Co.Design

Is This the End of "Apple Retentives"?

A professional usability researcher looks at what Antenna Gate revels about Apple's changing culture.

While Antenna Gate is causing all the static around Apple these days, it's not so much the specific technical issue that concerns me as much as what it represents. It's a glaring failure in the near-perfectionism of Steve Jobs's second era at Apple.

As Apple customers we have become spoiled by the simple, but rarely observed equation: price = quality. We have come to expect that every Apple product and its associated experience will be flawless; that the design will pro-actively avoid problems we couldn't even think of. We admire the great effort, cleverness and foresight of Apple and recognize that only the most fastidious, controlling and obsessive minds could create such great products—Apple's Retentives. (Note the reports that indication that Steve Jobs over-ruled an engineer who voiced concerns about the antenna—presumably lured simply by the sex-appeal of the design?Ed.)

But Apple's Retentives may be becoming mere mortals. Moreover, Apple's offered solution—bumpers on a beautiful piece of industrial design—will create a falling out with its key customers. Many of us have chosen Apple's products for the quality and elegance of aesthetic design and the attention to every detail, from the packaging to the power cable. We are in fact, Apple Retentives.

And it's not just the antenna issue that is impacting our opinion of Apple. Having spent the last several weeks with the new iPhone OS4, I can say that the new user interface is not geared towards those of us who like to declutter our desktops. Yes, the folder system lets me organize my apps into fewer screens, but the true retentive has always done this himself. In my case, I could only have a total number of apps that was a multiple of 16, so I would not have any "orphan" apps that did not take up a full screen's worth.

Moreover, the multitasking feature is a retentive's nightmare. I only want one application open at a time. Now I find when I double-click the home button that I have 13 applications ?open?, and no quick and easy way to close all of them.

Then there's the threaded email feature. When I receive new emails, I want to review and prioritize them go going through my inbox sequentially. But with the threaded emails I can't do that without backing up to the Inbox for every email that's part of a thread. It's inefficient and annoying.

But perhaps I am just being too anal. After all, technical flaws and feature-creep inefficiencies are intrinsic to the life of the consumer electronics user. Next time, I will just hold in my feelings.

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