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Apple: Form vs. Function


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#1
Swad

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Apple computers are beautiful - there's little denying that. But what happens when appearance and function collide?

Sometimes they compliment each other. When designing the iPod, the form-factor was largely dictated by the size of the hard drive.

However, there have been many cases in which Apple's design team faced significant challenges in balancing aesthetics and power. One such example from the vast archives at folklore.org:

We started having weekly management meetings in June 1981, which were attended by most of the team, where we discussed the issues of the week. At the second or third meeting, Burrell presented an intricate blueprint of the PC board layout, which had already been used to build a few working prototypes, blown up to four times the actual size.

Steve started critiquing the layout on a purely esthetic basis. "That part's really pretty", he proclaimed. "But look at the memory chips. That's ugly. The lines are too close together".

George Crow, our recently hired analog engineer, interrupted Steve. "Who cares what the PC board looks like? The only thing that's important is how well that it works. Nobody is going to see the PC board."

Steve responded strongly. "I'm gonna see it! I want it to be as beautiful as possible, even if it's inside the box. A great carpenter isn't going to use lousy wood for the back of a cabinet, even though nobody's going to see it."

George started to argue with Steve, since he wasn't on the team long enough to know that it was a losing battle. Fortunately, Burrell interrupted him.

"Well, that was a difficult part to layout because of the memory bus.", Burrell responded. "If we change it, it might not work as well electrically".

"OK, I'll tell you what," said Steve. "Let's do another layout to make the board prettier, but if it doesn't work as well, we'll change it back."

So we invested another $5,000 or so to make a few boards with a new layout that routed the memory bus in a Steve-approved fashion. But sure enough, the new boards didn't work properly, as Burrell had predicted, so we switched back to the old design for the next run of prototypes.

The Great Debate is this: which should be sacrificed first, form or function? Does Apple worry too much about looks? Do other companies (Dell, etc) worry about looks too little?

#2
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i think that apple does good with focusing on looks and power (mac pro)

#3
joe75

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Form, never Function ;)

#4
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Completely agree with Crow, I don't care what it looks like, I'd rather have them design the inside for performance. if they have to design a computer shaped like a pyramid or like a monkey, i don't care as long as it makes it perform better (enought to warrant the wacky design). hmmm...shaped like a monkey

#5
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i wouldn't mind if the looks were not good but it is a bonus! (lol a monkey mac)

#6
jonz14

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Apple seems to focus mostly on form, if it was function they wanted they would have basic towers like everyone else. Unfortunately, Apple has used laptop parts in the iMac and Mac Mini which make them have a higher cost to power ratio. Being very limited on upgrading is also a problem, you can easily see there is no way to get a dedicated graphics card for a Mini. Prices of RAM are also higher since they use laptop parts in their desktops.

I support Apple for going for form though because I can't compare the look of an average computer compared to the way the 20" iMac looks. Even companies that make Mini-PCs that are similar to the Mac Mini don't compare the the Mini's style

#7
joe75

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Apple has used laptop parts in the iMac and Mac Mini which make them have a higher cost


They cost more because they have a little apple thingy on the side ;)

#8
toddicus

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Apple seems to focus mostly on form

you can easily see there is no way to get a dedicated graphics card for a Mini.


I wouldn't say they're 'mostly' form. I think they pay atention to details, just about all of them. Does it look good, does it run fast, does it have a great interface, etc. Back when I started college and brought along my dual G4, mp3's were still new and the PC guys in the dorm couldn't open a work document without their song skipping in windows. I played mp3s while running fricken filters in photoshop. Random example, but it was just very telling. They pay atention to form yes, thank goodness. But my gloating when I meet the 'proud' owner of a Dell doesn't stop there, I continue by showing them that it WORKS and works well.

On the mini, the fact is, it's a mini, not a powerhouse. You want to cut uncompressed 4:4:4 HD, then you're probably not suited to a mini. I know it might be nice but I guess the limited options on the mini don't bother me. That and the fact that the GMA950 in my MacBook runs aperture just fine.

