Counterpoint: “Hello”, Don’t Change the Design



Pete’s post yesterday, “Hello: Macs Are About to Get Interesting Again“, was pure Mortensen: articulate, insightful, well researched, and on the topic of Apple needing to change designs, dead wrong.

While the Macbook / Pro line as well as the MacPro’s are essentially indistinguishable from their predecessors, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s a design philosophy that has powered BMW and Mercedes for a good long while. To that end, other than adding bling to satisfy a generation of new money rappers, Rolex has never fundamentally changed the design of the Datejust, Daytona, or Day/Date (aka President) watches.

The point: A classic is a classic.

Watch a television program. The majority of the time they show someone working on a laptop, it’s a Macbook Pro. Sure, it might have a Pear or an Orange on the back, and sometimes a nasty sticker of some sorts, but it’s identifiably a MBPro.

When a product’s design is raised in the cultural consciousness to be synonymous with the artifact it’s portraying (eg MBPro = Laptop), it becomes the archetype for that artifact. It means that whenever a consumer goes laptop shopping, their mental image for a laptop is of a Apple Macbook Pro, and any other purchasing decision they make will be an explicit compromise from the archetype.  This is not just a crazy theory of Leigh’s, Apple’s sales figures in the high-end laptop space prove this out.

Apple has attained this rarified place in the minds of consumers, with both the iPod and Macbook Pro lines. That is the very LAST time to fundamentally change a design.


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56 responses to “Counterpoint: “Hello”, Don’t Change the Design”

  1. ironymalfuction says:

    Let’s also not forget that the MacBook Pro line is virtually indistinguishable from the Aluminum PowerBook G4 line that was introduced in Sept *2003*. Other than the iSight, MagSafe and ExpressCard slot, Apple’s been using practically the same shell for nearly 5 years.

    It’s a good design. Why mess with it for the sake of messing with it?

  2. Jeff says:

    I totally agree with this when it comes to the Macbook Pro and the iMac. Both of these products have been refined to an excellent design. Each version will get thinner and have modest changes, but that’s it. I don’t see the need for a radical change.

    The Mac Pro, on the other hand, has lots of room to play with. I can certainly see a change there sometime soon. It could go a dozen different ways. Likewise, the Macbook should embrace it’s purely consumer-level nature and change shape and colors as often as the iPod Nanos do.

    So I kind of see this both ways. Some Macs should be updated, but others (including the MBP) are just perfect where they are.

  3. razmaspaz says:

    Your whole argument is that because everyone on TV uses a MacBook Pro that it has become the example of a laptop? Apple is paying for 90% of those product placements. Go back 20 years and Apple has been the “preferred” computer of Hollywood all that time. Remember the movie Assassins with Stalone and Banderas? That movie was FULL of Powerbooks, are you saying Apple should still have that black look to all their laptops because Sylvester Stalone is the epitome of cool?

  4. Doug says:

    Yeah BUT….

    Each iteration of the Mac line has been embraced by Hollywood, not just the MBP. In each episode of Seinfeld, Jerry always has the last desktop mac on the desk in his apartment (including the 20th Anniv. Mac at one point)

    In You’ve Got Mail, Meg and Tom are typing away on black PPC’s. And on and on and on….each design change can be cataloged in cinema and television alike.

    So, what’s to stop Apple from continuing the trend? A new design (with added bling) will always garner more press, more celluloid exposure and thus more sales….which of course is what they want.

    Also, remember the iPod Mini? In his keynote ‘ol Jobsey notes that it’s the most popular MP3 player and what other companies are trying to emulate… what did they do? They retired it in that same keynote and brought out the Nano.

    This is THE time for change, especially on the white hot heels of the iPhone.


  5. AAPLWatcher says:

    I disagree. The reality is the 15″ PPC Aluminum notebook design gets its form from the absolutely stuffing of the internal space with components, as was necessary at that time in history. Today’s MBP’s are filled with compact components and….dead space. Apple isn’t just about form-they are about form and function working in concert.

