Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

iPhone 6 Looks

Khoi Vinh:

If there’s a single thread that runs through nearly every piece of Apple hardware, it’s conviction, the sense that its designers believed with every fiber of their being that the form factor they delivered was the result of countless correct choices that, in totality, add up to the best and only choice for giving shape to that particular product. Apple hardware has always looked utterly convincing because they have always been brimming with conviction.

Looking at these two iPhone 6 models, I can’t truly bring myself to believe that that’s the case.

I’ve now seen a large number of iPhones 6 in the wild, as well as played with one briefly, and I couldn’t figure out what was bugging me about its industrial design. Vinh articulates it beautifully. The iPhone 6 is a very nice product; a worthy entry in Apple’s aluminum-and-glass motif. But it doesn’t feel nearly as confident in its own skin. Design is about making the right compromises, but the iPhone 6 feels compromised.

Don’t get me wrong — every iPhone has been compromised in order to make all the radios work. The original iPhone had a black plastic piece on the back, while the iPhone 3G(S) (and 5C) had their backs made entirely out of plastic. The 4(S) had its antennas moved to the exterior to avoid marring the beautiful mirrored sandwich hardware, but there were occasional attenuation issues with this setup. The 5(S), meanwhile, has glass “windows” at the top and bottom of the back.

In that vein, the 3G(S) and 5C were, perhaps, the most honest and straightforward, but those models all feel distinctly less premium than any other iPhone. The plastic seams on the iPhone 6 are simply a continuation of this theme, but they feel somehow weaker and less confident. It feels almost as if the radio engineering team got an all-aluminum case to start, then cut away just enough metal to allow for radio passthrough.

It’s not ugly by any means; it’s one of the nicest iPhones to have shipped so far. It’s just not as beautiful as, for instance, its predecessor; despite its far better build quality, it feels almost less precise than my 5S. It’s achingly close to an industrial design I can love, but it’s not there yet, I don’t think.