Designing products that can still work if they’re broken

MacBook Pro Problems

With all the talk about the Apple tablet I thought I’d recount an interesting scenario that I’m working through at the moment. A couple months ago my keyboard stopped working on my MacBook Pro. It was a bit of a pain but I could get around the issue because I had a Bluetooth keyboard. Then a couple weeks ago my screen started to act up. It would go black for a couple minutes and come back to life. That was a bigger pain but it wasn’t an emergency as I had a second monitor hooked up. Imagine this briefly—there was a time when both my MBP keyboard and monitor didn’t work, yet I could still get work done.

This week my screen died completely so it’s currently getting repaired. With a bit of luck I should have it back in working order by Friday (fingers crossed). It’s kind of crazy to think that even when things broke down with my MBP there was still a way of getting around the problem. It was a temporary fix but I was still able to continue working. Contrast that with an iPhone or the Apple tablet if the thing exists. If my iPhone breaks, the only way around the problem is to get a new one. The chances of repair is pretty slim. I suspect that will be the same case with a tablet. If I had to rely on a tablet for work like I do for my MBP, I doubt there would have been a chance to work away while the tablet was broken. It’s all theoretical at this point, but it is still impressive that even while things were breaking down I could still finish work. Will product design keep that in mind when the whole product is a screen to begin with—will I be able to complete a task while the thing is broken?

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  • exitcreative

    I hear you on that.

    The other really nice thing that Apple does with its products–-the iPhone in particular–is that they've designed in a little indicator light that will tip off potential repair-ers to the fact that the phone needs to be replaced, not fixed. I dunked mine in some water a while back, and though it still works, I like the subtle “screw you” that the light offers whenever I turn the phone on.

  • nookaNOW

    i dunno michael…this seems like apple-bashing to me. there are tons of products you use everyday that if they break, they're broken. break a chair leg, your chair is useless. the compressor in your fridge dies – sure you can use it as a temporary coffin, but not as a refrigerator. the apple tablet will be designed to do what it will do the way it is designed. if screen death means it needs to go back to the shop to regain it's full use, then it is still functioning as designed. i'm sure they'll be one or 2 ways to get your data off in those situations.