Apple Is Reversing Its Design Decisions—and That’s Great

What’s next? A headphone jack in the iPhone?

Key Takeaways

  • Apple has slowly started adding back ports and features it removed from its computers.
  • Jony Ive’s design language remains, but the details are way more practical.
  • Leaked documents show the next MacBook Pro will be full of useful ports.
Apple's new M1 iMac

Apple

Apple has finally woken up to its bad designs, and it's doing something about it.

Apple has ditched the Siri remote, is adding back ports on the next MacBook Pro, and has put a fingerprint reader on the iPad. Then there’s the colored iMac, the return of MagSafe, even the inclusion of an Ethernet port on a power brick. The company seems to be reversing almost every bad design decision it made over the last decade. What’s next?

"I think that Apple’s reversal of previous design decisions stems from listening to what their customers are saying, sharing, and commenting on online," Viscosoft CEO Gabe Dungan told Lifewire via email. "Customers are keeping their devices longer than they did in the past, upgrading only when they need to replace outdated tech or the features on a new model are enticing enough."

Ive Forgotten

It’s easy to blame these missteps on Jony Ive, a man who loves minimalism so much even his name has only one "n." Ive was in charge of design at Apple for over two decades, and under his watch, Apple’s products became simpler and simpler—home buttons were removed, SD card slots culled, headphone jacks filled in, and so on.

The epitome of this seemingly irreversible course was the 2015’s "All-New MacBook." This 12-inch portable had no fan, and sported a single USB-C port, just like an iPad Pro. This meant there was no way to plug in peripherals and charge the computer at the same time.

The Power adapter for the new iMac announced on April 20th.

Apple

This model also introduced Apple's worst mistake in the last decade, the infamous butterfly keyboard. This, too, was minimal.

The MacBook’s press release boasted that the butterfly keyboard was "34% thinner and uses an Apple-designed butterfly mechanism that is an amazing 40% thinner than a traditional keyboard scissor mechanism."

Since Ive’s departure in 2019 (and in reality, he’d gone hands-off before then), things have improved. Even the new M1 iMac, which continues Apple’s obsession with thinness, brings back some old favorites, like the MagSafe power connector.

Maximalization

Last week, a ransomware gang tried to blackmail Apple. The REvil gang got its hands on details of future Apple products via a supplier breach, and already has released some of them. The plans detail a MacBook with an HDMI port, an SD card slot, plus several USB-C ports, a MagSafe power port, and a headphone jack.

"I think that Apple’s reversal of previous design decisions stems from listening to what their customers are saying, sharing, and commenting on online."

That’s quite a comeback. Even the current M1 MacBook Pro only has two USB-C/Thunderbolt ports, and one of those has to be used for power. And there’s even more good news. Apple isn’t just adding back old features, it’s taking away stuff we don’t want. This leaked MacBook design has no Touch Bar. 

The Customer Is Sometimes Right

The story here looks to be that Apple finally is making computers people want. Regular users have gotten sick of every new Apple device removing functionality. The iPad’s mute switch, the iPhone’s headphone jack, Touch ID on iPad and iPhone—these were all loved by real users. Worse was the removal of the SD card slot, which is the modern-day equivalent of the floppy disk or thumb drive—ubiquitous and quick.

Now, Apple seems to be checking off the list of users’ most-wanted features. This kind of reversal is rare for the company. The trend is always thinner, with fewer buttons and ports. Now, it seems Apple has admitted to itself that real people use its computers to do real work, and appreciate the convenience of, say, being able to plug their computer in while they use it.

Hand using a previous iMac Keyboard model

Apple

That’s not to say all problems have been solved. The newest iMac keyboard still has half-sized arrow keys, and one of those keys now has a rounded corner. On the other hand, that keyboard comes with Touch ID, so at least things are heading in the right direction, overall.

In the end, perhaps Apple is finally designing for its customers.

"Bringing back ports and fingerprint readers is a way of showing customers that Apple is listening," says Dungan.

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