Apple’s design dominance over the past decade has been due to industrial design first, software design second. Their hardware designs have inspired a generation. Over those last 10 years their software has gotten better and better too (it’s really damn good now), but it’s been their industrial design that has made the first impression on the market.
However, I wonder if Apple will soon lose their perceived industrial design edge. It’s not that they aren’t incredibly good at it — they are the best in the business — it’s that industrial design is trending towards transparency. It’s all going glass. Everything is turning into a screen, from edge to edge. Once it’s all about glass, it’s all about software.
Luckily for Apple their software is outstanding. But, I think over time great software is less of a competitive advantage than killer hardware only because software, across the board, is getting better quickly. This is especially true in mobile, where the glass revolution is in full swing. Android is solid, WebOS is solid, and Blackberry’s new OS/UI looks great too. Nothing I’ve played with is better than Apple’s iOS, but a lot of the alternatives are approaching “plenty damn good” status.
Apple does the small things better than anyone else. Their choice of materials, finishes, and fittings are top notch. Their tolerances are tight. Their assembly techniques make their products feel like one solid whole. They are damn good at this. But, while these details matter to those who notice them, I wonder how much they are noticed by the public. The difference in build quality, materials, and tolerances between a MacBook Pro and a Lenovo are still obvious, but as things go all glass, will the build quality between an iPad and a Blackberry Playbook be as noticeable?
Time will tell, I’m just curious about the answer. Apple has a way of making the future. Maybe Apple’s tight integration between products is more important than the first visual impressions. Or maybe Apple’s purchase of LiquidMetal may pave the way for stronger, smaller, thinner, lighter things that other companies just can’t match. Or maybe my imagination isn’t big enough to see what innovative differentiators are coming next. But what about all that glass?