April 12, 2012

imageIn a recent Switched On column about the iPad, I talked about how Apple can lavish “a level of favoritism that Google and Microsoft can never have for any given device running its licensed software.” Keeping the software consistent has been one of the hallmark’s of Apple’s iOS device appeal, but there is also something to be said about keeping the industrial design relatively consistent as Apple has done between the iPhone 4 and 4S and now between the iPad 2 and third-generation iPad. I don’t expect that this will be the last form factor revision for either device although Apple has stayed very faithful to the current designs of the iMac and Mac Pro line for years.

Particularly for these mobile products, keeping a consistent form factor amplifies the advantage that Apple has versus competitors in the accessory-rich tablet and smartphone markets. Obviously, every case-maker breathed a sigh of relief when it saw the dimensions of the latest iPhone and iPad did not stray from the previous generation. But there are also a large number of keyboard clamshells, stands, mounts, clips, docks and all manner of other accessories. By preserving continuity across iDevice generations, Apple may forfeit some excitement that comes at the differentiated shape of a new thing, but it gains in preserving the consistency of the platform (in the broadest sense) with a device that hits the ground running in a ready-made accessory ecosystem, one where the hardware may even be optimized ahead of the third-party software.

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October 23, 2009

I’m no industrial designer, but as someone who is immersed in retail market research, I have noticed a contrast between the Amazon Kindle and the Barnes & Noble Nook that seem to reflect their retail philosophy.

Let’s think about Amazon, an online retail pioneer. When I think about online selling, I think about efficiency, value, purpose and focus. Get out of the way of the transaction. This is reflected in the Kindle which, despite its name, is an icy cold, colorless device. Jeff Bezos has said several times that a guiding principle behind the Kindle is to have it “disappear in your hands.” “Just give me the content and minimize the fuss.”

Now let’s consider Barnes & Noble – a multichannel retailer that seeks to at least match Amazon’s clean, expedient online experience, but which also  evokes a warm library or reading room in its stores and wants a rich experience with books there. That multichannel approach is reflected in the design’s dual screens. The paper display is the cold, online part that blends into the white border like the Kindle. The bottom screen, though, shows color cover art and its touch capabilities allow you to browse as one would a bookshelf and get “hands on” with a book at a store. Warmth is also reflected in the “Nook” name and the choice of pastel backs.

And of course, the integration of the Nook with Barnes & Noble stores is more than just skin-deep, with the retailer taking advantage of the product’s integrated Wi-Fi to do in-store reading and promotion, and Barnes & Noble’s physical stores will be a good place to showcase the lineup of designer accessories that have high profitability potential.

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