Review: Designed by Apple in California

Well, this was unexpected…


A short time ago, Apple released a new product; no, it isn’t a computer, in fact, it isn’t electronic at all. It’s a book, and a beautiful book at that. Titled Designed by Apple in California, the book chronicles the last 20 years of Apple product design, with a suave introduction by none other than Chief Design Officer Jony Ive. The photos were taken by Andrew Zuckerman.


Upon hearing of the book, I knew that I had to have it. I already possess Iconic: A Photographic Tribute to Apple Innovation, by Jonathan Zufi, and that does a fantastic job of tracing Apple’s entire product history. A book by Apple, however, is unique and intriguing. It is both a product in its own right and an ingenious marketing tool.

Apple’s own effort, eight years in the making, is somewhat different from Iconic in the sense that it only focuses on the last 20 years. Apple doesn’t often look back, as many analysts have noted. In this case, however, it has looked back to the point of Apple’s metaphorical ‘rebirth’, with the return of co-founder Steve Jobs. The book is even dedicated to him.

Before even opening the packaging, it’s a product to behold. The outer packaging is in fact a part of the overall book product, acting as a protective cover and with an elegant Apple product decoration on the inside.

Apple’s signature pull-tab on the box, which tears cleanly down the middle of the packaging
Packaging that functions as part of the product
An elegant, ‘whole-book dust jacket’, so to speak…

The design of this book is very impressive, as it uses ‘specially milled German paper with gilded matte silver edges’. These page edges beautifully mimic the aluminium sheen of Macs’ unibody enclosures.

Even the ink on the inside has been considered, as certain product images act differently under direct light. Take, for example, the first product that is featured: the iMac from 1998. The computer’s translucent plastic body remains matte on the page, whilst holes in the body and chrome finishes reflect light as the page is turned. This is an outstanding effect, and one can’t help but think of the more skeuomorphic design that was used in earlier versions of OS X and iOS. These printed images behave like the real-world products that they represent, just as digital buttons, icons and finishes once represented the real. This style was eventually replaced with the more minimalistic, flat design that we know today, but it makes complete sense now in a book that attempts to showcase design, without the actual products in front of the reader.

The photo doesn’t do it justice, but notice the shininess of the blue in contrast to the matte white.

If you’re curious to have a closer look at this hardcover book, you’ll have to visit one of only a selection of Apple stores. I visited the Sydney store on George Street, where both the large and small versions were displayed on custom book stands close the Apple Watch tables.

The small version, which I purchased, cost AU$289. Whilst quite expensive, the price is ultimately reflected in the quality of the product. Check out the book online here.

Some analysts and fans are concerned about the amount of retrospection that Apple has been doing of late (e.g. the recent MacBook Pro reveal video). I’m not concerned, in fact, I’m excited. Apple’s strength has always been in communicating its brand and product stories, and this is another way of doing precisely that. The company is recalling its past and understanding where its successes (and failures) lie.

Looking back at this company’s past makes me even more excited about its future.

The iPod lives on…

For years now, iPod sales have been declining. The reasons are obvious: cannibalisation by the iPhone; and the rise of music streaming over the purchase/download model. While we see fewer and fewer iPods these days, they do appear regularly in a number of different contexts. The first examples that come to mind are those who use iPods with older docking stations with 30-pin connectors, and people who enjoy exercising with iPod nanos and shuffles.

Perhaps the most intriguing situation is one that I have seen numerous times on public transport: people using iPod Classics and nanos for music consumption, all the while using their Android phones for apps and other general tasks. I consider this to be a sign of Apple’s influence in the broader music industry. Even with the plethora of music consumption choices on Google’s Play Store, be it Spotify, Pandora, Guvera or some other service, there is a significant number of people who stick to the tried-and-true model of downloading songs from iTunes and syncing with an iPod.

We can speculate about the reasons for this. Perhaps it’s just easier for these users to stick with what works. Maybe they like to keep their old iPods (or even buy new ones) for exercise. They may even prefer to have an alternative music source in case their smartphone battery dies.

I think there’s a deeper meaning.

