Apple’s design dominance over the past decade has been due to industrial design first, software design second. Their hardware designs have inspired a generation. Over those last 10 years their software has gotten better and better too (it’s really damn good now), but it’s been their industrial design that has made the first impression on the market.
However, I wonder if Apple will soon lose their perceived industrial design edge. It’s not that they aren’t incredibly good at it — they are the best in the business — it’s that industrial design is trending towards transparency. It’s all going glass. Everything is turning into a screen, from edge to edge. Once it’s all about glass, it’s all about software.
This is completely backwards. Apple’s advantage (greater at times, less at others) has always been more about software than hardware. Go to any Best Buy and look at the PC laptops vs. the Apple laptops. The PCs have fingerprint scanners, card readers, special buttons and other bits. The Apples have simplicity of hardware, in service to the software.
This has never been truer than in the case of the iPhone, where the “slab of glass” model makes the software the center of the experience. Whatever advantage Apple has had/has/will have is based on the software. If they continue to lead there, they will succeed. If they don’t, you get Windows 95 vs. Mac OS 7/8/9, and that’s not a winner for Apple.