Saturday, May 01, 2010

On Apple

Brian Mickelthwait has written a superb riposte to Instapundit (and all those others who maintain that Apple is mostly about "image").
Like Apple, Obama’s strength is mostly in the image department ...

That may be right on the money about Obama. Don't know for sure. Don't live there. But I definitely think it's wrong about Apple. For me, Apple's stellar "image" is based on an underlying reality of product quality, not on how nicely Apple supposedly behaves, or did behave until this recent atrocity.

I'm not quite sure how Apple insisting that those who stole its property be prosecuted could be described as an "atrocity" (I'd call it "the rule of law administered under California statute" myself), but Brian's assertion that Apple makes good products is absolutely bang on the money.

No, they are not the cheapest or event the most powerful products for your buck (although the so-called "Apple Premium" is nowhere near as high as most people suppose, or as high as it used to be when John Sculley and Co. were running the company into the ground); a few of them have not even been particularly good products (beautiful and fantastically engineered though it was, the G4 Cube springs to mind).

But what Apple does produce is beautifully designed products. Like Brian's, my Apple keyboard is far and away the most comfortable and high-quality keyboard that I have ever used. Is it the cheapest? No. Was it worth every pound that I paid for it—absolutely.

Most importantly, it is pretty much unlike any other keyboard that I have used, or even seen (though I am sure that there are now numerous cheaper rip-offs available). Somebody at Apple thought about how people use a keyboard; someone at Apple realised that a very slightly convex keyboard would fit the shape of one's hands better, that less travel in the keys was better, that people wanted labelling on the keys that wouldn't rub off; then someone at Apple designed something new and better (for me and Brian, at least).

As Brian quite correctly points out, however, there is always a darker side to such perfectionism.
Meanwhile, I also think of Apple, not as serenely nice people, but more like neurotic and borderline psychotic artists. The kind of artists who regard the transcendent excellence of their creations as a excuse to be mad bastards. I pretty much agree with them. It comes down to my understanding of the character of Steve Jobs. Genius. Mad bastard. Hell to work for, apart from that little thing that you get to make supremely great stuff and everyone thinks you are great too, which you are. "Insanely great", you might say. So, for me, Apple getting the government to smash down the door of some defenceless little tech-bloggers is no deviation for them. That's regular Apple behaviour. That's Jobs throwing a mad tantrum and stamping his never-grown-up feet, insisting that just as his products must be perfect, so must the launching of them be perfect, or not enough people will buy them quickly enough and the network effect won't cut in soon enough, and can't you pathetic fuckheads see that!!!!

Personally, that is a price that I am willing to pay for the quality of Apple products that I enjoy. And I do enjoy them.

Many people will, I am sure, pop up in the comments and call me a mindless Mac fanboi—they will be ignored. If someone turned up on your doorstep and started asserting that you were far stupider than they and too utterly stupid to be able to distinguish between good and bad, you would slam the door in their face.

Similarly, people will also turn up in the comments and assert lots of lies and idiocies that they've picked up from a 1992 issue of PC World—rubbish about Macs are so much more expensive, or how they only have one mouse button, or how there are no applications (particularly games) for the platform.

So let's nip those in the bud right now by pointing out that Macs are far less expensive than, for instance, Sony machines, have come equipped with a multi-button mouse for many years (and before that we used our other hand to press Control on the keyboard); and that there are many thousands of excellent (and cheap) Mac applications out there for doing just about anything; and that, yes, many games come late to the Mac but I, you see, not being a 12 year old boy, don't particularly give a crap and would certainly not spend more than tuppence ha'penny on a machine that is used primarily for indulging my rape, theft and murder fantasies.

Let's focus instead on the fact that I love my Macs in a way that I never loved the PCs that I used; let's focus on how I appreciate good design (like so many other designers) and how anyone who has seen me rage about abysmal user interfaces can utterly understand why I admire Steve Jobs.

And, finally, how I can agree with every word that Brian has written about why Apple is not in the least like some ersatz lawyer who has somehow found a way to rise to be the most powerful man in the world through promising the Earth and delivering only rubbish.

DISCLAIMER: I no longer hold Apple shares, having sold them last week at roughly $268. I bought my first tranche at about $80 and my second at about $140.


JuliaM said...

"...that people wanted labelling on the keys that wouldn't rub off..."

Oh, how I wish Dell had figured that one out... :(

Paul Lockett said...

I'm not quite sure how Apple insisting that those who stole its property be prosecuted could be described as an "atrocity" (I'd call it "the rule of law administered under California statute" myself)

I think the issue is that it possibly wasn't.

The return of stolen property or prosecution for handling stolen property possibly wouldn't be too controversial, but the seizure of computer equipment and records is.

Not only is there an issue of corporatism (as Gordon addressed), with a disproportionate response to a suspected theft, which would not be applied to the theft of an individual's property, but the response is legally questionable. The law protects journalists from the seizure of materials. Either those involved didn't consider journalists outside the mainstream media to be real journalists, or they decided to ignore the law. Either way, it's an unsatisfactory outcome.

Devil's Kitchen said...


"Instead because this is Apple the
whole situation is treated differently."

No, because Apple are part of the tech police board, they are treated differently.

Look, I take your point that the whole thing has been done in a very heavy-handed manner; I also take your point about corporatism.

But—hey!—it's theft. And the police are going to need all of the computer records to build an evidence-based case (using email, electronic payment records, etc.) too.

You still need evidence, even if your state goons do have the weight of Apple behind them.

"One law for corporations and one for us plebs I guess."

Strangely, were Gizmodo not being turned over for theft, I can't imagine you saying "one rule for journalists and another for us plebs"; and I certainly cannot imagine you saying "one rule for journalists and another for corporations"...


Anonymous said...

More fanboi rantings from the failed blogger.

hrothgar said...

Not that this says much about Apple products at large, but I've had two iPods and they both stopped working for no particular reason after about a year. The first one was replaced for free by the second, thank goodness, because it was under warranty, but I was screwed when the second stopped.

I imagine they put more effort into the quality of their computers, but I found it really irritating to be patronized by the "Geniuses" at the Apple store as if it were my fault the things quit playing music. To this day, I have no idea why they stopped working other than the paranoid theory that Apple designed them to degrade so I'd have to buy the new generation.... I did love those things though.

Roger Thornhill said...

Speaking as a designer myself, if it were just "style", the keys would wear out as others do, the quality of materials would be the same as commodity junk or worse "just to look good on the shelf".

It is not that way. Apple products are designed to not just look but FEEL, behave and last a certain way. The original iPod is the classic example. Anyone who thinks Jonathan Ive is a "stylist" and not a designer is, I am afraid, a stranger to reason.

Kevin Monk said...

I wonder how many libertarians are Mac fanbois? I certainly am, as are many in the Ruby on Rails community; many of which seem to have libertarian leanings. Perhaps if you're discerning in your choice of government then you're equally discerning when it comes to technology.

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