My vote is both. If it means the 8-core mac is delayed a month or two, so Mr. Jobs can re-arrange the cores to fit Feng Shui then so be it. As long as he keeps cranking out the prettiest beast computers I've ever seen that's fine with me.

#9
spclffred

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We all know that apple makes most of they're money through the hardware and looks. But yes it "seems" that they focus more on form than function. But the whole jump to intel i think puts a big road block in the favoring form over functionality.

#10
joe75

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Apple wised up and teamed with a bigger company they could manipulate :hysterical:

#11
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I think Apple balances form and function quite well.

My PowerBook (Pismo, which does not say "G3" beneath or above the screen anywhere :D ) is a good laptop with reliable hardware. Despite the fact that it is made of plastic, there are no worries if I drop it because it has plenty of give to the casing. It is pretty easy to service one of these suckers yourself (as long as you have the guts to open it and poke it with screwdrivers) because among other things, the parts are designed to be easily accessible (only one philips head and one Torx screwdriver really needed, some parts have electrical pull tabs, the keyboard can be pulled off with fingers using the latches, etc.) and there is room on the inside. Heat isn't that much of a big issue in G3 and older PowerPC processors (anyone who's seen the laughable heatsinks inside them knows what I mean... a good many System 7/8/9 lockups might have been prevented with merely a better heatsink, though I'm not certain, that's just my experience), and I've never heard the internal fan come on, even after putting it on beds while compiling software willy nilly and using other usual notebook-to-fire adapters. This is because the keyboard, backside ports, and the bottom are all sufficient to carry heat out (unless you're one of those G4 upgrade people, in which case your processor unfortunately does generate more heat and the fan does come on a little).

Alas, my pismo finally did catch fire when (iiiironyyy) a loose piece of plastic lodged itself under the processor's location on the logic board and fried it (a freak accident basically, other people have had this problem, though).

After that, Apple's form-factors dictated less "round" and more "thin" (PC notebook people were doing this around the same, too, in an effort to squeeze profits out of the ever-growing portable computer market). Ever since then, the issues have been centered around getting more heat out to make things look prettier. In the process, the easy-open mechanisms on Apple laptops have gone away entirely, but they're thinner, brighter, faster, more modern, and more fragile.

In my opinion, Apple hardware is half the Mac experience. Windows under Boot Camp feels a lot better than Windows I've used on any other system except perhaps that first time I ran Windows 95 on my 486. The only really ucky thing was right-clicking (har dee har), but the truth is I prefer the one-button touchpad because I'm right-handed and I do not like reaching my thumb over to hit the left button but not the right button. Since Apple has taken efforts to ensure good right clicking over the past couple of years (Two-finger right click, and the Mighty mouse, which despite what lots of people say is pretty much good for everything except gaming... and only for freaks who need to differentiate between mouse buttons very very often and at the same time with really annoyingly quick response times for moving, shooter idiots. God, seriously they think gaming's all about them, eesh ;) ), I'd say that the function is all there once they release a Windows driver for the MacBook touchpad (so that it can do two-finger stuff and not be all wonky with the cursor near the right edge)

One last good point about Apple hardware form/functionality: it feels good to touch, unlike lots of other computers... I still can't help but grope this MacBook after using it since May.
One last bad point about Apple hardware form/functionality: The keyboard hits the screen on pretty much all Apple notebooks I've seen (pretty much since the G3 era), and not only does this get the screen dirty, it leaves smoothed out areas on matte screen surfaces (this is bad).

#12
Lostgame

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Apple does a great job of both, whereas other compaines fail.

Like Microsoft, and their xBox 360. They tried to make it look nice, but what was the result initially? :)

And some companies don't even try.

#13
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And that's the reason why Steve was ousted. He was a terrible buisnessman until he had a good 15 years of experience under his belt...

Now perhaps he realizes a balance is in order. If only they could get things right on the first try instead of the second...

