Apple is frequently hailed as some of the best design on the planet.
That's not to say that Apple design isn't great, because it is. What blows my mind is the idea that what Apple is doing is somehow genius and difficult. Think about the concepts behind their work: Simplicity; ease of use; subtle beauty. These are very simply concepts that so many other companies seem damn-near incapable of getting.
You want to know why? Because every other company is trying to emulate Apple's real genius: a closed product system that fully integrates and consumes a user. If you use an iPod, that means you're tied to iTune. And that means you're tied to the App Store. And all of this is made easier if you own a Mac, which ties you to MacOS. It's a massive, vertically integrated product line with which Apple exerts an enormous amount of control over its users.
This is great for many consumers, because it makes things very easy for them. You buy all Apple, plug it all in, and it all works. The same can't be said for other companies. And for most other companies with a bit less than the genius at Apple, the desperate attempts to create a vertically integrated techno-world for their user results in disaster.
Sony has been trying it for years. EVERYTHING they make is proprietary. Their memory cards, their video and audio formats, their cables. And since Sony is actively trying to take over the world, that goes into every part of their design, which is a huge handicap.
Apple set out to make a good product, and every step they take is intended to do just that, make the best product. Steve Jobs has mentioned many times how more openness is better, and I don't think that's just lip-service to the geeks.
He's actually dedicated to the idea of openness and product freedom, but way back in the day, when the first iPod was created, a closed system worked best. The technology was haphazard and scattered amongst a variety of companies and standards. At the time, the best product was a closed product, and that just so happened to lead to a controllable system that Apple lords over.
Now all of the other companies are drooling over such power and actively limiting the products they make to try and achieve what Apple has achieved, and they end up with shit. If only they'd ask the question "what does the customer want?" as opposed to "how can we make more money off of the customer?", because contrary to popular economic retail theory, the two pursuits are not always in alignment.
What Apple does is not brilliant, it's just that all of the other companies suck.