As more and more products turn into sleek little rectangles, here's a disturbing thought collated from several sources noting product trends: What if in the future, the importance of industrial design takes a backseat to "product ecosystems?"
Consider: The monster product hit that is (has been?) the iPod is a success largely because of its ecosystem. You've probably heard the story of the iPod's invention, whereupon "Tony [Fadell]'s idea was to take an MP3 player, build a Napster music sale service to complement it, and build a company around it." Which is all fine and good with us, because even though the iTunes ecosystem may have had much to do with the product's success, the iPod still had stellar design and was produced by a company that clearly champions the importance of design.
Then we look to Amazon's Kindle and get to the worrisome part, as pointed out by Bruce Nussbaum: "Peter Mortensen at Jump [Associates, a growth strategy consultancy] hits it right on the head when he says that Kindle's success is due to an ecosystem similar to Apple's iPod/iTunes ecosystem, not product design." And as Nussbaum himself states (boldface ours),
...in terms of basic usability, [the Kindle is] an absolute bear. The page-turn buttons are awkwardly located, and the display can be very slow to update when you flip a page or browse Amazon over the wireless connection. For pure reading experience, the Sony eReader is a better design.
So why is the Kindle absolutely destroying Sony's offering in the marketplace? It's what you can't see - the "WhisperNet" 3G data connection that pulls down books, newspapers, and magazines seamlessly over the air without the use of a computer. The people running the Kindle project for Amazon recognized, correctly, that the problem with all previous eReaders was not the physical device or even the screen quality. It was the process for loading them with content. They all stunk, and they didn't have a good back-end.
...Kindle is a break-out success right now. But I would argue this is at least in part in spite of its physical usability issues - not because of its industrial design.