Friday, May 18, 2012

And Now For Something Completely Different

This entry was originally posted as a comment reply in this submission to the technology subreddit.

Most of the entries I make on here will be devoted to politics or some aspect of culture and, perceptions and communication.  To be fair, many things overlap into those categories, though I also have a sweet spot for things which would broadly described as 'techie'.  The submission this comment appears under mostly had to do with Apple changing Siri's action when asked what the best smartphone is, which I'm mostly indifferent to (barring implications for Apple's and government compulsion to display particular results for various queries that would not give an accurate answer so much as what is deemed an 'appropriate' one).  The comment I replied to from gdstudios went as follows:

"Don't you realize that you are looking at a metaphor for how Apple runs its business? Pretty on the outside, strong and durable as hell, as long as you don't modify anything and play exactly according to our rules.

I will still never understand how the university generation is totally complacent with the fact that buying an iPhone forces you to download and purchase all of your apps, movies, and music from Apple through the unusable bloatware iTunes. Not to mention that it's beyond easy to accidentally erase all the mp3's you currently have on your phone when you upload new music."

While it was mostly directed toward amiability to Apple's DRM and walled-garden, I think average consumers don't consider those things when they hear or read about Apple or the products it makes.  They think of all the things Apple represents, and that's informed by what they see and have heard and read about the company and its employees from its past.  This is my attempt to articulate where people may be coming from on that.

"University generation... I've never heard that term before though there's a response down from you that sort of defines it as millenials which I think I'm just before, having been born in '81. I have an iPhone now though it's because my company opted to go with the device for their provided handsets; I was hoping for an Android-based one for what it's worth.

In any event, I remember growing up and the general story-line was that Apple made the computer something that could be used by people outside of programmers and business type(though I didn't start seeing Macs until I was in middle school and I'd been using some Packard Bell and second hand home-built computers for a few years before that rocking out on Dos with Populous and Death Track and Circuit's Edge. Anyway...) Vile and evil Microsoft and Bill Gates ripped off Apple and succeeded based on the stolen ideas and brought all of the other hardware companies along with them. Apple was in all of my schools growing up, and even very early on I remember the 'just works' mantra though I couldn't for the life of me figure out how only having a single mouse button was useful, and I don't remember seeing desktop computers using CD-caddies except for some Macs we used in computer lab in I think it was junior high. Apple was also bandied about as the computer de jour for anything artistic or music oriented(I've later found that despite having options on Windows and Linux machines, Logic Pro actually is I guess pretty dang good for audio manipulation and creation.)

Anyway, throughout the 90's Apple was the little guy fighting the good fight after it was wronged, and especially the colored jolly-rancher looking iMacs really played to the idea Apple was outside the box on design, even if they weren't that appealing(this was back when most computers I'd seen anyway were the matte off-white that yellowed terribly. Credit where credit's due, I remember seeing some Acer computers back then that were all black or black and grey with swooping lines and aesthetics on the sides of the towers and had a swiss-cheese-ish look to their vents on the sides).

So going forward, all of these people from at least my generation if not all over had grown up seeing Apple depicted as the underdog, occasionally seen their stuff and being a little intrigued but confused by the differences it had compared to the 'normal' computers we'd see, we'd hear about them struggling but surviving, see the awkward but innovative designs. That pretty much takes us through the 90's and in the very early 00's Apple's hardware was still....well quirky I guess? awkward? bizarre some might have and continue to say? That wasn't the first thing to change as OS X dropped and even in its first iteration it was much prettier than Windows ME and even in many areas XP(Vista upped the visual ante for the OS but screwed the pooch on its initial usability and by the time Microsoft had missed the window, as it were, to try to save that version's mindshare) and was just so damn fluid. The buttons all lickable and glossy! You see that dock, man?! It's so much prettier than that stupid Start(task) Bar that actually says start on the button, ain't it? You see those icons! They shrink and zoom as you move over them, holy cow!

