Every few years Porsche rolls out a new 911, arguably the most iconic sports car ever created. Yet, like clockwork, the new 911 looks a lot like the previous version. In fact, unless you’re a Porsche aficionado, you may not recognize the differences even if you knew what to look for.
The first 911 was released in 1963 by Dr. Ferdinand Alexander Porsche, and its teardrop shape looks remarkably like the 2012 model available today. That’s nearly 50 years in which the basic design hasn’t changed.
With each new generation, a number of small, incremental design tweaks have been made to the 911. The fascia continues to evolve giving the car a more aggressive stance. The rake of the windshield has become more flat while the rocker panels have become more pronounced in later models.
Although these and many other seemingly minor design changes are debated at length by the enthusiasts, they are often overlooked by the rest of us. Dr. Porsche flat out nailed the design at conception. But he didn’t rest on his laurels. He continued to make changes under the hood, often implementing new materials and technology into the car as long as didn’t detract from its purpose and soul.
After using air-cooled engines for 32 years, Porsche switched to water-cooled units found in today’s models. Powerful engines, ceramic brakes and Xenon headlights were added. New models run on a wider track, and offer a mind-numbing array of safety features. Aluminum is now used in place of steel to reduce weight and increase fuel economy.
But the essence of the 911 hasn’t changed. Dr. Porsche infused the first model with a soul that can still be found in today’s 911.
I liken the Porsche 911 to the new iPhone that was announced today.
Some of my friends were disappointed that the iPhone 5 isn’t doesn’t look dramatically different from the iPhone 4/4S. The iPhone 5 looks like someone stretched the older model just enough that one more row of icons will fit on the screen. If that were the only change Apple made I would have been disappointed as well.
But that’s not the case. Apple made a number of Porsche-like under-the-hood changes that will prove to be more important than a major design change would bring. The new iPhone is lighter, thinner, includes a new “twice as fast” chip, higher resolution screen and upgraded camera. But the biggest change is support for LTE which is geek for “it downloads data so fast it will make your head spin.”
The iPhone is a fraction of the age of the 911, and I don’t expect the design cues of a portable computer to remain as consistent as those found in a sports car. But Jonathan Ive, the designer of the iPhone, got so much right in his initial creation that wholesale changes are not needed.
"A coherently designed product requires no adornment – it should be enhanced by its form alone."
That’s not a quote from Steve Jobs, although I could see him saying that. No, that’s from Dr. Porsche and it’s as relevant today as it was in 1963.