March 7, 2013

My iPhone 5 – Beautiful object average design

Now, there are many iPhone 5 reviews and critiques out there, mostly focusing on the specs, performance and OS, with only a small section devoted to the physical domain. Well, not this one. This review focuses solely on the physical, tactile world of the iPhone 5.
Some quick background: I recently upgraded from a 4-year-old Sony phone, so you can see I’m not in the early adopter category. I’ve had my iPhone 5 for about a month, and I try to use it on the go, sitting at my desk, on the couch and in the car (not while driving of course).



At first impression there is no denying it this is a beautiful object. From afar, I love the stealth, monolithic form, the elegant x, y proportions, and the thinness gives it intrigue. Combine this with the lack of obvious detail and low contrasting finishes; it really entices you to want to just pick it up, then just use the light to make the subtleties come alive.



Zoom in closer and the Industrial Designer in me is in awe. The quality of the craftsmanship, and the fit and finish are truly amazing. If you get out a magnifying glass the details are exquisite; whether it’s the super fine mesh in the earpiece, the 0.3mm chamfer edge on the volume button, or the glossy product graphics against the matte background. All of this equates to one beautiful object, that truly speaks to Dieter Rams design theory: “as little design as possible”.



Fast-forward to now, after about a month of use, and my first impressions still hold true. But, the Holy Grail light that shone from behind my new phone is sadly, a little dimmer. For a device that is used primarily in the hand, iPhone 5 is not human hand friendly. A case in point is that picking it up requires you to squeeze your pincer grip harder than you would like, due to the smooth walls and not having an edge to grip.



iPhone 5’s utility also requires some skill due to the lack of functional texture on it’s back.



Now, these functional issues maybe acceptable for a device that is infrequently handled like an alarm clock or even a portable speaker but for a product like this I think it’s poor design.

Where to from here? Well, it really saddens me (and probably the Apple design department) to do what everybody else does. But it seems like the only quick fix to my frustration is: The Dreaded Case! Can it still be beautiful? Maybe. But certainly not with the same ‘as little design as possible’ ethos.  I’ll miss the design purity, but at least it will be easier to use.