Up to Interpretation

Apple & Fashion

Go online and you’ll find particularly potent venom directed towards Apple. Critics denigrate their products as overpriced, underpowered1 scams that only uninformed dolts would buy. Others insist that Apple has become unduly obsessed with aesthetics. They perpetually raise the question: Do people really want thinner phones? Do people really need a lighter laptop?

To answer these questions, yes. People do want a thinner phone. They do want a lighter laptop. Why? Because fashion.

Let’s talk clothes. Clothes aren’t something a lot of nerds think about. Which is quite weird in my opinion. It’s a very easy thing to think about with a lot of potential upside. But I digress.

There’s two schools of thought towards clothes: Cargo shorts or no cargo shorts. This is a vast oversimplification and probable false dichotomy, but it’ll suffice for this post.

The cargo shorts camp chooses clothes based on utility. Cargo shorts have plenty of pockets so therefore they are better than normal shorts. Raincoats keep rain off, so I should always wear a raincoat. Running shoes are comfortable so I’ll wear running shoes.

The non cargo shorts camp chooses clothes based on, well, not utility. Most commonly aesthetics, or in the parlance of Tan France, fuckability. These pants show off my ass. This shirt’s color looks great in the sun. These sunglasses accentuate my face.

Both camps have valid points. Looking good is a very valid pursuit for a person, but always with a healthy dose of pragmatism. High heels? Great. Stilettos on concrete? Maybe not. Very nice Burberry trench coat? Wonderful. On a hike? Nope. Wearing stretchy pants because they’re comfy? Sure. Wearing sweatpants all the time? Ehhh.

But what both camps should probably agree on is that one should not criticize a fashion company for making clothes that are aesthetically pleasing but not maximally practical.

So why do people critique Apple for producing devices that are aesthetically pleasing but perhaps not maximally practical? Why do they complain that Apple focuses so much on aesthetics?

And oh man are other companies firmly entrenched on the cargo shorts side. It’s baffling to me how ugly, how cheap-looking, how bad non Mac compulers look. How ThinkPads use that eternal dorky grey plastic. How the Microsoft Surface Book can’t be opened without awkwardly anchoring the bottom half. How most laptops still have those inane stickers reminding us that we’re using an Intel processor. How even the most aesthetically pleasing of laptops just do a poor imitation of a Mac.

But Nicholas, you say, clothes' specs are far less important than that of a computer. Fine. Then let’s take cars as our example. Cars do have specs. They have mileage, seat count, max speed, etc. Would you ever criticize a car company for making a car that just maaaybe doesn’t have the best mileage or maybe not the best engine, but looks fantastic? Probably not. You’d be criticizing the entire American auto industry.

People do not need maximally efficient cars. They do not need maximally efficient computers. Most people drive their car to work. Most people use their computer to check their email and watch YouTube. Complaining that people are buying nice looking cars when they could be buying a cheaper, uglier car that you can use to drag race is completely missing the point, especially when you’re talking to people who do not and will never drag race in their life.

Plus it just feels nice to use a device that’s beautiful. There’s some interesting research into how aesthetics play a role in usability; I’d recommend Don Norman’s book Emotional Design.

Of course with clothes and cars and computers, the product must ultimately be usable. I don’t begrudge any criticisms towards Apple about malfunctioning computers or buggy software. Nobody should accept broken products.

One last kvetch, why do people assume Apple just doesn’t know what they’re doing? Like, it’s one thing to guess a company isn’t running optimally. It’s a complete other thing to assume they’re profoundly stupid. Like whenever Apple shaves some inches off the iPhone or makes the screen slightly bigger, or whatever, people always comment questioning why they made it thinner or why the screen is larger or whatever. Why? Well probably because they tested it on people, and people liked the thinner phone. Contrary to Apple promotional materials, Jony Ive doesn’t just sit in a while void dictating the next iPhone, chamfered edges and all.

Apple is far from a perfect company. But criticizing it for prioritizing aesthetics over functionality is like complaining that Balenciaga sells shorts that aren’t cargo shorts.

  1. Y’know, this is commonly repeated but I actually believe it’s quite overexaggerated. Perhaps back in the day this was more true, but Apple computers are quite impressive in some regards such as SSD speed. Try finding a computer with an equivalent chassis, processor and SSD for cheaper. It’s not easy. ↩︎