I have an iPhone. It’s about four years old, a hand-me-down. Of all the cellphones that I have used so far, this is my favourite. Now it’s become a bit slow, and I worry that it might soon pack up. So I have been toying with the idea of buying an iPhone 4.
While I was still debating whether to buy it on eBay or ask a friend to get one from the US, rumours began to appear on the Net that Apple would soon launch an upgraded version. One report said it would be “fairly different” from the most recent model; there was speculation that Apple will release “a cheaper iPhone 4 within weeks”. Friends who use an iPhone, too, suggested, “Why don’t you wait for the next announcement?”
Another iPhone user, a young man who needed to upgrade his iPhone 3GS, said he wouldn’t wait as he had already decided to go the Android way. He bought a Samsung Galaxy S2 which he says has “more options, is very fast and very customizable”. I’m not very familiar with Android. And in any case I’m quite satisfied with my Apple devices.
Designed to succeed: Steve Jobs was the absolute minimalist. By Fabrice Dimier/Bloomberg
Apple fans, the world over, wait eagerly for “the next announcement” when the company launches a new product. There’s a certain magic to the moment. Before the first iPhone was launched in 2007 there was already huge anticipation around “an Apple phone”. I saw a video of the announcement: CEO Steve Jobs enters the stage, and starts with, “This is the day I’ve been waiting for two-and-a-half years...” He pauses, and there’s loud applause. There is more clapping before an image of the iPhone is projected on the giant screen. It was a tantalizing show.
The “magic of the moment” that I am talking about is a combination of one man’s obsession with good design that gave us beautiful products year after year. So much so that we now associate Jobs and Apple with innovation in technology as well as design.
Jobs once told Fortune magazine: “In most people’s vocabularies, design means veneer. It’s interior decorating. It’s the fabric of the curtains and the sofa. But to me, nothing could be further from the meaning of design. Design is the fundamental soul of a man-made creation…”
They say Jobs had a perfect partner in his chief designer Jonathan “Jony” Ive who is innovative, creative and equally obsessed with perfection. They were made for each other, often referred to as “Jives”. Together, they created some of the most innovative products: iMac, the iPod, the iPhone and the iPad.
Good design is both functional and beautiful. By functional I mean useful; otherwise, it really doesn’t matter how good it looks. There’s another aspect to functional design: simplicity of use. A gadget that is difficult to use and complicated to set up cannot be called functional. My idea of good design is a combination of perfect form and function—like an Ikea product with the minimalist design of Muji.
Jobs was the absolute minimalist. No one got this better than Google which, in its tribute on his death, put a very subtle link under the search box with the words “Steve Jobs, 1955-2011.” That’s it. Not a word more.
Jobs was also obsessed with typography. He talks about this in his commencement speech at Stanford University in 2005 (the YouTube video has been viewed more than nine million times): “I learned about serif and sans serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great...” I don’t know how many people outside the world of graphic design and typography understand the meaning of “serif” and “sans serif” (the difference is a tiny stroke on the edge of a letter), but with Jobs it was an obsession. He was a perfectionist. Not just about typeface but also the spacing between each letter.
Apple’s latest product was launched last Wednesday at 10.30pm (IST). But instead of Jobs, the company’s new CEO Tim Cook was on stage. I was on the Net an hour later, wondering if there’s an iPhone 5. Instead, there was iPhone 4S, a new and improved version of its iPhone 4. I hope the iPhone 4, the model I was looking for, will now cost less than what it would have two months ago.
Jobs died the next day. No one can predict if the future Apple products will still have his magic touch, but I do hope they will carry on with his tradition of great design.
Shekhar Bhatia is a former editor, Hindustan Times, a science buff and a geek at heart.
Write to Shekhar at the firstname.lastname@example.org