That New iPhone Looks ... Just Like the Old iPhone
Has Apple reached the limits of industrial design?
Gadgets, of course, aren't all about looks, and the new iPhone's same-ish exterior doesn't tell us much about the gadget's interior. Nevertheless, this can't be good for Apple. No company gets more mileage out of industrial design; People like Apple's devices not just for what they can do, but for how they look and how they feel. The irony of the iPhone is that by making a device that's essentially just a screen, Apple has leveled the design playing field. The iPhone's most dominant design feature, its screen, can be replicated by every one of its rivals.
Compare the iPhone to Google's Nexus One or the Motorola Droid. Sure, they're not identical, and you probably like one of the three phones more than you like the others. But it's hard to say that any of these phones stands out as being any more awesome-looking than the others. No other Apple gadget looks as similar to its rivals' product—you wouldn't ever mistake an Apple laptop, keyboard, mouse, or desktop for a Dell. But can you guess what someone's using if they're sitting across the room and fiddling with a touch-screen phone jammed into a protective case? Sure, maybe if you're a gadget nerd. But most people wouldn't know the difference—from the back, in a case, the next iPhone will look the same as today's iPhone and will be pretty much indistinguishable from a Nexus One or any other similar rival.
To be sure, Apple can compete in areas other than looks. The iPhone's user interface still beats that of its rivals, and Apple recently announced that the new version of its OS will add support for multitasking, bringing it up to par with Android and Palm's WebOS. There's also the App Store—Apple can still claim that there are more apps for the iPhone than any other phone. These are all important considerations, but they're not whiz-bang showstoppers. A revolutionary industrial design will get people drooling for the iPhone; multitasking support won't do that.
Or am I wrong? Can you think of any way to improve the look of the iPhone? Tell me your ideas in the comments section below. Don't be surprised if Steve Jobs steals them, because as it's going now, Apple is in need of some inspiration.
Farhad Manjoo is Slate's technology columnist and the author of True Enough: Learning To Live in a Post-Fact Society. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter.
Photograph of iPhones republished with permission from Gizmodo.com.