As I write this, Apple’s Mac OSX Leopard is nine hours from launch. The new operating system bulges with new features, many of them superfluous, others that will, in the terminology of these things, no doubt be considered “neat”. But if you were hoping that it would LOOK any better, you will be sorely disappointed. Leopard is even shinier, even more bevelled, even more everything than its predecessor. Surely it’s time that Apple offered us some more tasteful alternatives?
It’s been a good few months for Apple. In figures for the last quarter released last Monday, the company posted revenues of £3bn and looks set to have tripled its sales in five years. And, despite all the talk of iPhones and iPods, Apple’s computers were the star performers, selling 2.16 million units – more than in any other quarter in its history (although, to put this in perspective, Hewlett Packard sold 13 million machines).
It’s long been a cause for concern among designers that Jonathan Ive’s exteriors are not matched by what appears once the machines are switched on – it’s like having a brilliant architect build you a house, then filling it with World of Leather furniture. Sure it works well, but does it have to look so bad? As Apple becomes more popular (driven by the iPod and iPhone) so it becomes more populist in the look and feel of its interface. Designers will have to face up to this – they may have stuck by Apple in the lean times but, in the big scheme of things, they are going to become a less important constituency. But in the meantime, and in today’s web 2.0 spirit of customisation and openness, what about giving the user more control over how their machine looks?
I’m writing this post in WordPress. It will appear on our blog which looks the way it does thanks to a skin which our designer has placed over the WordPress skeleton below. All WordPress blogs are essentially the same underneath but all can look different thanks to this “skinning”. Couldn’t we do the same with Macs?
To avoid design anarchy, Apple could enlist some of the world’s best designers to create a range of approved skins for the interface. Perhaps you would choose the Peter Saville – looks beautiful, but you wouldn’t be able to get it to do much before 3pm. Or the Dieter Rams – at least the calculator would look better.
Or maybe there could just be a set of styles to choose from:
1, The Modernist
The desktop is divided into a strict Crouwel-ian grid: anything saved on it will be arranged in neat, exactly-spaced columns. All text in Helvetica. Only three colours – black, white and red. All icons rendered in simple line drawings.
2, The Smile In The Mind
For those who like a little more humour in the workplace, each icon will make use of a witty visual pun. In tribute to the master, all text rendered in a font created out of Alan Fletcher’s hand-lettering.
3, The Wallpaper Reader
Desktop by Vitra. Wastebasket – a Brabantia pedal bin. iTunes symbol – a Bang & Olufsen Beocenter.
4, The Nostalgic
Today’s functionality rendered in yesterday’s styling – a return to Susan Kare’s masterpiece.
Alternatively, just let Jonathan Ive do it.