Saturday, 5 June 2010

Better Buy Design - My Techno Heros


Sir Alan Sugar has made few serious mistakes in his successful career but the Amstrad Emailer must be one of the biggest. Previously Sugar had pioneered the "consumerization" of techy products and his Company was just about the first to offer a home Computer in the UK which actually had a plug pre-fitted to it. He became obsessed with the concept of offering a simple anybody-can-use-it home computer and email system but made a desperate misjudgement with the Emailer from the moment it was launched in 2000 by trying too hard to make it simple and ironically making it far too complex. The Manual with the first one ran to 150 pages and later manuals bore the legend "You have no chance of operating this item without reading the instructions".

No, Sir Alan is not my Techno hero.

Just 3 years before the Emailer was launched, Steve Jobs returned to Apple, the Company he co-founded but had been ousted from ten years previously. In the 90's Apple had made a lot of bad decisions and whilst it still had a lot of ardent followers in the niche of graphic design had become a very minor player in the Technology field against the mighty and all-powerful  Microsoft. Then Steve Jobs returned.

And look what happened last week:

Yes, Apple have overtaken Microsoft in capital size.

Absolutely key to this amazing achievement was his early appointment of a young chap from Chingford as Vice President of Industrial Design, Jonathan Ive. This diffident and retiring genius of design, nurtured and supported by Jobs, was behind the iMac, the Powerbook, the iPod, the iPhone and most recently the iPad. Not a bad CV by anyone's standards.

Whilst Microsoft were stuck on a one-trick Operating System pony and seeing their Cash Cows like Word and Excel undermined by the the drift to Google's tempting cloud-computing, Jobs and Ive set about reinventing Apple as one of the most dominant communication Companies in the World.

Jonathan Ives brought colour and style to Apple's Computer offerings with the distinctiveness and freshness of the iMac but the real flair for packaging technology came with the move to music players in October 2001 with the iPod. This just over a year after the very first Amstrad Emailer hit an unsuspecting market.

The very essence of the iPod's success was minimalism, the simplification of design down to its very essence and almost automatically producing a design icon as a result. Just look at the simple "wheel" control which does everything you need! Minimalism must be combined with ruthless functionality and ease of use, and this is where Apple's products have scored so highly...they do not need 150 page manuals, in fact they hardly require any instruction at all because they are so intuitive. 

The logical move up to the iPhone just 3 short years ago drop-kicked Apple into the top 3 Mobile Phone Companies in the World within 12 months. As a "late adopter" I have tried several alternative smart phones over the last two years and all have come with long-winded manuals and have taken hours of setting up - the iPhone was such a revelation to me in the way everything, every tiny detail, has been carefully thought through and made to look almost effortless. It is by far the best technical product I've ever owned and I can't wait to get my hands on an iPad.

So Ive & Jobs, you are my techno heroes. Congratulations on doing a brilliant job.

Sir Alan? You're fired.

21 comments:

Geoff said...

Excel is the best thing Microsoft came up with. I just can't get enough of it.

The iPad looks too heavy to hold with one hand as you stroke its face with your other hand. But it does look good.

I don't really NEED an iPhone now. Do I?

Macy said...

I'm still so in love with my iPhone I don't have eyes for any other new fangled device.
Love at first stroke - because it does everything so beautifully.

Dave said...

It was my Amstrad PCW that really got me into writing documents on a computer (rather than playing games on my ZX81).

You can blame lord Sugar for my blog.

Rog said...

Geoff: I agree - Excel Excels and much fitter for purpose than bloated Word. You defo need an iPhone - you could tweet from the train, post live pics and listen to Guardian Podcasts for a start. And the weather app saves you looking out the window...

Macy: It is so well structured isn't it? One of the key things they've also done is take away the ability of the user to mess about with the setting too much and thereby crash it.

Dave: Welcome back! It's very sweet of you to remember Lord Sugar so fondly.

Roses said...

I had an Amstrad back in the days...wouldn't have anything else from his stable that's for sure.

I've recently gone over the iPod side and am not completely won over. The software is quite proprietory. However, as it currently holds pretty much all of my digital music (25G of it, with space for much, much more), I'm not complaining too much.

Christopher said...

That bloke Clive Sinclair has just knocked at the door, trying to sell me a miniaturised stairlift (with optional juicer app.) that will whisk me upstairs and deposit me straight into a side-opening bath with my swimming things on. Should I buy? Please advise.

Rog said...

Roses: Amstrad was never "stable"! You should have gone for an iPod Touch and been a bit choosier in your playlists ;-)

Christopher: Most amusing. "Juicer" and "whisk" didn't escape me. Side opening baths upstairs are a recipe for Disaster my dear fellow. Or at least a flash flood on the stairs.

Zig said...

I love my iphone, love love love love; only the battery doesn't last long enough; I have to charge it every night, do you? And I also love my macbook but have to have MS office (for mac) on it so I can work with the LA and crapita. My ipod looks lovely but has remained a little twitchy since it went swimming. I think I may be sold on Apple . . .

Rog said...

Zig: You can chuck your iPod as everything is on the phone! I've just discovered the iTunes Remote App for controlling playback on your computer ....hold my quivering excitement!!!.... from the phone! Fabulous!

Rog said...

PS You're right about the battery. But that's only because I can't resist playing with the phone all day.

Zig said...

I have 4 1/2 pages of apps! Unfortunately I have downloaded the Battersea app and want the one-eyed kitten called March. Now looking for the itunes remote :)

Z said...

I am seriously considering buying a solar charger so that I can up the battery when out all day. I use my iPod on long journeys to spare the battery of my iPhone.

Those that sneer at Macs haven't actually owned them, have they?

Rog said...

Zig: I have 4 and a half pages too ... Must be a rule. I prefer the Argos app to Battersea.

Z: yes I used to mock Apple but they've now earned my undying devotion. I'm currently on the sofa blogging, checking eBay and controlling the upstairs computer iTunes playlist being wifi 'd downstairs to the stereo. Gadget heaven!

Jon Storey said...

I was sceptical about Apple "Gadgets & Gimmicks" until we bought an iMac.....


Perhaps there is a god after all?

Scarlet Blue said...

Hmmmm....
I like a little manual handling though.
Sx

Rog said...

Jon: Yep, I think there was something about Apple in the first book of the bible.

Scarlet: I hope you haven't had your appendix out.

Richard said...

I loved my Macintosh at work, I had an iMac at home but it blew up after a year and a half.

Most of the comments here still seem to echo what everyone always used to say - and what I used to vigorously defend - lovely to look at but there's a little problem...

I certainly agree with the intuitive nature of their design (intuitive insofar as you need to have a fair idea of what you're doing in the first place) but...is an iPad strictly necessary? There's no way I'll even consider getting something until it's a) reliable and b)got a practical use.

iBores in Private Eye this morning made me do a Tee Hee

Rog said...

Richard: I saw the iBores and did a wry smile. Couldn't possibly relate to that :->

Richard said...

Rog, there's no point in you getting an iPad anyway, you live in Norfolk. You'd probably have to go to Cambridge or Norwich every time you want to use it.

Madame DeFarge said...

I am a big Apple fan, much to my husband's chagrin. He doesn't understand them well enough, so poo-poos their supremacy.

rodriguezp said...

幽默並不是諷刺,它或許帶有溫和的嘲諷,卻不傷人,它可能是以別人,也可以用自己為對象。........................................