Why so many of Apple’s design ‘innovations’ make its products worse

JP Mangalindan
Chief Tech Correspondent
Apple’s newer, flatter keyboard is definitely usable but ultimately less ergonomic.

Apple (AAPL) has lost that magic touch.

For years, the Cupertino, California-based tech company prided itself on making devices of such unparalleled industrial design that they were the envy of many shoppers around the world as well as its competitors. And while Apple blew past expectations when it reported earnings on Thursday — and the iPhone X will likely become another bestseller — the company has arguably lost its laser-focused attention to detail.

Indeed, if the late Steve Jobs was all about brutal, unrelenting perfectionism and simplicity, he might detest some of the design choices Apple is making now.

To be sure, GBH Insights analyst Daniel Ives predicted in October the iPhone X will sell a whopping 50 million units during this year — up from 40 million previously. However, that still doesn’t take away from its most polarizing feature: a large “notch” at the smartphone’s front that allows some of the display to reach the top.

Several outlets and pundits have complained about the design choice, including longtime Apple loyalists like John Gruber.

“It offends me,” he complained in a blog post. “It’s ungainly and unnatural. Clearly, the ideal of an ‘all-screen’ design — to use Apple’s own words — has no notch at all.”   

Other cracks in the visage

Elsewhere, there are cracks in the visage, too. Its Apple Watch Series 3 was supposed to be a big step forward but got tripped up by early reviews from critics who complained of spotty cellular reception and poor battery life.

Last year, Apple launched the iPhone 7 without the traditional headphone jack and forced users to either go wireless or use a new kind of wired Airpods that plug in through the Lightning connector. That’s all well and good, given Apple isn’t the first smartphone maker to do so, and it certainly won’t be the last. But Apple’s lack of a wholly unified vision for its product line is problematic. Its smartphones don’t have the traditional headphone jack, but its new MacBooks and MacBook Pros still do, forcing users to carry around a small dongle or two different sets of earbuds. Otherwise, they are forced to go wireless altogether — a pricey proposition for some consumers.

Since Apple killed the headphone jack, the unsightly dongle has unfortunately become a way of life for many users. These users can’t charge a newer iPhone and listen to music on wired earbuds at the same time without one. Also, Apple’s 12-inch MacBooks only sport 1 USB-C port, meaning you’ll need a dongle for that, too, if you want to multi-task with several devices.

Thinner isn’t always better

As for the latest MacBooks and MacBook Pros themselves, they work just fine. But Apple seems to operate under the assumption that thinner is usually better, when it isn’t. Its endless march towards designing the thinnest notebook possible means something had to give, and in that case, it’s the keyboard.

The MacBook and MacBook Pros’ newer, flatter keyboard is nowhere near as satisfying to use as the ones found on older MacBook Pro and MacBook Air models. Useable? Yes. Equally as comfortable? No. What does it say when typing on an older 2015 MacBook Pro is more satisfying than this year’s model? Certainly not anything good.

But perhaps one of the most egregious design flaws exists is Apple’s wireless Magic Mouse 2. The only way to charge is by turning it upside down and plugging in a cord, rendering it impossible to use while charging. (And in fact, it’s the only Apple product you can’t use while charging.)

Granted, Apple still has a few innovations going for it. Its geeky-looking Airpods are something Jobs would be proud of. They just work.

But the same can’t be said of some of Apple’s other products, which aren’t in the same untouchable league as they have been in years past.

JP Mangalindan is a senior correspondent for Yahoo Finance covering the intersection of tech and business. Email story tips and musings to jpm@oath.com. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook.

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