My esteemed colleague Jochen Wolters wrote a piece about the next “Insanely Great” Apple product. Like most, well, insanely great pieces, it got me thinking: does something along these lines have a place in Apple’s lineup today?
The past few months have been filled with amazing products from Apple: the MacBook Pro, the MacBook, the quad PowerMacs… A great many machines have seen the light of day that are faster, cooler and more reliable than their predecessors. In fact, many Mac users feel Apple is out of a long-time hardware drowsiness and is now getting back to its conquering days.
I couldn’t agree more, in many ways. But of course, you know me, I couldn’t agree less in some others. Indeed, while I believe Apple’s last products are all wonderful in many aspects, I believe it is time we stop expecting something that will make our jaws drop, something so big, so unbelievable that we will all be floored — like Mac OS X or the Cube in their time.
Why? For the very reason that makes many of us expect this product: Apple is now a successful company, running smoothly with great products. Thanks to excellent PR, good branding and top-notch engineers, the Apple roadmap is in that area of excellence that makes it shine but remains mundane enough to sell. After all, the MacBook is an insanely great notebook, the MacBook Pro is a great laptop. All are built on a great processor but a mainstream one — and I don’t mean that in a negative fashion by any means.
Sure, it is possible to put out products that are even better. I’m sure the whole of Apple could manage to compress a quad PowerMac into a Mac mini enclosure if they put enough time, money and staff on it. And the iPhone with laser keyboard is definitely technologically possible. But does it make sense, when one sells many a great product in a solid fashion to disrupt these offerings with a blue elephant that people will (wrongly, probably) laugh at for years or remember as “one of these crazy machines only Apple could put out”?
Apple’s biggest battle now is for credibility. Many people see Apple as the cool iPod maker but even these will require a lot more time to see Apple as the high-end server manufacturer or the UNIX vendor. IBM on the other hand could put out a cube tomorrow, it would probably be seen as a little eccentricity from a corporate vendor (words best uttered cigar in mouth). When one fights for credibility, one definitely needs to stay ahead of the curve, but not too much.
What’s more, one needs to communicate a lot about that curve. And to communicate something, that something needs to be within the grasp of the average purchaser: ie it needs to be, indeed, fundamentally mundane.
Want an example? Everybody knows what a cola drink is. Hence, it is easy to put out Lemon Coke, Cherry Coke, Diet Coke, whatever. Stay ahead in terms of taste, bubbles, anything that strikes your fancy but the consumer has a point of reference for. All in all however, no matter how delicious and healthy your cola drink is, you, fundamentally, are adding good flavoring to a soft drink. You are still making the same,traditional product. Now, go ahead and try marketing blue coke. You flop. Maybe it’s insanely great in many ways but it’s certainly disturbing. By being disturbing, you are sure to attract a strong following but also to scare away all the “serious” people, the very people who have the power to turn you into a big player.
I’m certainly not saying Apple has stopped innovating. Definitely not. However, even though we Mac users want Apple to put out something “big”, I am inclined to think it is not in the plans. That somewhere in Cupertino lies that knock-my-underwear-off piece of software or hardware I can (and am willing to!) believe. That it is actually being manufactured somewhere in Taipei for now, I don’t think.
Of course, you know the Mac previsions curse… The iPhone will go out tomorrow and I’ll be laughed at by tarsiers all around the globe…