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August 16, 2012

Slate: What the next iPhone is going to look like

(Continued)

And this is as it should be. In a must-read post examining the new iPhone, industrial designer Don Lehman points out that if Apple were to radically change the iPhone's design now, it would only be doing so for aesthetic reasons, "and Apple does not design for aesthetics." This might sound surprising to Apple haters — folks who think that Apple and its acolytes only make decisions on the basis of looks — but Lehman is right: I can't think of a single product line where Apple made a big design change just for the sake of making a change.

Instead, its most notable design leaps — when it launched the iPod Mini and then switched it with the Nano; when it created the MacBook Air; and when it launched the first iPhone and iPod Touch — were the result of Apple's trying to build new technologies into its designs. But after those initial leaps, Apple didn't keep making radical changes in those products, and instead switched to a more evolutionary style of design, what John Gruber calls its "slow and steady process of continuous iterative improvement."

Other than changing the size, what else could Apple have improved about the iPhone's design? Not much. Way back in 2010, I predicted that the iPhone — and smartphones generally — had reached the limits of industrial design. As long as we're going to interact with our phones via touchscreens, the iPhone will continue to look like a slab of glass bordered by some metal.

Apple simply doesn't make big design changes just for the sake of making something look different — it's always looking for something better, and if it has already created something great, changing it for the sake of change won't do anyone any good.

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Manjoo is Slate's technology reporter.

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