Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Thinking (differently) about Macs

Nothing inspires lust like a new wave of Apple products. The new Mac Mini, much rumoured and pre-empted over the past few weeks (take a look at this ingenious hoax that came out about a week or so ago) looks like the Minimi to the Mac Cube, itself a groundbreaking product that sadly failed to get off the ground much (though there's still a devoted community of Cube owners). A look at the pictures alone will show you Moore's law in action: the Mac Mini is a third of the size of the Cube, but has greater capability, and is wrapped in Apple's latest aesthetic of white lucite and grey.

The iPod Shuffle, if it takes off, will be a testament to Apple's ability to re-shape consumer expectations and desires. Conventional wisdom dictates that an MP3 player which (a) lacked a display and therefore (b) gave you no control over which song was to be played next could not be a viable product. Apple (thinking differently) approaches this not as a product to be sold, but as an idea to be marketed. Look at how Apple is pushing this product [emphases mine]:

"Random is the New Order

Welcome to a life less orderly. As official soundtrack to the random revolution, the iPod Shuffle Songs setting takes you on a unique journey through your music collection — you never know what’s around the next tune. Meet your new ride. More roadster than Rolls, iPod shuffle rejects routine by serving up your favorite songs in a different order every time. Just plug iPod shuffle into your computer’s USB port, let iTunes Autofill it with up to 240 songs(1) and get a new experience with every connection. The trail you run every day looks different with an iPod shuffle. Daily gridlock feels less mundane when you don’t know what song will play next. iPod shuffle adds musical spontaneity to your life. Lose control. Love it."

Wow. Whoever wrote the copy for that, I salute you. You've taken an apparent limitation, and framed it as an enabler: lack of choice becomes a conscious choice to be random, lack of ability (to choose) becomes liberation. The paragraph is loaded with words that connote freedom, liberation, and empowerment. If the communists had copywriters like that ... well, put it this way: I want to buy one! And, as someone has so eloquently put it in pictures here, why would I want an iPod Shuffle when I already have an iPod?

Or two.

In danger of slipping under the radar is iWork, perhaps a fundamentally more significant product. The world has been locked into Microsoft Office for almost 10 years now - Office, for better or worse has been the alpha-male of writing, presenting, and spreadsheeting. It's so ubiquitous that I don't even have a basis for comparison - I wouldn't know how bad Office was because I don't have anything to compare it with! Hopefully iWork will provide that much needed challenge. At the very least, it will allow us Mac users an alternative to Office. Granted that Star Office and other alternative products have been around for a while, but iWorks will allow the Mac fanboys an officially sanctioned Apple alternative, complete with requisite small-case "i".

In case you're wondering, I count myself an Apple fan, and have loved Apple's products since my first iMac (Sage) in 2000, but sometimes I'm amazed at the reactions Apple inspires - diametrically opposed Love It and Hate It reactions. On the one side, Apple seems to inspire a love that borders on the religious, and on the other, a knee-jerk prejudice founded on misconceptions that refuse to die in the face of facts (like how people still think that Apple computers are slower, less compatible, and less value for money - none of which I have found to be true in 4 years of owning and loving Macs). It is true that sometimes Apple can and will pull things off which no other company could, knowing that their customer base is actually a fan-base - take a look at this nice little parody here of Apple's marketing techniques (Conversely, here's a poke at the Apple-haters out there as well). I can appreciate Apple's products for their aesthetic completeness, and peerless user-centricity, and yet also marvel at their audacity in shaping consumer expectations, and the wonderful irony of a company that tells it's customers to "Think Different" (and walks the talk, producing genuinely innovative products), but which also shapes their thinking to suit their products! Pure genius ...

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