Why the iPhone 6 will still be badly designed

Blog - March 7, 2013 by Mark McA

This has to be a joke, right?

Of all the nit-picking criticisms of the Church of Cupertino, not even the most ardent anti-Apple fanboi can possibly argue this. The iPhone has won the most prestigious design awards on Earth. They're Editor's Choices, five-star reviews, brushed aluminium slivers of total gorgeousness that forever changed how all other phones look.

Yup, I agree. But I'm talking about design as a measure of everything, not just appearance. This device is designed to do a job – several jobs, in fact – all in the same portable unit. So when we think about its entire raison-d'etre, how well designed is the iPhone then?

If you're anyone but Apple (and we'll come back to that), the answer is 'not very'. And this doesn't just apply to them, every other smartphone maker is guilty of it as well. Apple merely started this ridiculous trend.

(Yes, I do realise this 'ridiculous trend' is also the most successful product line since Ugbash Cavedigger came home with a burning branch. As you'll see, that's part of the problem.)

It's not performance issues either. Or even performance vs price. Unlike with Macs and PCs, Apple really did lead the way with iOS devices. The iPhone spawned an entire ecosystem and continues to be a premium product, the daddy of them all. It may cost more than its rivals, it may occasionally be leapfrogged in the development cycles, but Apple's technical wizardry and all-round competence cannot be faulted. The iPhone is micro-engineering at its finest.

Okay, so it's not the looks and it's not the electronics. So what am I going on about? The locked-down, locked-in operating system? Yes, that bothers me. But so does Android's leaky security. It's horses for courses, and one man's horsemeat is another man's beefburger. Some people actually prefer the walled garden so, for them, the OS is a good design. It does its job.

You'll notice I'm fast running out of objections here. The iPhone is, I freely admit, beautiful to look at, fantastically well-made and technically brilliant. Surely we can ask no more of any device?

Well, let's think about that. Because this is not just any device. This is a phone – a device so ubiquitous that the prefixes 'cell', 'smart' or 'mobile' are no longer needed. That's what a phone is now. That dusty old thing on the sideboard? That's a land-line.

A phone is our personal, always-on connection to the world, something that we want – and probably need – with us at all times. For most business cases (and all teenagers), to be without a phone is absolutely unthinkable. It's the last thing we check at night, and the first thing we check in the morning. This is why we're prepared to pay $600+ for them in the first place.

And now we're approaching why the iPhone – and many of its rivals – are, indeed, badly designed: because we can't live without them and they're very often not there.

Nope, I don't mean lost or stolen. I don't mean faulty units either. I'm not even having a pop at the inexcusable fixed battery that effectively makes it a landline twice a day. Even if the battery lasted a week, the iPhone would still be badly designed for one simple reason: we live in a world of concrete floors – and this thing is made out of glass.

Whichever way you slice it, that is ridiculous. This is a handheld device, getting dropped occasionally is part of the job description. And it gets worse: our $600-worth of outdoor electronic essentials isn't even protected against dust or water either. The tiniest drop of moisture can destroy it.

Is Apple really so incompetent? Not only do we live in a world of concrete floors, we also have baths, pools, drinks and, on a daily basis, water falling from the goddamn sky. Sorry Apple, but if Casio can make a $5 watch waterproof, dustproof and shockproof, you can do the same for a $600 phone.

This is precisely why everyone buys aftermarket cases: real-world usage will ruin an unprotected iPhone in pretty short order. Compulsory bolt-on armour and extortionate insurance have become so routine that we don't even question why the phones are so absurdly delicate in the first place. Did we ask for this?

“Market research results, Mr Jobs. Everyone loves it, they just want it to be much easier to break.”

I think the answer is fairly obvious. Apple could waterproof fire, so making the iPhone about as rugged as a frozen cobweb is, of course, entirely by design – and it's not for our benefit. Phones are only so fragile because the manufacturers all know that a dead handset is a replaced handset, no matter who picks up the tab. According to this brilliant infographic, 80% of iPhone failures are due to accidental damge and repairing, replacing and insuring iPhones has cost US consumers $5.9Bn since 2007. Whatever the global figures must be for all phones, they are indefensible.

Just imagine how much better a shockproof, waterproof iPhone would be for us, the users. Then ask yourself why Apple has never made one.

Better still, ask Apple. It's their design.