9 Oct 2015

Thoughts on the iPhone 6′s Industrial Design

The iPhone 6 is one of the best-designed products I’ve used. Most things work right, resulting in a sum greater than the parts. It’s Apple design at its best.

That doesn’t mean that everything is perfect. The most painful problem (literally!) is that it catches and pulls at my facial hair. This is, needless to say, painful. It happens because there’s a small gap at the end of the screen, where the glass ends and the metal begins. If you carefully run your finger over the edge of the screen at the correct angle, you can feel how sharp and rough it is. I have seen no other phone with such a serious and glaring design flaw. None of the other products I use in my daily life hurts me. In that sense, the iPhone is the worst-designed object in my life.

The second problem is that it’s slippery: I tend to drop it once every week. I’m lucky that it still works. A product that’s made of polished aluminium may look good in a shop window, but phones are meant to be held in your hand. A phone that regularly slips out of your hand is badly designed. The Nexus 5 is a far superior design, since it doesn’t slip. Aesthetics are less important than the phone staying unbroken. Apple should have used a material that’s grippable — as good as a case. Maybe plastic. Come to think of it, the fact that some people have to buy a case to increase grip is a sign of failure of the iPhone’s industrial design. If the phone were designed right, you shouldn’t need a case. 

Third, on the topic of material, Apple should have used the one that’s best for cellular reception. In India, where the networks suck and calls drop all the time, we need all the reception we can get. Once again, a phone that looks beautiful but can’t reliably make calls is a bad phone.

Fourth, Apple should have gotten rid of the camera bump. It’s ugly, and it makes the phone wobble when used on a table. Instead make the phone thick enough to eliminate the bump. This will mean a much better battery life, which we can sorely use. In fact, the 4.7-inch iPhones should have the same battery life as the Plus. Just because I want a smaller screen doesn’t mean I want worse battery life.

Fifth, between the iPhone 6 and 6s, Apple reduced the battery size (measured in Whr), while keeping the battery life the same. They did this by optimising the components to use less energy. This is fine, but Apple should have instead maintained the battery size, and increased battery life. 

A thicker phone will be heavier, but phones are all light enough that it doesn’t matter. Jony Ive claims that a heavier phone is a worse one, but he’s wrong. Weight matters for tablets and laptops, not phones. What’s worse is a phone that runs out of power and becomes a paperweight by the time you need it.

Sixth, moving on from battery, Apple should make the bezels smaller. This makes the phone smaller and easier to use with one hand, while keeping the screen space the same (so you don’t lose productivity). Bezels are pure overhead.

Apple aims for symmetry, by keeping the top and bottom bezels the same height:


Symmetry is a bad idea, since it makes the phone bigger. And because an asymmetric look will make it easier to tell which side is up when you pick the phone up from a table. So, Apple should get rid of most of the top bezel, leaving just enough for the camera and speaker and whatever the second black dot is. Probably three-fourth of the bezel can be removed.

Perhaps the bottom bezel can be made smaller, too, by reducing or eliminating the space above and below the home button, unless it’s needed for usability. Perhaps the home button can be made elliptical or rectangular to reduce its height. Yes, the iPhone home button is iconic, but so what? Let’s make progress rather than getting stuck in the past.

Apple should look at the best phone in terms of screen-to-bezel ratio, and beat it, or at least match it. The iPhone 6 wastes 34% of its area on its bezel, which is huge, while the LG G3 wastes only 24%. And the Sharp Aquos wastes only 21% space on the bezel. Apple should try to beat the best, or at least match it.

In summary, the iPhone 6 is extremely well-designed, but there are several obvious avenues for further improvement in its industrial design.

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