It has been over a decade since the first iPhone was introduced. And to this date, it remains the Cupertino company’s cash cow. The latest iPhone 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max, as usual, will sell like hot-cakes and make tonnes of money for Apple. After all, these are incredibly powerful phones and the fans are already going gaga over new photography features. What most people aren’t talking about however is the phone’s fit and finesse. For years, iPhone users enjoyed the bragging rights to owning the most stylish handset in the market. However, that’s not the case with the latest iPhones. Just when we were expecting Apple to get rid of the ugly display notch, the Cupertino company added a bigger eyesore on the back. Unlike earlier devices, the new iPhones show no regard for the ergonomics either. If you look back at the last few iterations of the iPhone, there’s a clear trend that Apple’s phone has been losing its elegance bit by bit.
Back in 2007, most phones relied on buttons as a means of interaction. And those with the touchscreen had horrible touch response. Little wonder then that the first iPhone was revolutionary owing to its large touchscreen that actually worked. Despite its plastic body, the iPhone was futuristic for its time. Apple knew how to stay on top of its game. By the time other brands could catch up in terms of design, Apple had moved on to the premium glass and metal construction with its iPhone 4. Sure, the iPhone 4 cracked too easily, but it was one hell of a beauty.
Apple’s Finest Hour
There’s no doubt that the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S designs were way better than the competing Android devices. However, Apple truly proved its design prowess with the iPhone 5. Its sleek aluminum body and the precision of build showed why Apple takes the throne in terms of premium devices. The next design refresh that came with the introduction of the iPhone 6 line-up was impressive too. The design managed to be unbeatable in the market for a couple of years.
The iPhone 5 and 6 had iconic designs. Unfortunately, though, Apple played it too safe with the next iPhone. Sure the iPhone 7 looked good, but its design wasn’t fresh enough. To make things worse, Samsung delivered a refined yet futuristic design with its Galaxy S7 Edge. As a result, the iPhone 7 series, which was supposed to at the forefront of design innovation looked dull in front of its Korean competitor.
While the iPhone 7 series was forgettable in term of design, it wasn’t really bad. So, it was all fine for Apple till 2016. Though in 2017, most brands started doing everything they could to achieve the slimmest bezels possible. In the middle of this, the iPhone 8 with its large bezels enough to hold two cargo trucks looked outdated on arrival. The Cupertino company was aware of this, and played its wild card, the iPhone X. And this is where the things turned ugly, literally. To achieve better screen-to-body ratio, Apple introduced a display notch so large that it defeated the purpose. For the first time since its inception iPhone broke the display symmetry. And it was one hell of an eyesore. Even Apple knew this, which is why the company tried to hide it in the promotional material using the dark wallpapers.
Within a year, brands such as Oppo, Vivo, Xiaomi, and Huawei came up with way more elegant solutions to achieve higher screen-to-body ratio. They got rid of the bezels using mechanical pop-up cameras or less distracting punch-hole selfie cameras. Oppo’s Find X, in particular, nailed it with its engineering finesse. What’s more embarrassing for Apple was the fact that even entry-level smartphones moved onto tiny notch design while the iPhone Xs made the users put up with a large notch in the year 2018.
Come 2019, and everyone was looking forward to the launch of iPhone 11 line-up. After all, it was supposed to bring the much-needed design refresh to the table. It was believed that Apple will finally get rid of that ugly notch. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen, which meant that the notch was not going anywhere for another couple of years. On top of that, Apple decided to spoil the rear design too. The company slapped a giant square camera module on the back, which looks completely out of place. It is almost as if Apple was on a mission to ensure that the new iPhone line-up looks terrible from both sides.
Apple’s chief industrial designer Jony Ive left the company a few months ago. I’m not sure about the extent of his involvement in the iPhone 11 design. However, things aren’t looking very promising as the iPhone 11 Pro line-up is thicker and heavier compared to its predecessor. Especially, the iPhone 11 Pro Max tips the scales at a whopping 226 gram. That’s enough weight to make the handset unwieldy. I’m old enough to remember how the entire tech industry complained about the Lumia 920 because it was 185 gram. But when Apple did it, nobody batted an eye. The Cupertino based company seemed so focused on fixing its battery woes that it completely failed to show any regard for the ergonomics. To put things in perspective, the iPhone 11 Pro Max with its 6.5-inch display weighs in at 226 grams. On the other hand, Samsung’s Galaxy Note 10+ offers a larger 6.8-inch display and yet weighs at 196 gram.
Apple has an army of loyal fans, so its failures in terms of design and ergonomics won’t affect the business immediately. However, it is definitely going to be a concern in the long run. From what I can tell from the situation, Apple is in dire need of a prolific industrial designer to fill Jony’s shoes. Perhaps it is time they ring Philippe Starck or Marko Ahtisaari.