    Besides, the MacBook Air is new, and it is already iconic. We have every reason to believe the next iterations of the MB and MBP will set new standards of what a notebook should look like.

    (and as a footnote to the previous story-its obvious that the reason the ID hasn’t changed on so many products lately is because of the bottleneck at the top: Everything goes thru Steve Jobs, and he seems totally involved in the iPhone the last two years (with a break for the Air) Hopefully with the iPhone 3G done, he’s refocused on the Mac line)

  6. Clint says:

    I just bought my first laptop, a Macbook several weeks ago and like it very much. I’m not sure just how much a change in design they can do. Personally, I never liked the keyboard or mouse on any laptop, including my Macbook. These are the areas that could use the most design changes. I hook up my Macbook to a desktop keyboard, mouse and monitor. Maybe another thing they can look at is the heat that is generated from the Macbook.

  7. Andrew DK says:

    Why are we just talking about how new mac will look? Isn’t it just as important how we interact with them? If any new technology is going to be a driver of from factor anytime soon it’s multi-touch.

    Sure, HDDs will be replaced with SDDs, optical drives will soon be found in museums and USB, firewire? ANY wire? Soon to be history.

    What I want to know is how is the Mac form factor going to adapt to this new type of interface. Will physical keyboards be replaced with a MT screen? Will iMacs have MT on their screens or have a separate MT device?

    The next generation of interface technology will probably be some sort of AI system. At that point we probably won’t even need a physical device for input.

    As a side note, I’m curious if Apple is planning on adopting super-thin, super-energy-efficient OLED technology into Macs anytime soon.

  8. Orlando says:

    Yes, the Macbook Pro designed is quite refined. But one problem that BMW usually doesn’t have to deal with is all other automakers morphing their designs to match BMWs. I am sitting at the Library right now and almost every computer arond me is either jet black, shiny or Matte, or aluminum silver with rounded edges. I can even see a few white ones!! Remember when Apple “owned” the white? So we are getting to the point where Apple is going to have to refresh their designs ( and everybody else will follow)

  9. spinoza says:

    It’s typical of Americans to want to change something for change’s sake, that’s why the Detroit auto industry churns out nothing but forgettable car models year after year. Apple pursues design much like European auto manufacturers in attempting to follow universal design principles based on function, that’s why BMWs, Mercedes, and MacBook Pros have a universal and ‘classic’ look to them. My first gen MacBook Pro still looks and *feels* beautiful, and if I had to buy a new computer right now, I would want one just like my three-year old MacBook Pro. Conditioning Walmart-loving Americans to crave throw-away design is a marketing ploy, and Apple’s resisting the regular cries for changing its models is one of the reasons why they’re so admired.

  10. imajoebob says:

    I think you nailed it. Of course, then fact that your thesis supports mine about MacBooks may slant my reaction. The white iBook was just as iconic – in fact, white Macs were iconic for the affordable end of the product line. The black MB might as well have a Dell or Gateway logo on it.

    Since the driving forces in notebook design are no longer components, but ergonomics – need a standard keyboard and a minimum screen size, you can get thinner, but you can’t get smaller.

    As Tommy Magliozzi put it so well on Car Talk, “If it ain’t broke, don’t break it.”

  11. iDave says:

    Agreed. The little changes that occurred from iBook G3 to G4 to Macbook were the kinds of changes that should take place. Refining, not overhauling. To look at an HP sticker-laden laptop is to look on in horror. Apple laptops are beautiful. What could be simpler than plain white/silver/black with a glowing Apple logo on the back? I can’t imagine anything simpler or more elegant.

  12. Krapster says:

    I have to comment on this: “It’s typical of Americans to want to change something for change’s sake, that’s why the Detroit auto industry churns out nothing but forgettable car models year after year.”

    That’s bigotry.

    And as far the parallel to “European auto manufacturers”; it used to be true that you could always recognize, say, a Mercedes or a BMW. But nowadays, Mercedes produces cars like the A-class/B-class front wheel drive blobs that look as bland as anything out of Korea. And didn’t you notice the uproar when BMW introduced the hideous Bangle-designed 7-series a few years ago?

