Steven Johnson has an appropriately laudatory piece about Steve Jobs, in this past weekend's review ("The Genius of Jobs: Marrying Art and Tech"). But Jobs's reign as C.E.O. has hardly been without mistakes, even in the area widely perceived to be his greatest strength: industrial design.
I'm loathe to start a tedious Mac vs. PC flame war (unless it brings in tons of clicks). But I feel the need for a touch of counter-programming. Now, my credentials as an Apple person are pretty sound: I got my first Macintosh my freshman year of college, not long after Johnson did, and I've had an Apple in the house ever since. (My m.o. for the last four years has been to supplement an iMac with a Dell laptop, mainly for economy.) But setting aside errors of strategy or of execution, such as Mobileme (which even Jobs now acknowledges was bungled), where has Apple, which is to say Jobs, blown it when it comes to design--either in terms of aesthetics or usability? Design is his wheelhouse. Where has he whiffed?
Here are a few of my nominees. Others are welcome.
1. Clinging to the one-button mouse for way too long (till 2005, my cursory research suggests). Okay, this one's obvious, a cliché. But Jobs stuck with the one-button mouse long past the point when consumers had voted for the two-button model, whose advantages were legion. My current Logitech mouse comes festooned with six buttons (I use three constantly) and a scroll wheel. Apple mice, in fact, have long been a trouble spot for the company. This model, referred to as "the hockey puck mouse," is perhaps the least favorite of all time.
2. The iMac G4, aka "the lamp" iMac. Nothing particularly wrong with this model, which I owned and used with pleasure. In fact, the highly adjustable screen made it, in some ways, superior to models that superseded it. Yet it appears to have influenced nothing, in terms of design: No one, including Apple, picked up on its style cues in subsequent years. (In contrast, the "Cube," a famous sales failure, had a minimalism that holds up.) Few computers have looked so dated, so soon after being introduced as the new new thing.