Apple forgets that “Less is More” with iOS 5

One of the reasons that Apple has become a leader in consumer electronics products is because it tends to follow one of the golden rules of selling to the public: Simplicity sells.

From the earliest iPods to the iPad 2 today, Apple’s products – the devices themselves, as well as the software products – have been recognized for being easy to use. That’s because, for the most part, Apple products tended to only give you what you really need. The iPod had volume, back, forward and play/pause controls. What more did you need to play music?

I raise this point because it appears that Apple’s latest mobile operating system – iOS 5 – has added some complexity to something that was once very simple: sound settings on the iPhone.

A post on the TUAW blog is singing praises for Apple for finally freeing users from the confines of a handful of tones for things like e-mail, reminders and voicemail. But I think it’s a step backward.

It’s something that I call “feature creep,” the complexity that plagues a simple product when every update brings additional features and settings to the product. Once it becomes too complex, users are deterred from upgrading and maybe even pushed into the arms of a competitor. Consider, through this excerpt from the TUAW post, how much more complicated it has become to manage the sounds on an iPhone over the years:

New to iOS 5 are tone settings for New Voicemail, New Mail, Sent Mail, Calendar Alerts, a sound for Tweets via iOS 5’s built-in Twitter integration, and a setting for alerts sent via the new built-in Reminders app… In iOS 4.3 and earlier, the only tones you could use on an iPhone 4 were the built-in sounds – 23 in total. Owners of older iPhones had a still more limited selection, with only the original six sounds available. That’s changed in iOS 5. The old, built-in Alert Tones are still available, with “Tweet” and “Swoosh” (the default “Sent Mail” sound) thrown into the mix… you can now assign virtually any sound you want.

I’m exhausted already.

Certainly, there’s an argument for users wanting to be able to push the limits of a device by changing settings – and that’s fine. Apple has been great over the years, notably in its System Preferences on Mac computers, of offering an “Advanced” tab here and there for users who know how to dabble under the hood and want greater customization.

I usually sing the praises of Apple and its products, but this time, I feel the company got it wrong. The better move would have been to leave the sounds settings in their original state and just add an “Advanced” button for entry into the pro zone. At least under that approach, advanced users would have the ability to go in and customize to their hearts’ content while the rest of us wouldn’t be left to navigate like a pro.

For many, it won’t be easy.