    The one thing that absolutely, positively identifies an Apple computer is what? Right, the Apple logo. Ever since the original iMac, every single computer manufacturer has been imitating Apple (very very badly). Same thing with the iPod.

    The question isn’t whether Apple should update their case designs. You know they will. The MacBook Pro form factor, however, is now so iconic that the changes to that particular product will be very, very subtle, and besides: What would you prefer? The same box, only 20-30% faster, or a new box with same-same componentry? You know the answer.

    The only thing I’d really like to see from Apple right now is the mythical “MacMid” – a more affordable, decently expandable desktop Mac.

    “Nothing but forgettable car models year after year.”? Have you seen the 05 Ford Mustang? The Chrysler 300C? The Solstice? The upcoming Challenger?

    I’m not even an American, but at least I have eyes.

  13. Joel Fagin says:

    Why do people not trust Apple to know what they’re doing in design? I mean, seriously, think about that for a second. This is *Apple*.

    I’m happy for them to do whatever they want for whatever reasons they want. They have long earnt my trust on the design front.

  14. Ian T says:

    no no no no no!

    Even though the MacBook Pro is the best looking laptop out there I wouldn’t mind a new one! It hasn’t changes its design for the LAST FIVE YEARS! Don’t you think its time for somewhat of a makeover. Its time to move on. And it will be embraced by the movie studios no matter what it is. Honestly, I think your argument is weak. To me, its like when they introduced the iPod Touch last fall along with the iPod Classic. iPod Touch is completely different design than the Classic. And you obviously want the classic more than the touch, the new design.

    Its time to move on. Bring in the new design!

  15. MB says:

    Krapster, you really need to calibrate your understanding of the word “bigotry.”

  16. Hal S. says:

    I just saw the NEW Mercedes and BMWs and they are beautiful. New, more streamlined designs and very, very stylish. But if you think the designs of these vehicles don’t change you need to look at them again.

    Innovation is good and Apple needs a refresh on the laptops. Look at the updates on the iPod line. Each is more beautiful than the last. I even like the “fatboy” Nano now.

    It’s past time for an update.

  17. DJ says:

    I think we’re mostly agreeing on evolution as a good design strategy for the way forward, rather than simply binning old stuff.

    Referring to German cars, it’s certainly been the case for Porsche – a 2008 model is demonstrably a sibling of its 1970s forebear.

    Even so… Porsches have evolved dramatically over the years, and change is built into their strategy.

  18. Thomas says:

    Thouch screens, that’s what I want. What’s the big hold-up?

  19. Camperton says:

    Forget radical redesign, how about making rubber feet that don’t fall of so easily (or at all for that matter)!! You’d think after 5 years of refining the design of their flagship notebook line they would have gotten around to that by now. But no!

  20. John says:

    I agree 100%. The current MacBook Pro design is beautiful. Black keyboards are ugly. Don’t just for the sake of change. I’d be ok if the shape was made more streamline, but this black strips and black keyboards are just awful. My response: I’ve bought the latest MacBook Pro 2.5 GHz, and will make that last as long as possible, if the future designs look pathetic.

    You know, Apple’s design changes are not always the best. For example, who is the ego-maniac at Apple who authorised the removal of the matte antiglare screen from the iMac, when there are numerous people who demand matte screens?

    Even when there are many people who dislike black keyboards, once someone at Apple’s dictatorship gets into their head that black keyboards are in, it is then forced on us.

  21. Peetz says:

    Anything, but please don’t bring in black keyboards. They’re plain awful. Someone in Apple likes them, but we don’t.

  22. dggraphics says:

    Apple’s designs have become timeless.

    Look at Eames, Le Corbusier, Noguchi; Their designs have stood the test of time. Sure, the designs have been emulated but there is still something innately desirable about them.

