MacDirectory Magazine

Summer-Fall 2008 (#38)

MacDirectory magazine is the premiere creative lifestyle magazine for Apple enthusiasts featuring interviews, in-depth tech reviews, Apple news, insights, latest Apple patents, apps, market analysis, entertainment and more.

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Page 150 of 179

MacDirectory 149 CLOSER LOOK creativity. All of these efforts, sometimes successful and sometimes not, showed a company that was attempting to rede- fine the equation for how customers interact with technology. The culmination of Jobs's vision and the company's savior was, of course, the iPod. Through all of its model iterations, the device remains pure in both form and function, and, in terms of consumer demand and desirability, continues to trounce rival DAPs that may even offer additional features and better price performance. Rather than focus on feature bloat that could add non- intuitive complexity, Apple has gradually (even grudgingly) added features to the device, all the while making it easier for consumers to connect with their music through better interfaces and screens and longer battery life. One may accurately argue that the "halo effect" of iPod and iTunes really fueled the renaissance of the company, along with some other recent savvy engineering decisions on the firm's PC side of the house, namely, migrating the platform to Intel processers and industry-standard components, which made Windows compatibility, via Boot Camp or virtualization, an eventual given. However, I would argue that it was Apple's continued adherence to their founding principles that placed them in the position they are in today, and they continue to support a focused and effective product pipeline. Consider the following two companies, which adhered to more common business strategies—i.e., cheaper, faster, more profitable—rather than maintaining a laser-like focus on their consumers, and as a result are struggling in the current economic conditions. Dell – The Commoditization Curse Dell was the PC market-share leader for many years. It pioneered its supply chain to such a degree that it could provide customers with hundreds of PC configurations reliably, quickly and affordably. Michael Dell was infamous for his predictions of Apple's demise in the late 1990s and early 2000s, when his company was at the height of its business fortunes. When asked how to fix the struggling Mac maker before a crowd of a thousand IT executives he answered, "I'd shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders." However, more recently, Dell's model has struggled. Why? Setting aside frequent customer service complaints about Dell's offshore call center operations, it is because the computer, their computer in particular, has become nothing more than an unremarkable appliance. With the weak dollar, rising inflation fueled by skyrocketing energy prices, the mortgage crisis, and ongoing instability abroad, U.S. consumers are not spending their cash on products that don't tangibly improve their lifestyle in some way, whether by making it more fun, efficient, or fulfilling. Dell's products simply aren't making that cut, and megahertz and dancing Intel technicians no longer move silicon. (Interestingly, Dell and one rival, Gateway, have been rolling out a slew of new products of late that are taking style up a notch or ten.) Starbucks – Losing Sight of User Experience The ubiquitous coffee chain, Starbucks, is facing some of the same problems as Dell in the current economic climate. It revolutionized the coffee experience for most Americans, bringing high-quality coffee and service that once existed only in the small coffee houses of Seattle. However, it has fallen victim to its own outstanding success and slavish attention to increasing shareholder returns. To increase the chain's caffeine processor cycles, it eliminated in-store grinding, rolled out large automated espresso machines. The company also engaged in unrelated activities, like the music business. Starbucks lost its focus on the all-important consumer coffee experience, and let its coffee become a commodity with insufficient desirability to command luxury good prices when consumers are antsy about the state of the economy. The company's founder, Howard Schultz, watched the precipitous decline of his company's stock and recently closed every store for a couple of hours for retraining and meditating on what went wrong. The solutions identified at a recent strategy meeting included bringing back in-store roasting and grinding, and introducing new, more compact espresso machines that allow baristas to more readily interact and connect with consumers. Apple—Think Different and Continue to Prosper In recent months, Apple's pipeline of new products, which address new and specific niches of the user technology experience, still appears to be in excellent health, even aside from the enduring iPod, the revolutionary iPhone, and the too-soon-to-tell AppleTV. Time Capsule was rolled out to make back-up of a consumer's data easy, painless, and even thoughtless. Revolutionary? Perhaps not for the enthusiasts among us, but still, an essential NAS device that will introduce many consumers to safer computing. It will help protect those precious family digital photo libraries that might otherwise be lost to users with busy lives and who lack a full appreciation of the fragility and impermanence of their digital bits and bytes. MacBook Air was not the ultraportable lappie many enthusiasts wanted. Many sought the computer that materialized a few weeks later in the Lenovo X300, a bit thicker and boring to look at perhaps, but bristling with ports, expandability and a replaceable battery. The MacBook Air is, however, perfectly in keeping with Apple's design philosophy of mixing undeniable elegance with usability, in this case a full-sized keyboard and screen equivalent to their industry-leading MacBook. It is desirable, fills a specific niche—mobile professionals and folks that want a minimalist machine to respond to a few e-mails, type out a letter or surf at a Wi-Fi hotspot—and will sell, even to the naysayers that believe form inappropriately trumped function. It is a laptop that defies comparisons to other companies' offerings, and again, avoids the commodity stigma. Without belaboring what is a very simple observation, Apple's continued emphasis on its founding principles— blending product form and function, zeroing in on the fundamental, pure user experience for every product, and their willingness to take big technological risks even when the industry is headed elsewhere— appears to be an enduring model for continued success, even in these tough economic times.

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