Years ago I was really into cars. Not only owning them or driving them; I was interested in how they were made and how the car companies worked.
At first I was intrigued by Honda, who showed so much innovation and had such a family theme going on — I don't mean human families, I mean that the range of cars had a coherence to it. There was a similarity between models and an easy evolution to the new models.
You knew it was a Honda by the look.
Same thing with VW and Audi. They too had a run of a few years where everything gelled. When the level of design coherence is that good then it's sometimes a shock when the time comes for a new model; you look at it and say: "Hey what happened. I'm not so sure about that direction..."
But the real test of a good design might be when, after a few weeks, you take a look at the previous model again and say: "That looks so old now..."
Hey! What's any of this got to do with Apple?
A few days ago there was a new release of iTunes. It has a lot of great new features, and a new look. There's quite a bit of comment floating around on discussion groups about the changes — and most of them are about the cosmetic changes. Opinions are all over the map — as for me: I neither love it or hate it. It's just different.
However, the other day I chanced upon another article about the changes that had screenshots, and what was my first thought? It was: "iTunes 4 looks so old now..."
On that criteria then, I think the cosmetic changes are a success. I can see all the "i" apps looking this way soon; and who knows? Perhaps the whole of OS 10.5 or OS 11.
Getting back to the cars for a moment: there used to be an urban myth that car designers had come up with a 100MPG car — they were just feeding it to us at a rate of 5MPG each year.
If Apple are drip feeding us the new look for the OS through iTunes, and the graphic design of the new product pages on the Apple website, then maybe there are other clues right under our noses...
The iPod nano can be had in black so maybe there's a new black iMac on the horizon, or satin rather than brushed finish for the Powerbooks?
I just hope that the good taste that's always been shown by Apple continues for a good while yet; it's been said that Steve Jobs likes to compare Apple to the car maker BMW. Fingers crossed that he's referring to their exclusivity and market share — and not to their recently goofy styling!