Journal: News & Comment

Wednesday, January 12, 2005
# 1:18:00 AM:

Polishing the gems

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UPDATE: See my further comments above.

The other thing that's brilliant about Apple's product introductions yesterday, as almost always, is the way they're being sold to people.

How do you promote an MP3 player that's cheap but has no screen (and no upgradeable memory slot either, by the way)? Call it the "shuffle"—hey, you never know what it's gonna do! It'll mix it up, throw you for a loop, put Christmas songs in your hot August playlist! It's tough! Take it anywhere to make life more interesting! And... and... wait for it... (listen to me now: "Random is the New Order") that's cool! (Oh yeah, and it will play your songs in the sequence you pick too, if you want to be boring.)

And you know what? I want one. It plays songs from the iTunes Music Store, after all. It looks elegant. It's an iPod. And my current MP3 player—which has a screen—gets flakier and flakier all the time, its firmware upgrades seem to break more features than they fix, and it has never been even close to elegant. Once again, Apple seems to have made something better by taking stuff away.

Before the announcements, I was sure that if Apple introduced a cheap Mac with no monitor like the Mac mini, they'd also have to have an inexpensive display to go with it. Forget that: "If you already own a monitor, keyboard and mouse, you can get up and running in minutes. Or choose any combination of new devices to meet your individual situation." What does it say that even the least expensive Apple display is a 20" LCD that costs $1250 in Canada (tripling your computer cost if you buy it)?

I'll tell you: it's Apple saying we don't care. Go to Best Buy and pick up a $300 LCD panel or $175 CRT screen. Better yet, turf the spyware-infested Windows 98 box and move its monitor to the Mac mini (the necessary adapter is included). Use any old USB keyboard. You'll still have bought a Mac, which you might not have done before.

Unfortunately, in complete contrast to the latest iMac G5, it looks like the Mac mini is not supposed to be popped open by its owner. Even a memory upgrade supposedly requires a trip to the dealer. That's a funny way to make the computer more expensive (through labour charges or Apple's inflated online store RAM prices) than it needs to be, and runs counter to the rest of the marketing philosophy behind it.

Finally, look at iLife and iWork: the box and web art have gotten away from the staid still-life stock photo look and Microsoft Office rip-off puzzle-piece design of the previous versions, in favour of retro-psychedelic Pop Art creations that are more reminiscent of the crazy 1968 Mexico Olympics logo and Yellow Submarine than of their predecessors.

I suspect if Microsoft or Adobe tried that, it would look forced. Yet somehow, as usual, Apple pulls it off.

Computers would be a much duller industry without Apple around.


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