Friday, January 29, 2010

Nice MaxiPad!

For the past few years -- even before the first iPhones hit the street -- Apple's cult of followers has ravenously devoured every bit of news and rumor regarding new products like flies on shit. PC users are relatively restrained over new hardware because their allegiance follows a methodology rather than one single brand, so there's never a lack of new products forthcoming. However, the opposite end of the PC-Mac spectrum is that, with respect to the PC camp, there are a lot of lousy products to the few really incredible ones, so there's very little circling of the wagons when something hits the street because it's not hotly-discussed on every blog spanning the techno-globe.

I respect both sides of these diverging paths, as I spent many years being an Apple devotee before I finally left the cult and found the non-Jesus, aka the Pentium. Consequently, I'll never knock Apple's products -- however, I'll also be brutally honest in suggesting that they're well-designed, far too overpriced, far too limited and rely too heavily on hype and the science of the cult to be seriously considered.

Having said all that, the new iPad -- which has everyone buzzing from any two world coasts one can find on a map -- is indeed a huge disappointment for those among us who believe in free thought. For real Apple loyalists, it's the second coming...not of Jesus, but the iPhone. So what if it doesn't have a camera, the ability to multi-task or flash? Most Apple loyalists will find a way to happily excuse these omissions, quite capably.

So what if they deleted a USB connector and went with a 4:3 (non-16:9) screen?

The answer to all these omissions: so what, people will buy it.

This is, for me, the core of why I would and will never buy another Apple "computing device." I have an iPod (a Touch, specifically) and for what it does, it's great. It plays music, it plays movies, and has a half-dozen useful applications. Most of them are games, and one application is a sound-soother I use every night. In the morning, I use the Touch's built-in alarm (with that nuclear warning "alarm" sound) in tandem with an iPod-compatible Sony clock Kaia got me to bring me from a deep slumber to up 'n ready for Defcon 2 in a matter of seconds.

The problem is that Apple's products -- while creatively designed -- are designed to have a specific lifespan before they're replaced by something a bit better and a bit more capable. Put another way, they fall under the umbrella of built-in obsolescence.

Anyone who disputes that should first consider how many of Apple's products they've purchased and then, two years later, subsequently replaced, either because the battery needed to be replaced, or because the new model had so much more impressive features, or because the standard -- which is also set by Apple -- had changed so drastically that replacing was the only option.

And let's also keep in mind that all technology dies; when companies coordinate that death around new products and schedule rather than forecast it, it's part of the design, not the product strategy. Hence my disinterest in owning anything of significance made by Apple.

Back to the iPad -- and we'll ignore the criticism of the name (personally, knowing they hit a home run with an iPod makes the iPad moniker sensible). Although I must admit that people have now come to refer to the 64GB model of the iPad as the MaxiPad. Love that to a point beyond which words can't describe.

In short, the device -- like many of Apple's products -- is designed for Apple, and people either worship it, have no interest in it, or hate it. Apple's strategy is, quite simply, designed to provoke an emotion, and the reason why the iPad is in serious trouble is, frankly, most people don't seem to give much of a shit. It seems like a nifty little device; that description, however, was what most people used to describe the Newton.

I believe most people who wind up buying this device will be first required to memorize -- prior to purchasing -- the litany of excuses and explanations inherent in most Apple apologists' lexicons (a good collection of same can be found here). Sure, the device doesn't have USB, but it's not supposed to be an actual PC, it's only supposed to do this. Sure it doesn't have a camera, everyone has a cell-phone with a camera, why would I want to be bothered having a camera in this device too? Sure, it doesn't have Flash; who cares, eventually flash will be a thing of the past. Sure, it doesn't have HDMI or HD capability, it's not a portable movie player.

The answer is Apple, in its closed-loop marketing strategy, is -- frankly -- insulting those on-the-fence people -- those who are neither Apple fanboys nor people who hate Apple -- by intimating that Apple will decide what features we need and make us go elsewhere for those that they omit. By omitting a camera and banning Skype from their device, Apple has essentially tried to control the mobile market rather than opening it up. By eliminating flash, Apple has let us know it doesn't care about whether flash is viable or not, and that we as users should avoid sites with flash. And by non-conforming to the worldwide mini-micro USB connector, Apple is insuring users will have to pay them an extra $35 for a power cable that would normally cost, oh, about $8 at any Radio Shack.

Put simply, when you have to make excuses before you buy something, that in and of itself tells you that you're a fool to even consider buying said product in the first place.

But -- admittedly -- I am considering buying it. Not because it's innovative, not because it's the cool new thing, or worth the money; it's none of those.

I just can't wait for the day, hopefully soon, when I can announce to a small group of clients and/or business professionals, "Excuse me while remove my MaxiPad and plug it in."

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