(This post was originally started in July 2007, and left to rest for almost a year.)
Apple Inc. has, for a long time, been one of my favourite companies. They developp innovative and user-friendly products, their interfaces are full of eye candy and general usability than the competitions, they offer the promise of a virus and hassle-free computing experience. All of which maybe very true, I am writing this on a Powerbook (since deceased), which, in spite of a major overhaul last year, continues to serve my excessive and exxcentric needs admirably, albeit slowly. This is one of the pieces of computing kit I do love and hope to be able to do so for a long time to come.
Apple, though, is no longer your friendly neighbourhood computer maker. They have in the four years I have owned this, and various other pieces of their stuff, developped from being an expensive fanboys toy to becoming one of the hottest items of merchandise on the shelves these days. In this post, I would like to take the time to explore what this might do to Apple, and hopefully will not.
The thing is, that, reading this a couple of years later, I realize that I remain an Apple fan and will continue where I left off then.
I love their new operating system, buggy though it may be,making my indesign crash at the drop of a dustspeck in the sea, but it remains the simpler, more efficient operating system. As a matter of fact I have come to loathe windows and its clunky interface, the clutter, the many different ways you expect something to happen wen you click and it simply doesn't. Of course, Microsoft seems to be realizing this ( In fact, at the recent D! conference, both Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer openly made fun of their beloved and so-much-hyped OS) and trying to improve things by 2050 and I do hope they get their act together.
However, they have expanded greatly. The iPhone has become the third most bought smartphone worldwide. The iPod, ubiquitous. The Mac is slowly finding its way into the living rooms of the general public, no longer the exclusive domain of posh types like myself. In fact, a recent survey (I'm quoting from memory) says that Apple has established the Mac as THE computer in the heads of many teens, much in the way that iPod has become the digital music player of choice for many, many young people (70% market share and still growing). Many elderly people are turning to OS X as a reliable and simpler alternative to the norm.
In Germany, the Mac platform is expanding as rapidly as ever. business at the shop I work at is brisk. I estimate that we shift at least 40 computers a day, to people of all ages and sizes.
But where does this leave Apple, by now Inc?
First and foremost, it leaves them with a lot more responsibility. More users means less security, a point Apple has prided itself upon in the past. With Apple taking responsibility for their users security, this also means that they have to plug holes a lot faster. They now also have the added burden of having to satisfy a much broader customer base. This means their OS has to perform almost flawlessly, or at least so much better than Windows that people will continue recommending Apple over Windoze. Their designs have to please more people.
In one of the iGAf? posts, I mention how apple is changing the materials they use, from plastics, to more environmentally friendly aluminum, at times reminding me of Brauns 70's designs. This is happening through pressure from Greenpeace, who, last year ranked Apple at the bottom of their eco-table for computer manufacturers. More people buying Macs means a lot more potential waste. It is to everyones advantage if these computers are designed to be recycled, or disposed of. Trash cans made from ex-premium computers sounds like a better alternative to heaps of decaying iBooks.
The new designs are gorgeous, yet, in a way, more adapted to a more general taste. Maybe the best analogy are Flatscreen TV's, destined for the living room of the discerning consumer. But, in a way, Apple is forgetting their classic audience: What you might call media Pros. Since the introduction of the new Imacs, graphic designers, film editors, photographers have raised their voice in anguish. Though they are beautiful, sleek pieces of industrial design, with enough power built in to edit feature-length films, create document with many vectors, points and pages and edit RAW photos, their glossy screens make it impossible to achieve any kind of colour accuracy for print or the big screen.
There is also the question of the quality of the production. Another frustrating thing about the newer macs is, that even though the basic casing and innards are very well made, generally, their screens are often found lacking by the trained eye. Students used to be able to do their layout assignments on the smallest version of the iMac. Now, due to a screen that feels a bit wrong, they no longer can.
Speaking of feels wrong, to reach their new audience, Apple engaged in a massive rebranding exercise, changing the names of their entire line of computers to include the word MAC. So the Powerbook became a Macbook Pro, a move which still ticks me off somewhat, as I like the idea that my computer is a powerhouse of performance, dammit. But it works. The word Mac is in many more mouths than it has been before, and it is being spread by people who have written Word documents on their Macbook (the successor to the venerable iBook).
They also started running more ads. The Mac vs. PC ads have raised eyebrows, entertained fans and grabbed market share worldwide. Word-of-mouth is no longer enough to reach all of the people Apple wants to reach. They have gotten seriously ambitious.
And seriously corporate. The quirkiness of Apple is mostly gone. Steve Jobs Keynotes consist mostly of numbers and summaries of sales figures and how well Apple is doing. Really well. Boom. 33% growth. And one More thing: New products. They have changed their website to a cleaner look, and even though it still looks great, it reeks slightly of Helvetica. I hear more and more about CEOs and the board and less about what makes Apple exciting.
That is not to say that they don't still engage in innovation. But it is a lot more targeted now. Put Apple in your living room, your bedroom, your bathroom and your gardening shack. Apples focus has changed. It used to be about computing power, about the underdog system, garnering sympathy or a pitying smile. Now shiny little boxes are produced to decorate your living space with videos, photos and all manner of digital content.
This is mostly a sign of the times. It is no longer as profitable as it used to be to base a business on selling luxury computers to the more evolved economies. And so Apple adapts its game to the game.
Yet, they also continue to surprise. To quote another survey I can't remember, Apple is one year ahead of the the competition. They persist in delivering products that delight. The same products remain well thought out and easy to use.
And that is where Apple hasn't changed at all.