite often overlooked. Visit a country like Denmark or Sweden and you’ll notice that almost everything, everywhere has been thoughtfully designed. It might be a door handle or a piece of cutlery, but the tiny things add up to an overall experience of quality and pleasantness. It’s where many other designs in the technology fall to pieces. A certain segment of the population are, of course, obsessive about features, but in the end tech specs go out of date. The feel of an object (or even an interface) is something much more intangible but much more potent I believe. I think it is the same reason that people by solid oak furniture, vintage cars, solid gold jewellery and why cordless phone manufacturer’s put weights inside the plastic handsets to make them feel heavier and therefore of seemingly higher quality.

I sit at my iMac or use my iPod and am constantly amazed at the effort that has gone into the design and manufacture. The effort pays off not only in that emotive way, but by being simpler not more laden with features, it makes it easier (and more economical) for everyone else to make accessories for it. That’s smart design.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Karl D.D. September 10, 2005 at 8:28 pm

Maeda mentions the iPod design in his first ‘Law of Simplicity’.
What do you think?

2 apolaine September 11, 2005 at 1:22 pm

Yes, as usual Maeda makes a very smart observation. I too like the original clickwheel (though the 2G one which doesn’t move, the first one had a moving wheel I think). It’s the one I have on my old iPod that is still serving me well.

Now of course I have the dilemma of choosing between a PSP or an iPod nano…

3 Ian Methods November 24, 2005 at 1:25 am

The reason the ipod’s design is smarter than it looks it because it looks stupid.

4 Andy November 24, 2005 at 12:19 pm

Because you managed to delete all your music twice? Heh..

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