Okay, so OSX made the using of the computer much nicer. Take a look at how Apple took their designs from being artsy to being sharp. Those Powerbook G3s ? Get ridda that junk, we got smooth looking stuff going on here. I mean, look at what they replaced that thing with . Look at how the G4 Power Mac to the G5 Power Mac changed. Holy crap, right? I'm sure somebody'll find an example to slap me in the face with, but seriously those were not incremental changes for at the very least Apple's own lineup, and the iMacs weren't hard on the eyes either. The logo itself on the Apple hardware never again as far as I know has been the multi-colored one; it's white or silver or black. In short, Apple got their act together in the design realm before the vast majority of other hardware manufacturers and became that hot 20-something who used to be pimpled-up and awkward.

So there's that. Since I've already done all this typing, I may as well keep going for the various justifications and rationale that very well could play into random consumer A's perception of Apple and their products. Steve Jobs gets a huge amount of praise for these design changes and, indeed, he does deserve some of it. However, the industrial design may not have begun with him but Jonathan Ive apparently has had a huge amount of influence over the physical appearance of the devices Apple's put out in the aftermath of these early 2000's changes and this is the period of time to which people in media and unknowingly in common usage refer when they lavish over how amazing Apple's products look. On that note, it's my opinion Ive will be the next CEO and Cook's almost more of a place-holder while Ive's grooming is completed.

Back to Steve Jobs. Up until very recently, he was Apple. Woz, who? Steve wasn't the CEO for a decade? wha? If people knew about this history, and to be fair probably more people from the general consumer perspective knew of Apple's corporate makeup than say HP or Sony, it just intensified the myth and legend. Woz designed and made the original company possible but he was quirky and isn't a salesman, a showman, the guy who shows you something, smirks as he looks at you sidelong and you say damn that is pretty smooth. That was Jobs. Plus, the dude was the prodigal son of the company and he came back right when Apple was at its weakest, having needed to take money from Microsoft of all companies to stay afloat and bang, all of a sudden OSX, their physical designs go from meh to heck yeah.

All of that helped, and really made much of Apple's larger devices appealing for more and more and more people actually in college or university; gotta get that glowing logo on the back. So that brings me to what really in my mind what got Apple into people's heads. The iPod, iTunes and letting go of quite so much proprietariness. There were mp3 players before the iPod, of course, but Apple and Jobs' were able to hype theirs so much better, sell it much better, and more crucially than I think is given credit, after a short spell of exclusivity for Macs and Firewire, made the iPod compatible with Windows machines and gave it a USB plug. Lack of a requirement for songs to have been bought from iTunes helped massively as well, letting people bring in their pirated or ripped libraries with them. As things progressed, iTunes gained momentum and became the de facto method of legally obtained music and movies and television shows on the internet. The iPhone didn't even launch with App Store, but it was sexy looking when smart phones until then were anything but(Prada yes and Equilibrium and 13th Floor were great movies but who remembers that in place of The Matrix?). This was also on the tail end of rumor after rumor for how long hyping Apple's foray into the market? Where'd those rumors come from and who consumed them? Favorable and fawning people in media, the younger and 'tech-ier' of which grew up seeing Apple go from weird also-ran to trendsetter. Who(Apple), by the way, turned their handicap of tiny marketshare into a badge of exclusivity and along with changing from IBM to Intel cooled and cheapened their units for their manufacturing so they could begin to make incredible profit margins on devices most others can only dream of or attempt to make up for through marketshare.

The iPhone and iPad and all of the closed garden tight controls and cut-throat tactics be danged. This is crescendo times and even with their idol gone, Apple's got the mindshare in so many ways, in so many areas it could release incremental updates even as others do amazing things and they're still good for years to come.

Thanks for reading that massive block of tripe if you did and for what it's worth, Google's exactly the sort of foil to exist to give Apple something to continue to rage against in the mobile sphere as a relatively humbled Microsoft claws to get something, anything from that market since Windows machine makers are still trying to get their sexy back with the consumer base.

Apple's not bad and the magnetism they has roots that go deeper than just iPhone/Pad sales and App Store metrics."