What Apple is Good At

Apple is always given credit for its user-interface design, but I’m not so certain it’s what they’re good at. To be sure, they do a better job than most. But there are no shortage of Apple interface gaffes, and I’ll now take this opportunity to poke a stick at a couple of the things that are still, years after the fact, consistently annoying me:

  • The OS X windows, with their ridiculous close/minimize/maximize gadgets that 1) are placed dangerously close to each other, and 2) don’t even reveal their very distinct nature to you until you mouse over them.
  • iTunes, with its buttons that appear and disappear mysteriously depending upon whether you’ve got a blank CD inserted versus your iPod plugged in, and a nearly impossible to use Party Shuffle feature.
  • I’ve already spoken about the Mighty Mouse.

These are nitpicks, but there are no shortage of other mistakes–some far more meaningful–that Apple has made in this area. (I think it’s safe to say that I’ve seen other companies–Mac shareware authors, even–that do a better job than Apple in interface design.) Which begs the question: what is Apple good at?

In the modern Steve Jobs era the answer is “discipline,” to a degree that’s remarkable. No company is so willing to leave out features in the pursuit of usability. No other company would sit on a product like the iPhone quite so long, just to get it tweaked to the fine sheen of perfection that it’s able to put across. To be fair, all I’ve seen until now are demos of the iPhone, but using modern version number conventions the iPhone looks to be a “3.0”-quality product. There’s just no way to make a product look this polished in a first go-round…but what other company wouldn’t have jumped at the first opportunity to introduce a product that could do a demo even half this interesting?

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