Did Apple Design in the Wrong Direction?

It’s a big deal whenever Apple refreshes the design of their products. It isn’t just that the media goes nuts, but that other parties (read: the media) tend to swoon about Apple’s decision and the company’s competitors get ready to ape Apple’s new paradigms.

Unfortunately, the switch to the newly designed Airport Express seems like a terrific step in the wrong direction from a design perspective, while simultaneously being in the right direction from a product alignment perspective. Let me explain.

While some sites have stated that the older Express routers were ‘wall warts’, anyone who’s travelled with one of these routers can speak to their functionality. They were easy to pack, easier to set up, and incredibly reliable. The ‘warts’ were also useful when setting up wifi printing or Airplay functionality at home. In both of these latter cases, it was easy to move the router to where you wanted either the printer or speakers and didn’t necessitate cluttering up the space with unneeded cables.

The new form factor is better visually linked to Apple’s existing routers and Apple TV products. On these grounds, Apple is (arguably) bringing a superior branded identity to the Airport Express line, ensuring that anyone who sees the router will immediately think ‘Apple’. This has significant marketing and branding resonance but, unfortunately, it comes at the expense of device efficiency.

Good design is tightly linked with beauty, usability, and efficiency. In the case of the newest iteration of the Airport Express, Apple has prioritized the corporate image over product efficiency; the Express is a less efficient product on grounds that it assumes more physical space that has previously been needed. The incapacity to link these priorities is suggestive that the newest Apple router is a failed product from a design position, regardless of the popularity or sales of the new iteration.