#14
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I'd say Apple focuses a ton on form, and sadly, it's what brings in a lot of business. It really is nice having a great looking computer, but it would be incredibly off to say they aren't also great functioning computers. When it comes to their portables (the only mac ive ever owned) upgrading for my needs isn't difficult in the way of price along with the simple idea of that desired part being able to be upgraded. I really never intended to my MB for gaming, so I really don't need/want a better graphics card. To sum it all up, a great looking computer, with as little technical flaws that mine has, I'd to stick with the good looks and the same performance it has with no regrets.

#15
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If only they could get things right on the first try instead of the second...


Then they would not have made a lot of the smart decisions they have made today and would still be charging $1500 for the lowest model MacBook. =P

The thing that killed Apple? Really? Cost. Simply cost.

And that's what will make Apple the winner in this next-gen computer battle, Microsoft knows it's quickly losing market share-and Vista, in an attempt to fix that, will likely end in a massacre for them.

This next few years is going to be bloody, and a very good and cheap time to buy whatever computer you want-because each of the companies are going to be releasing hardware that's cheaper, trying to fight off the other company.

Another place where Microsoft loses is the hardware biz. In that, it's not involved with it whatsoever, whereas Apple has complete control over theirs. =P

#16
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I would say Apples complete control is one of the things that truly holds them back :2cents:

Microsoft doesn't need to be involved with hardware, they just need to support it :)

#17
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I think Function matters the most.

If you have a very beatiful computer and it doesn't do anything what's the point of having it? Apple focuses more on Form than Fuction, but not a whole lot more. I like Dell computers, although they use pretty bland and standard models on their entry level systems ($500 and below) their more expensive gaming systems have nicer cases.

There really isn't a entry level Mac, with the Mini going for $600 without a monitor or keyboard/mouse it's a little pricey. However the Mac Pro fits function and form in really well. 16GB of RAM, it seems like only yesterday 512MB was 'da bomb'.

Forgot to add that I think Macs have always been a little lower on their physical and hardware function, mainly laptops. I notice many older Powerbooks and iBooks have screen or broken USB ports and bad 'badderies'. However, I have a Mac 512K and LC 475 and those are about 15 years old and they don't show any damage, but those where made when quality came first, not profits.

I'm not sure if in 10 years today's mac laptops are going to be like the 90's powerbooks and ibooks? Are they going to be breaking down by just natural causes? Macbook Pros are already haveing problems, mostly OS related (hmmm...) but Apple has joined the Sony exploding 'badderies' club.

#18
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Then they would not have made a lot of the smart decisions they have made today and would still be charging $1500 for the lowest model MacBook. =P

The thing that killed Apple? Really? Cost. Simply cost.

And that's what will make Apple the winner in this next-gen computer battle, Microsoft knows it's quickly losing market share-and Vista, in an attempt to fix that, will likely end in a massacre for them.

This next few years is going to be bloody, and a very good and cheap time to buy whatever computer you want-because each of the companies are going to be releasing hardware that's cheaper, trying to fight off the other company.

Another place where Microsoft loses is the hardware biz. In that, it's not involved with it whatsoever, whereas Apple has complete control over theirs. =P


You could argue cost perhaps. I wouldn't pay $50 for a OS 8 machine, possibly the most outclassed OS ever created. It was basically behind in every sector, and no one at Apple gave a {censored}. Thus why they needed someone with a real direction (the "rehab'd" Jobs) to fix things.

And Apple will always "lose" unless they get the buisness market. However more importantly Apple is still a hardware company in terms of profit margins, and they are sure as hell doing well there already. Winning the Windows battle is secondary, they know they could never survive without anti-trust legislation if they got as much software market share as Dell and HP combined have market share.

#19
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Actually OS 8 was entirely a requirement that the legal department cared about. They faced getting hit with lots of legal @#$% if they didn't, and of course with Papa Steve being who he is, it legally loopholed out third-party licenses to make Macs.

#20
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The form is nice. But sometimes the form does make the function that little bit nicer. Like the screen latch on the Aluminium Powerbooks, or the new iSight LED on the Macbook Pro C2Ds.
I think the form is what makes Apples so covetable





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