Google Doesn't Get the Importance of Gadget Packaging

A montage of frustrated Google Nexus 7 owners struggling with opening their new tablets' packaging proves there is at least one thing Apple gets that Google does not: Boxes.

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montage of frustrated Google Nexus 7 owners struggling to open their new tablets' packaging proves there is at least one thing Apple gets that Google does not: boxes. As the clip below shows, Google's Nexus tablet with its taped sides and fussy plastic takes effort to open, eliciting what some would call "wrap rage," the linguist-approved word for the anger associated with opening a factory sealed product. This phenomenon isn't unique to Google's new hardware. It's a process so universally hated that both Larry David and Stephen Colbert have satirized the effort it takes to get beyond the wrapping. Google didn't think about the visceral reaction that users would first associate with the product. Apple does and it pays off.

In comparison to the minutes-long process that it takes to get to Google's well-reviewed tablet, opening an iPad takes a simple slide of a cover—a lid that "comes off easily, but not too easily" as Random Tech's Anthony Kay puts it. Apple boxes aren't beloved by accident. The company thinks about the way a box informs a product. Not only does the company have design patents for its boxes, it has a packaging room with hundreds of box prototypes where a designated box opener tests options, according to the tell-all book Adam Lashinsky Inside Apple. The process sounds absurd for a box:

One after another, the designer created and tested an endless series of arrows, colors, and tapes for a tiny tab designed to show the consumer where to pull back the invisible, full-bleed sticker adhered to the top of the clear iPod box. Getting it just right was this particular designer's obsession.

What's more, it wasn't just about one box. The tabs were placed so that when Apple's factory packed multiple boxes for shipping to retail stores, there was a natural negative space between the boxes that protected and preserved the tab.

But Apple takes boxing seriously for a reason. Like the award-winning Apple stores, which the New York Times called "the largest box in which an Apple product is wrapped," Apple's actual boxes are designed to get the user attached before the product even turns on. Design blogger Paulo Gabriel compared the process of opening his first MacBook to finding gold. "I felt like I was in some sort of pirate/treasure hunt movie, when they open the treasure chest and that golden glow shines upon their face, and this simply makes you think that all the hard work you had to buy it was really, really worth it. I'm totally serious when I say that the MacBook box is probably one of the most beautiful things that exist," he wrote on design site Abduzeedo. Kay describes a similar feeling of total elation when he first got the iPod: "It was almost as though it was a piece of art being presented for your inspection," he writes.

Not only does the box give people warm and fuzzy associations with the product from the get-go, but also, people form emotional attachments to the actual pieces of cardboard. Instead of tossing them like the trash that they are, people have been known to keep their iBoxes. Instead of forgotten in a dump or recycling facility, the boxes sit on shelves serving as a constant reminder of the beauty within. Apple has transformed a shipping medium into marketing.

Apple's boxing techniques have gotten attention from all other gadget makers except Google, it seems. When the iPod first came out, Microsoft was made fun of in this YouTube video for its busy packaging designs. The company has since sleeked up the look. Samsung, too has taken note of Apple's look, with its boxes looking a lot like Apple's of late. (Apple is suing them for patent infringement.) Logitech's laptop casing looks just like the MacBook. And even the Nexus 1, an HTC production, looks like it came from the iPhone boxing room.

Google may have put together a lovely tablet that has wowed the techies, but in the package department, it fails. Though users might get over their unwrapping rage, that initial hatred will be the first emotional association users have with the product. And as Apple has proved, that feeling matters.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.