Without a doubt, the largest paradigm shift in mobile technology came with the release of the original iPhone. A black, turtle-necked Steve Jobs announced that, for the first time, you could ditch the PDA and the iPod because they crammed both of those things into your phone. I recall personally when Steve opened up Safari to the New York Times and the website rendered as it did on a computer. The noise from the audience was filled with audible “ooohs” and “aaahs”. The pinch-to-zoom technique was a completely novel concept that Apple promised would revolutionize how you consume information on the go. And it did. It was truly a game changing moment and one that persists to this day.
The digital industry is always quick to adopt new technologies. Web designers everywhere breathed a sigh of relief that they could finally sit back and have mobile devices serve up exactly what you would see on a desktop instead of some archaic, number based hodgepodge of a mess that you would typically get with a PDA or a Blackberry.
As the new trend sunk in, pinch-to-zoom became an annoyance on anything other than looking at high definition photos. The industry moved to responsive design – a technique which renders a website according to a device’s width. It all but eliminates a pinch-to-zoom motion. It’s a technique that, while not authored by Apple, was certainly inspired by the original iPhone.
And while web designers everywhere are adopting the technique, responsive design has yet to hit the most notable of Apple digital properties: Apple.com. The industry has collectively offered up reasons for responsive design’s absence on Apple.com. We have a few of our own that could give a reasonable rationale for businesses everywhere to simply ignore responsive design.
It’s all in the presentation
Apple has always dedicated a generous budget to design, a term that is so broad and ambiguous that giving it meaning in this context can be difficult. Apple has lead the industry forward with their dedication to smooth user experiences from the hardware and software levels. Apple.com is no exception. We routinely hear feedback from our clients that they want their presence to be “Apple-y” or “like Apple.com”.
When it comes to presentations, responsive sites can often lack the visual punch that some are looking for. The current snapshot of Apple.com will undoubtedly yield a high resolution photo advertising their latest phone, tablet, laptop, headphones, operating system, or watch. They look to lead the conversation with design. When you shrink an available viewport down to 500 pixels or less, you have substantially less room for presentation than you would otherwise. For that reason, perhaps Apple has made a conscious decision to forego responsive design for a more powerful and robust presentation.
As I noted before, pinch-to-zoom was made popular by Apple from the introduction of the first iPhone. Perhaps they believe so much in offering robust presentations while allowing users to consume information by zooming that they’ve kept their website as a living testament to their belief in the concept. While I find this rationale less compelling than the presentation, it is nonetheless something to think about.
As I’m sure you’re aware, Apple has a ton of other supporting properties for their sales and customer education experience. The Apple Store has its own app which renders quite nicely with your phone or tablet. In this context, Apple has deemed it necessary to offer an optimized view for a phone for customers looking to purchase their products.
Even still, it may be a bit perplexing why Apple’s online store isn’t yet responsive even if its primary pages are not. Maybe it’s because they have ancillary properties, but downloading an app is sometimes a large ask for a casual browser.
What it means for you
Basically nothing. Few brands are as powerful as Apple and can simply ignore modern usability trends – a position that folks like you and I simply couldn’t take. Apple can basically do what Apple wants while their purpose is to be on the forefront of the next trend. Given that, it may be a bit peculiar why they have yet to jump on the responsive design trend. We can only guess, but we think it has more to do with presentation than anything else.
For you and your business, chances are that you’ll take more of an aggressive approach with responsive design than industry juggernauts like Apple.