I admire Apple.

As much as I badmouth some of their decisions to remain exclusionary and the blind exuberance of Apple fanboys, I really do admire them as a company (besides the fact that they are single handily carrying my stock portfolio right now).

I don’t admire Apple as a tech company.  They’re hardware rarely has bleeding edge specs,  I actually do not consider them early adopters for the most part, and from a sheer numbers standpoint most of their products are … OK.

I will admit, I do admire them some as a business.  Instead of running to get market share and diluting the brand in the process, they are perfectly happy focusing on being highly profitable and having great margins.  If there is one thing that being in business school has taught me and something that 75% of the general population often doesn’t get is that … you don’t always have to win on market share.

But, this post isn’t about sound business principles … it’s about beauty.

Yes … beauty.

I admire Apple because they strive dearly to uphold the beauty of technology.  They do it at a great cost of openness and extensibility, but it does seem (according to their market cap) that sometimes it’s worth it.

For us “techies”, it’s easy for us to get lost in the world of technical specs.  I care about how many GB’s of storage I’m getting, how much RAM I can play with, and how many clocks per second I can compute, whether a cellphone, MP3 player, or computer.

But does it really matter?

I own a MacBook Pro.  And I must admit … it is beautifully usable.

The beauty of the system isn’t simple a matter of lines and edges, or slick little animations, but there is often added usability behind the beauty.

My keyboard lights up, which looks really nice, but also helps me to see the keys in dimly lit environments.  I didn’t realize how many dimly lit environments I worked in until I got a keyboard that pointed it out.  The trackpad is one piece.  It’s nice to see no buttons and a relatively flush surface, but it is also the only usable trackpad in the laptop market (the gestures have a lot do with this also).  I was afraid not having buttons would get annoying, but this is the first laptop where I don’t feel the need to use a physical mouse.  The dock in Mac OS X is very … pretty.  But it is also a very good implementation of an application taskbar.  So good that windows decided to take it.  And then there is the unibody case.  It really does look nice and is great to behold.  It also seems to have a smaller footprint than similarly sized notebooks, and actually feels pretty good to carry.  The lack of a latch with the case lid is actually an extremely good system.

Now don’t get me wrong, things aren’t perfect.  The lack of USB, HDMI, VGA, etc ports is utterly infuriating. The fact that I have to carry around a separate adapter to use a monitor is annoying.  The adapter that is meant to save my computer from being pulled off a table (it’s never save me) also falls out a little to easily.  And I have noticed a drop in the radio reception of my wi-fi antenna, which is apparently a result of all this aluminum.

So, while I will continue on my anti-iPhone warpath.  While I continue to admire Apple with one part of me and look on with disdain with the other, I do admire the beauty of their hardware and software.

More importantly, why hasn’t this caught on?  Why do I often find many software and hardware products still in need of a good usability engineer.  Why is it that other places refuse to take some of the time and care in releasing products?  When I truly think of companies that place a premium on good looking electronics, I am hard pressed to find one.

Maybe it is all a pipe dream.  Maybe I should be happy with cheap hardware that is effective and works well.  Maybe if I want elegance I should stick with high-end products that sell at a noticeable premium (*cough* Apple & Sony *cough*).

Is there a need in the tech industry to focus more on beauty?  Is having beautiful gadgetry an necessity or a nice to have?

– Damien Peters