I believe that this (specific) continued use of iPods is an indication of Apple’s brand power, as well as the significance of music ownership. During the Jobs era, Apple clearly established itself as the home of digital music: a legal, accessible alternative to worrisome services at the time, like Napster. This dominance has since been challenged, particularly by Spotify, however Apple is quickly growing its newest service, Apple Music, with millions of paid subscribers. For these persistent iPod users, Apple continues to be the best place to find music. iTunes remains to be a service that they can trust, no matter how bloated it might have become. Considering that some (not all) Android users dislike iPhones, it’s fascinating to see how a subset of users cling to these Apple devices even when their smartphones can do so much more, all in the one package.

On the topic of music purchasing versus streaming, there is something to be said about owning your music. While I love using Apple Music now, prior to its introduction I was vehemently against streaming. The idea of paying a subscription fee rather than maintaining purchasing habit seemed ridiculous to me. I’ve converted now (and I’m happy that I did), as access to such a broad library of 30 million songs, along with curated radio stations and playlists, is just too appealing. I can understand, however, why others may not be so willing. Owning stuff feels more familiar and secure.

I have always been and will continue to be a fan of the iPod. After the iMac, which reinvigorated a dying company in 1998, the iPod was the beginning of Apple’s truly magnificent success in the early 2000s, leading up to today with the iPhone, iPad and Apple Watch. No one else had ever achieved the level of integration in consumer electronics and services that Apple did at the time, and that’s still the case. Alphabet (Google), Microsoft, Amazon and Facebook all offer comprehensive services and ecosystems, but no one offers the whole widget like Apple does.

The iPod’s influence was so huge that it is still felt today, and it seems that even some devoted Android smartphone users haven’t forgotten this.

Ahh clickbait… (sigh)

Time and time again, I’m disappointed by the state of tech journalism online. Not a day goes by when someone feels the need to write a false or sensational article about a technological consumer product. All tech companies, big and small, are targets for such articles; Google, Facebook, Microsoft and Amazon all cop a huge amount of criticism. Apple, though, seems to have a special place reserved as the target for baseless, ‘journalistic’ drivel.

Take, for example, the recent article Apple Watch will ruin your life and I’m ashamed to have one on my wrist… shared by Independent from The Washington Post, the writer attempts to convince his readers that the Apple Watch is a complete waste of money.

I understand that wearables aren’t for everyone, and even within this category of products, people have their perfectly justified preferences for Apple, Google Android, Pebble, Fitbit and others. Even as an Apple fan, I’m not so blindly entranced by the brand that I can’t see the advantages of other products and the shortcomings of Apple’s own.

Unfortunately, this piece is purely one of sensational opinion, designed to attack Apple, seemingly only because of some kind of tall poppy syndrome (I assume). The writer criticises the ‘slowness’ of Apple Watch, without so much of a reference to the fact that it is a first-generation product, or the fact that Apple has worked to achieve 7x faster app launch with the upcoming watchOS 3. Much of the ‘slowness’ up until now has been present mostly in third-party apps, and has been a result of Apple’s conservative use of memory in order to maximise battery life. It turns out that they over-shot and have plenty of memory to spare.

There’s also a lazy claim that Apple has “failed to capture the attention of the wider public”. This is baseless, because Apple hasn’t even released any official sales data to which the writer could refer. Furthermore, numerous analysts and statistical organisations have cited a huge jump in global smartwatch sales, spurred on by Apple Watch. Before Apple Watch, the wearable category was without a story or design standard. As some form of evidence, according to Strategy Analytics, smartwatch sales sky-rocketed 316 per cent between Q4 of 2014 and Q4 of 2015. Juniper also stated that Apple Watch accounted for over 50 per cent of smartwatch sales in all of 2015. Take this data as you will, but it’s certainly more evidence than what the clickbait article offers.

Disappointingly, the writer also inserts (without much of a subtle link or segue), a video with the caption: ‘Can Samsung beat the Apple Watch?’. What does this have to do with the quality of the watch? This article isn’t so much a fair critique of the product and where it can go in the future. It’s pure clickbait that attempts to perpetuate a meaningless dichotomy of Apple and Samsung in the tech space. Samsung is not Apple’s only competitor, and there are many companies doing interesting things out there than just these two companies.

I respect the opinion of this writer. If he doesn’t enjoy his Apple Watch, that’s totally fine. I just wish that tech journalists would lift their game in reporting on the strengths and weaknesses of products, regardless of who designs them, so that consumers can make informed decisions that will benefit their digital lives.