Unaligned Ports, Unhinged Punditry

I really respect Rene Ritchie at iMore. He’s a great reporter, an eloquent writer, and has a nuanced perspective of the larger tech world that few in the tech blogosphere even aspire to, let alone achieve. He really understands not just the technology, but how real human beings, the “normals,” use technology. Check out his review of the iPad Air from 2013, which I remember as one of the best tech reviews I’d read in a long time (and I told him so over Twitter). And overall, iMore is a very good site staffed with talented folks and stuffed with useful information on all things Apple. (I’m also a devoted MacBreak Weekly fan, on which he is a host.)
You know there’s a big “but” coming, right?

He has a piece that exemplifies for me the worst excesses of Apple apologetics, lauding Apple for centering and aligning the ports and speaker grill at the bottom of the iPhone 6 (which is fine), and shaking his head at Samsung for only centering but not aligning them at the bottom of the Galaxy S6.

Ritchie says:

Some people might not care. Like painting the back of the fence or finishing the underside of the cabinet, it’s a detail that only people who take tremendous pride in craft really care about. And, of course, people who look for just exactly that kind of quality.

That’s because it takes an incredible amount of time and resources to achieve it. It takes an incredible amount of planning and coordination as well. It also takes the willingness to not do something if you feel doing it right is important enough.

To align everything along the edge of a device takes designing and mounting the boards in a certain way, and the ports and speakers, and the buttons and jacks, and the grills and every other detail so they all line up at exactly the right place at the end. Painstaking is likely an understatement.

… [O]nce you know the back of the fence wasn’t painted, not only can you never un-know it, you can never stop wondering what else wasn’t given that same care and consideration.

The principle he’s talking about is totally sound. That attention to even the tiniest detail is also why I love Apple products. But this is off the deep end. The perfect-center-alignment that Ritchie is looking for is a matter of taste, and it’s entirely subjective as to whether it matters or is indicative of anything. To Apple’s designers, and to him, aligning everything that way is pleasing and worthwhile, and so they go to painstaking effort to achieve it. Samsung’s folks probably don’t feel the same way about that kind of symmetry. Or they do, and just made the choice to allocate their time and energy to other things.

It’s a fallacy to presume that this was an oversight or neglect on Samsung’s part, and not a mere difference of priorities. The Galaxy line, while not to my own aesthetic tastes, has obviously delighted many, many people with the choices Samsung has made. They like the things Samsung said “yes” to, such as the curved screen on the Edge model, the glass on the front and back, the superior camera, etc. Some of those same people are less than delighted by their decision to say “no” to a removable battery, for example, but I can bet that their delight is unhindered by Samsung’s saying “no” to utter pan-dimensional symmetry in the ports.

This kind of nit-pickery frustrates me, not just because it seems a bit silly, but it’s part of an attitude that implies not just an aesthetic but an almost moral superiority for one design approach over another. I know that this is not Ritchie’s intent by any means, but his piece feeds into this morass of a zeitgeist among Apple pundits that creates a perception of snobbery, whether fair or not, that turns so many off. I love Apple stuff, but I am woozy from it.

Samsung’s designs are not for me, and I do indeed vastly prefer Apple’s sensibilities to Samsung’s, but I also recognize that this is just a subjective preference, and does not imply that I am therefore a better person or smarter user of technology. I think, for example, Motorola’s designs of late for the Moto X and Nexus 6 have been just as striking as Apple’s.

Just in case, I checked to see if my Nexus 6 is “aligned” to Apple standards, and while the power and volume buttons on the side are indeed aligned, the headphone jack is not aligned with the SIM card tray on the top. So obviously, it’s junk, right? As a very happy user of this phone, I clearly don’t know enough to make my own technology decisions, and Motorola and Google obviously don’t care about design or their customers.

And I’m sure their fences are disgusting.

My grossly unaligned Nexus 6. The horror.

UPDATE: My friend Justin Sapp (designer of this site’s banner), made this for me. Enjoy:

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