Apple’s Obsession with Thinness; How Much Thinner Can Things Get?

Apple is obsessed with thinness. With an obsession that rivals that of the CPU clock speed days, Apple touts thinness for many of its devices.

Look at the new (poorly named) iPad Air 2; the first text you see on Apple’s website is:

“So capable, you won’t want to put it down.
So thin and light, you won’t have to.”

For the iPhone 6, it’s a bit different. They start with bigness, then go to thinness:

“iPhone at its largest.
And thinnest.”

Ember

And the MacBook Air:

“Thin. Light. Powerful.
And ready for anything.”

And then there’s the iMac:

“Creating such a stunningly thin design took equally stunning feats of technological innovation.”

Apple marketed the current iMac models as being thinner, even though the thinness of a desktop computer is not a valid selling point.

Since Apple no longer touts the clock speeds of its devices – at least not as the leading argument in their marketing pitches – thin is the new fast. The problem is that this thinness is getting less and less important; with each iteration of a device such as an iPad or iPhone, the company shaves a few millimeters off the thickness, making very little difference, but giving them a marketing message that, in the end, means little.

The difference between the current iPad Air and last year’s model is so slight as to not make a difference. The newer model is 1.4 mm thinner than the previous one; the difference in weight is a mere 34 g, or just over an ounce. The iPhone 6 is only 0.7 mm thinner than the iPhone 5s, yet it’s still thicker than the iPod touch. But it doesn’t matter; the difference in thickness and weight are inconsequential.

Metric such as size are valid at certain times. When the MacBook Air was released – nearly five years ago – the difference in thickness and weight, compared to other Apple laptops, was tremendous. At 3 lbs, it was 2/3 the weight of the first aluminum MacBook with the same display size: the aluminum MacBook, released later that year, weighed in at 4.5 lbs. And the plastic MacBook, released shortly after the MacBook Air, weight 5 lbs. Those are big differences.

Yet Apple hasn’t changed the MacBook Air much in five years; it’s still just under 3 lbs (2.96 to be exact), and it’s only a few hairs thinner. The MacBook Air has hit the thinness wall. The same thing will happen to other Apple products.

Apple has nearly reached the limit of thinness. Compare the original iPad and iPhone to the current models; the differences are noticeable. But as each generation shaves a couple of millimeters off the thickness, there’s not much point any more. It’s getting harder to make devices any thinner. Already, the iPhone’s camera has to stick out because the body of the device is too thin. (This was already the case with the iPod touch, whose camera also protrudes.) Apple soon won’t be able to shave even a half a millimeter off its devices, and they’ll have to find a new marketing message.

Thin is near the end of its life as a marketing argument. Maybe it’s time to switch to something else: something that has a lot more value to users, such as battery life.

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4 thoughts on “Apple’s Obsession with Thinness; How Much Thinner Can Things Get?

  1. Rather than touting thinner devices on a very regular basis, Apple might try NOT releasing new/updated hardware so frequently. It’s gotten to be like cars, with each year bringing some changes. This tends to make last year’s model slightly older, while its really not, and points consumers towards the latest and greatest. Do we really need to be prodded to update our hardware/devices on this frequent a basis? My iPad 2 feels like an iPod click wheel model at this point. I feel like it’s buy the new, or be left behind.

  2. The iPhone 6 Plus is pocketable because of the thinness. Remember the Palm LifeDrive? That was a great device, but it was an inch thick!

  3. “Maybe it’s time to switch to something else: something that has a lot more value to users, such as battery life”

    How about call quality? It’s one major aspect of smart phone specs which seems to be sorely overlooked or disregarded by all marketing/manufacturing.

  4. And there’s such a thing as too thin, especially when you’re talking on the iPhone and want to hold it securely and comfortably to your ear. Ditto, wanting to take a steady photograph. I still miss my old Sony Ericsson candy bar phone in these respects (only) – it was nice to hold when calling and its form factor as a camera was great.

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