Apple’s existence brings about a question that may have otherwise never have been asked. How large a role should design and style play in software interfaces and devices? As a result, something very important happened. Because design favors simplicity over complexity I believe, that had Apple never existed, we’d have products that are more complex and less intuitive to operate. Great design makes designers stop and ask what features are essential, which can be cut, which choices can we make for the consumer and thereby eliminate complexities, etc. Android has been the only one to follow Apple’s lead on simple, visually appealing interfaces. However, no one has followed Apple’s lead on hardware design.
Android copied the Apple interface and they’ve had great success. Other OS’s have fallen on their face. The palm interface, the Storm, and the old Windows phones all flopped because they were ugly and clunky interfaces. Google was the only one not asleep at the wheel. The funny thing is that hardware manufacturers like Samsung, Nokia, Motorola, and Sony still don’t get how important design is. As phone makers, they need to be paying attention to the curves and lines of a phone, the size, weight, and most importantly the materials. When Apple had the iPhone 3G out and Motorola had the Droid, the design difference was closing. Then Apple pulled away. They made both sides of the phone glass and the side aluminum. Suddenly a quick look told you it was elegant, expensive, and a product of higher quality. Holding it told you the same things. The weight, the feeling of glass and metal, it all hints at quality and sophistication in a way that plastic phones never could. We all view ourselves in certain ways; professionals, artists, athletic, nerdy. An ugly plastic phone just doesn’t resonate with some of us just like we might prefer a leather belt over a plastic one or wood floors over wall to wall carpet.
Whether phone makers chose not to compete on quality and, instead, went after younger demographics and chose to compete on price OR whether they were trying to compete and failed, I can’t say. Some might argue that Apple’s dominance is due to customer loyalty and the battle isn’t worth fighting. They’re wrong. A second option for a phone that looks professional and that is not made of cheap plastic… there’s a market for that and it wouldn’t hurt to have a second option. No one is competing on phone materials. They should be using glass, metal, leather, coated ceramic, and maybe even coated wood for design flare. These materials convey quality for the same reasons that tiled floors seem nicer than laminate.
In my opinion there may be a cultural difference when it comes to design. Style is simply a newer part of Asian culture. For that matter, American style comes and goes. I’m not sure many adults have any pictures of themselves from the 80s hanging up. Ford just got back to designing nice cars after taking a two decade break. Europe is really where you see consistent great design. You could even argue that Apple is largely driven by European design since the main drive for Apple design was half Jobs and half Jony Ive, an Englishman.
In short, if Electronics manufacturers want to design a few more nice phones they may want to move their design HUBs to some European countries where people care deeply about design.