Apple doesn’t design for you

May 01, 2015

There’s a common trend surrounding most Apple commentary on the Web. The tech press, heavily dominated by nerds, has always been sharply divided between those who love Apple, and those who feel they’re the greatest example of mass hypnosis in the history of mankind.

You’ve probably heard these terms before: “Reality Distortion Field”, “walled garden”, “Apple cult”, “Apple fanboys”, and so on. Those are frequently uttered by Apple detractors in an attempt to ridicule those who are willing to spend their hard-earned cash on something with an Apple logo on it.

The only problem is, these days Apple buyers are no longer a minority of zealots, but rather the vast majority of people in most developed countries around the world. With each passing day, the argument that Apple products lack any sort of rational appeal is rapidly losing credibility. Presuming that an overwhelming majority of the population has been brainwashed is quite frankly an untenable position.

I don’t know about you, but it seems to me that in the past couple of years, the “Apple is a religion” mantra has almost vanished from the tech circles, leaving the field wide open for other forms of Apple criticism to take its place.

So what can Apple detractors do today, then, to get their point across? The obvious choice is to ridicule the products themselves, instead of their buyers — which, admittedly, is definitely a step forward, as far as criticism goes.

These articles were always there, of course. Who doesn’t remember phrases like “it’s just a big iPod touch”, or “it doesn’t even have a keyboard”, for example? But those articles used to come in second, after the much more popular “fanboy” pieces. Or at least that’s the way it always felt to me, both as a reader and as an Apple customer.

Today, those pieces have become the core of Apple criticism in the tech community. It’s better than being called idiots, I suppose, but most of those pieces are still deeply misguided. When nerds complain because Apple product “X” doesn’t have “Y” feature, they’re usually missing the point by a mile.

When nerds complain because they can’t root their iPhone, or whatever, they’re forgetting who the iPhone was designed for. Here’s a big clue: it wasn’t for nerds.

If you’re reading this article, chances are the iPhone wasn’t designed for you. I know it definitely wasn’t designed for me. So who was it designed for, then?

Everyone else.

The truth is, today’s Apple doesn’t design for nerds anymore, if they ever did it at all. Instead, they have a much more difficult and ambitious goal: they design for regular people. They design for my mom, or yours. For your uncle. For the mailman, and for your kids’ school teacher.

The single greatest accomplishment in Apple’s history is how they’ve made really complex technology accessible to the masses, all through design.

That’s why Apple’s TV ads have been showing regular people in their everyday lives for some time now. That’s Apple clearly communicating with its core audience. For regular people, it’s not about the features, and it’s not about the specs. It’s about being able to do awesome things in a way they never thought possible before. And if sales numbers are anything to go by, people seem to be getting the message.

Now, that doesn’t mean nerds can’t use and enjoy Apple products, far from it. But we shouldn’t assume those products need to cater to our very specific whims and desires because, frankly, we represent a teeny, tiny fraction of Apple’s overall market. We simply don’t matter much, in the big scheme of things.

Then, of course, there’s the fact that catering to every nerd’s wishes would clearly increase complexity and would make Apple products significantly harder to use for everybody, which is pretty much a guarantee that it will never happen.

And so, when you, as a nerd, wonder who in their right mind would want to send their heartbeat to another person in real time, you’re forgetting that that feature wasn’t designed for you. For all we know, regular people out there in the real world could very well grow to absolutely love such a sentimental feature. Or not. We still don’t know.

The problem here is that most Apple commentary on the Web gets written by people who are so fundamentally disconnected from Apple’s core audience that the message gets lost along the way.

Think about it: a prominent, nerd-oriented tech publication publishes an article bashing the latest Apple product. This article was no doubt written by a nerd, read by thousands of nerds who then proceeded to have a heated debate on the product’s merits in the comments section, all meanwhile many millions of regular people on the planet remain oblivious to the article and continue to happily buy and enjoy said Apple product.

That’s the real picture. That’s how little impact our community has on the eventual success or failure of an Apple product these days.

Apple products have always been sharply criticized by some people in the nerd community, but that criticism has rarely been translated into poor sales figures. It’s about time we understand that our opinion is not better or more informed than anyone else’s and in fact, it may very well be worse, because we are hopelessly biased and unable to see the product for what it really is.

When you complain that your iPad doesn’t let you upload an article directly to your website’s custom CMS, or that it doesn’t handle your camera’s RAW files, don’t follow that train of thought all the way to the end and conclude that the iPad is a mediocre device that will never replace laptops for most people. Instead, take a look out the window and watch how regular people are using them all the time. See how grandparents are using them to videoconference with their grandkids, and how moms can see the pictures of their kids’ vacation. That’s what the iPad is for, and that’s who’s really using it, and loving it.

And guess what? Grandparents don’t need a new iPad every year. So, when you read in the tech press that iPad sales are down, don’t immediately jump to the conclusion that the iPad is doomed, or that it was a mirage. The iPad is real, and it is a success story in every way. It just may not be for you, that’s all.

The same goes for the new MacBook. “Who in their right mind would want to buy a laptop with just one port?

Who? Millions of people, that’s who. People who don’t even know what USB stands for, but still want a small and light laptop. That’s who Apple is designing the new MacBook for, not you. And no offense, but their track record is good enough that I’m going to go out on a limb here and assume they know what they’re doing. Even if I don’t get it. Even if I have no desire to buy such a laptop for myself.

Finally and with the Apple Watch, the story is a bit more complicated because for the first time, we have not only tech nerds arguing about an Apple product, but watch nerds, too. But the conclusion is still the same. It really doesn’t matter what Apple said in the keynote and how much they may want to market Apple Watch as a real, high-end watch for watch lovers, because its ultimate fate will not be decided by watch nerds any more than the iPhone’s was decided by tech nerds.

Sure, Apple would love to sell you an Apple Watch Edition, and as many steel watches as they can, but they know that for the Apple Watch to have any sort of long-term relevance and success, it’s all about the Sport collection. And the Apple Watch Sport was not designed for watch nerds, or tech nerds. Like all Apple products, it was designed for everyone else.1

If you think of Apple Watch as a communication device first and foremost, many of its features are predicated entirely on the people you know and want to communicate with owning an Apple Watch, too. That’s why Apple needed to have an affordable entry price for the watch, because otherwise most people would never be able to use those features, and there would be no point for Apple Watch to exist, beyond merely displaying notifications.

Even if most of the profits end up coming from the steel and gold models due to their presumably higher margins, the Apple Watch will live or die with the Sport collection. And Apple knows that.

Which is why they didn’t design it for you.

  1. Fitness nerds, I’m afraid you don’t count, either.