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The Disposability of Digital: Why Apple’s Design Legacy is Paper Thin

designed by apple in california book

Written by Keith Andrew

If you had to boil the last decade of Apple dominance down to one, single achievement, it’s been the company’s ability to take objects most previously considered to be rare, perhaps even one-off purchases, and make them as disposable as a tin of soup, or a loaf of bread.

Since the first launched iPhone in 2007, there have been ten generations of different handsets, each one built upon the premise that consumers spending £600 or more on a phone tend to stick with it for 24 months at best. For many, trading in their existing iPhone for a new model year in, year old has moved beyond being merely habitual to verge on a religion.

It’s interesting, then, that the house that Steve Jobs built should choose to document the fleeting nature of its handsets, its units, its watches, it gadgets and gizmos not digitally, but rather physically.

Last month saw Apple publish “Designed by Apple in California” – a book that celebrates the design of some of the company’s most successful products (and Apple Watch) from a purely cosmetic perspective.

printed apple hardbook

There’s a whole wave of reasons as to why this is an interesting move. Of most note is the fact that a company that lives and dies by transition – largely making its billions selling digital content and, even when it comes to hardware, offering devices it expects to be upgraded and replaced within a year or two – should choose to use a book to record its designs in this way.

It is, in fact, the ultimate compliment. Apple is clearly aware that its products, each one considered a design classic, stay with its customers so fleetingly. That iPhone 3GS you loved so much in 2009 is now sitting at the back of a dusty drawer in the house of the guy who picked it up second hand in CEX a couple of years ago, its shape contemporary for its day but now laughably out of touch with the finer stylings of its successors.

“Designed by Apple in California”, however, is both its legacy and that of every device that’s poured out of Cupertino during the last ten years. A visual graveyard, if you like.

It’s also paper only. There’s no digital version of the book whatsoever, just two physical sizes, the smaller one of the two presumably designed to be flicked through while sitting on the throne. Ironically, if you ask most people what they do on the toilet these days, playing Candy Crush or Clash of Clans on their smartphone is likely to come top of most lists. That Apple is seeking to unseat its own device in order to plant a book in people’s hands brings a sweet, sweet smile to my face.

Hell, maybe even the likes of King and Supercell will start celebrating their successes with fine crafted books, too, laying out the artwork to be flicked through while sat on the khazi.

apple watch printed book

Either way, in amongst news of rising book sales and falling interest in Kindles, it’s a feather in print’s cap that, even at the nucleus of the digital revolution, there’s still a place for an actual page turner; a book, made out of paper, that you can touch and feel and keep forever. If Apple, the master of everything transient, everything completely disposable, realises that to really celebrate something it has to turn to print, then there’s hope for the medium yet. Just ignore the fact you’re reading these words on a screen rather than a piece of paper, if you can. That’s the ultimate irony.

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