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What happened to Apple design?

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Unapologetically bad

Apple today announced its very own battery cases for the iPhone 6 and 6S. And where Apple design chief Jony Ive and crew may have seen a practical way to improve the devices' longevity, the rest of the world saw a terribly designed case — one that makes your smartphone look as if it's undergoing some type of painful evolution into a crappier product. The case is another misfire from the company often lauded for its revelatory design and just the latest instance in a series of confounding Apple hardware decisions.

It's not that Apple is ruining its core products — the iPhone is still as gorgeous as ever, and many Mac and iOS accessories still look and feel like premium, well-made tech. But increasingly Apple products seem to come with compromises that make you wonder what the company was thinking when the idea was pushed through the countless iterations in its design process.

Read more: Apple’s new $99 iPhone battery case doesn’t measure up

Take, for instance, the iPad Pro. Putting aside the tablet's monstrous screen size, the device is only more capable than other iPads thanks to a keyboard case cover and a responsive stylus called the Pencil. Yet both accessories can only be used with the iPad Pro in the most awkward of ways. To charge the Pencil, you must insert it into the Lightning connector on the bottom of the tablet in a way that makes it clear any sudden shift would all but certainly snap the stylus in two, or at least severely damage its tail end.

Then there's the keyboard bulge. Unlike Microsoft's Surface Type Cover, which lies relatively flat against the body of the device, Apple's iPad Pro Smart Cover keyboard has an odd hump that you can't flatten out due to the punchiness of the keys and Apple's insistence that they sit elevated above the cover's surface. It tarnishes an otherwise excellent-looking device when a more slim and uniform option seems doable, especially when Microsoft has had one for years.

It's not limited to the iPad Pro or the iPhone, either. Apple's new Magic Mouse 2 is the first in its line of well-regarded mice to not need AA batteries, relying instead on charging via a standard iPhone Lightning connector. That's great news, until you observe how the device charges. Similar to the goofy way you must insert Apple's Pencil into the bottom of the iPad Pro, Apple asks Magic Mouse 2 users to flip the device on its back like a beetle with its legs in the air and plug in the cable. You cannot use the mouse this way, naturally, and it seems a strange choice considering wired mice have had cables running from their front ends for decades.

These are not deal breakers. Nobody should really use these grievances as reasons not to pony up for these accessories. The Pencil and the Magic Mouse 2 charge incredibly quickly, so its understandable the devices would be unusable during the charging process. It doesn't really matter what the iPad Pro looks like when it's not in use — it's just in your bag anyway. And the iPhone 6S battery case is not designed to make your phone look better; it's for giving you extra juice, which is arguably more important than how nice the device looks.

Apple used to pride itself on avoiding these kind of design compromises

But of course, all of these design decisions represent the kind of thinking that Apple used to pride itself on avoiding. A Steve Jobs-like attention to detail means even the smallest annoyances should be scrubbed from consumer technology to try and achieve perfection, and these accessories seem to say, "Well, we couldn't really find a better way, so we just went with it." The compromises seem like rough edges or shortcuts in place of the difficult decisions Apple used to be known for in an effort to set its products apart.

Though Apple seems to have introduced more obvious flaws in 2015 than in years past, you can trace the thought process back to the last year's iPhone 6. Prior to the 2014 iPhone, Apple's smartphones were neat and tidy appeals to clean geometry, full of straight lines and containing not a millimeter of extraneous components. But the iPhone 6's protruding camera marked the moment Apple's appeal to thinness trumped its ability to compress every inch of the phone to the ideal size. The company even appeared to scrub the camera bulge from marketing material following the launch.

The culprit was the camera bulge

I remember laying my iPhone 6 down flat on a table soon after purchasing it and noticing that it tilted slightly when I applied pressure to the top left corner. I was gripped by a sudden worry: maybe something is wrong, and perhaps I was one of the unlucky few whose screen had bent slightly in his pocket. After inspecting the phone for a few minutes, I realized the culprit was the camera bulge, and nothing could fix that particular Apple design decision.

So now I lay my iPhone face down when I'm working, just to keep it out of mind. It's the kind of compromise I imagine would have driven Steve Jobs crazy.


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