  23. Tim says:

    Personally I think the current macbook pro design is bland, silver and generic. Sure it’s sleak and aluminium. A good design, but it’s just not stunning.

    Remember when the Titanium Powerbook came out? That was stunning, unlike anything before, and it still looks great today.

    There’s also a few flaws with the current design:
    – Screen can’t bend back far enough, not good for sitting knees up on the couch.
    – Heavy
    – Microphone too close to the speakers
    – Needs the new keyboard and trackpad

    Can’t be long until the new design! I’m hoping it will have glossy black like the iMac.

  24. Matt C says:

    I think the article makes a good point about so-called design classics and the ability of these classics to ingrain themselves into people’s consciousness. However, products don’t have to remain the same aesthetically to remain a design classic. Look at the iPod. No one can possibly argue that it’s not a design classic. When the original iPod came out, people were falling over themselves to proclaim its beauty, and it’s ease of use (which, never forget, is all part and parcel of what constitutes good design) and they still are, even though the iPod has changed since its first incarnation, although never in huge steps. DJ used the Porsche example, which is a good one here. There has never been a complete design overhaul, Porsche has just updated smaller details here and there. This is what really needs to be done to create a design classic. It’s not about choosing a design and sticking with it when the media, or whoever else, deigns it to be a classic, it’s about making those small changes that don’t spoil the user friendliness of the machine (and maybe even improve it – Multi Touch anyone?), but slightly improve the way it looks, and at the same time making sure that Apple stays ahead of the competition.

  25. Alex says:

    I remember seeing the G5/Intel iMacs and going, “Wow. That’s the coolest looking thing in the world. No way they could ever improve on that!”

    Now, the new iMac has made me realize that no matter how advanced, simple and neat a design may appear to be, there will always be room for a special industrial designer to come in and make you change your mind.

  26. Andrew says:

    Actually in “You’ve Got Mail”, only Meg had a Mac, Tom had a ThinkPad, another computer that has become an icon.

    Macs have always been stylish, but they haven’t ever changed designs purely for the sake of change, rather their designs have changed when emerging technology warranted it. Look at the PowerBooks of the early 90s, they were essentially the same styles from their introduction in 1991 until the advent of the touchpad in 1994. From 1994’s BlackBird models though the original G3 Kanga, changes in styling were as evolutionary as they were going from Titanium to aluminum to MBP.

    Even the iBook to MacBook transition is evolutionary, mostly dictated by the move away from conventional screens toward widescreen displays.

    That the MacBook is a computer model and the MBP professional is also a blurry line these days. Go to any high school or college and you will see plenty of MBPs around, just as you will also see plenty of so-called consumer MacBooks in big business. I am an attorney and carry a black MacBook, not because of its price, but because of its combination of features, size and the fact that polycarbonate cases don’t dent as easily as aluminum ones do (please no metal MacBooks).

    I’d like to see more change in Apple’s design, but as always, make it evolutionary. When the MacBook was introduced everyone made a bit deal about its revolutionary design. The MacBook is still fresh after only 2 years, so no need for radical updating. The MBP, on the other hand, could use some evolutionary changes. Nothing wild and crazy, but a significantly larger touchpad would be nice.

  27. Slippy Douglas says:

    True, but many classic brands go back and forth between reinventing and refining what they’ve already done. The best car example I can think of is Porsche: their late 90’s/early 2000’s 911s looked drastically different, but their current 911 looks more like the classic style from the 70’s and 80’s.

    Also, everything you’ve said here was true a decade ago of the PowerBook G3 Series (Wallstreet, PDQ, Lombard, Pismo), although their run only lasted 3 years and one processor generation. I remember seeing them in nearly every TV show and movie; a few Kangas and PCs sprinkled in, but mostly the “G3 Series” with their the curvy black bodies. They were the icon to follow, until Apple did something completely different, of course.

  28. Anon says:

    The author is right – perfection needs no perfecting. The 15″ MBP is the closest thing to heaven on earth… well maybe a tad lighter, better battery life and a higher res screen but keep the silver and stay far away from black!