Thursday, October 13, 2005

Thinking different

Apple's done it again. The two newest toys on the block are stunning products - the video iPod is packed with features and a great form factor - and the new iMac G5 is simply beautiful with its simplicity and built-in videoconferencing. As some people might tell you, I've been quite fanatically obsessed with Apple all of today. There are reports, however, that other fans are less than happy with today's product offerings.

I watched the video of today's special event. Steve Jobs is just a wonderful presenter. The video is an hour long so I guess most people won't bother going through it. When I saw it though, I figured three things about Apple as a company that come through. Not that these things are anything new, but the way they're going about their business just confirms it.

Simplicity. A hallmark of virtually all Apple products (MTRL ROKR ISNT), I think this is the single biggest reason they're so successful and easy to use. Jobs showed a slide comparing the iMac Remote to a couple of Media Center PC remotes - the iMac Remote has 6 buttons and the Media Center PCs have over 40 and are at least ten times the size. He said, "This slide more than anything captures what Apple is all about". Although an unfair comparison (a media-center PC can double for a TV, act as a programmable video recorder, none of which the new iMac does), the point remains valid - Apple finds ways to make the whole experience simpler for the user. No better example for it than the iPod scroll wheel.

Think different. Until five weeks ago, the most popular MP3 player of any kind in the world was the iPod mini. That was when Apple ditched it, and replaced it with the iPod nano. That policy was echoed today when Jobs said, "the iPod has been our greatest success till date. That means, it's time to replace it." I don't know what you think of this, but I think it speaks volumes about belief in the company motto. Companies certainly research ahead to think up new products but I've not seen many that ditch their best-sellers at the peak of their sales. I guess people could dissent over whether this makes business sense - chip manufacturer's like Intel routinely lay off releasing newer products while the older ones can still be milked. What Apple's approach does, however, is lend excitement around the company and its products, which is why Apple can generate so much publicity by just a single e-mail.

The big picture. "At such events, we like to remind ourselves, that its really about the music." With this comment, Jobs invited Grammy-award winning musician Wynton Marsalis to perform on stage, a 15-minute instrumental on the trumpet which was simply awesome. One of the true business strengths of Apple is the user experience. I'm pretty sure the iPod could have been made to handle video a lot earlier than today. Yet, it was held back until Apple made sure there was content for it - and content that people will want and appreciate - especially the TV shows. The new iMac G5 may be nothing more than the old iMac with a built-in webcam, a remote and an application, but it sure adds up to a whole new way to use your computer. The end-to-end design adds a lot of value in my opinion. A grocery store can sell both food and plates, but thats nowhere close to the experience of a restaurant where its all packaged nicely together.

And that, you would think, puts me well and truly into the "religiously fanatic zealot about Apple" category. Not so. This was just an analysis of why I think Apple manages to do so well as a company. My zealotry will probably be revealed in the next post, in which I talk about my take on the new toys. If that was a groan I heard, too bad. Come back next week if you're tired of reading about Apple :)