It’s Not Me. It’s You.
I was a PC guy in the earliest days of computers. Apple? An amusing oddity. But 10 years ago something happened. I got my hands on my first iBook G4 and it was Apple Fever Baby. What once took thousands of dollars in a TV production studio could now be done on a laptop. I jumped in with both feet.
Apple was a great friend to many creative industries. I have no idea why, but Apple computers just worked better when it came to graphic arts, publishing and video production/filmmaking. Apple practically defined an industry with Final Cut Pro by bringing a low cost, professional, non-linear editing suite to a common laptop computer. Independent filmmakers were able to be truly independent while increasing their production values. Apple made this possible without the need for studios or investors. But now? Apple is no longer interested in being a production tool for the creation of art. They are far more interested in being a fashion statement.
It All Begins With The iPod
The iPod is a brilliant machine. The first generation iPod was a game changer. Period. When it was released in 2001 an entire industry shifted and there are not too many companies that can make that claim. Xerox, Polaroid, Microsoft, Google and Netflix should be on everyone’s list of companies that changed the way we work and play. Apple also deserves a place on that list. The iPod has changed not only the way we listen to music, but it also has changed the way we buy our music and, as a result, the entire music industry.
Gone are the days when consumers purchased an entire CD to get one or two really good songs. Now, we boot up iTunes and can cherry pick what we want to listen to and load it into an iPod. Not just a simple MP3 player, the first iPod was a 5-10 gigabyte machine that used a 1.6″ hard drive for storage. The addition of a mechanical menu scroll which included a select button in the center of four navigation buttons. iPod owners soon discovered that they could navigate their way through their music libraries without taking the player out of their pockets. And as game changing as that first generation iPod was, they just got better with the addition of video, photo storage, larger hard drives, cover flow and eventually video cameras and FM radio. This all culminated with what I think is the best iPod ever. The 5th Generation iPod Nano.
The 5th Gen Nano was sleek, sexy and packed full of the features that confirmed that Apple knew what people wanted. Apple had no problem giving it to them either. The 5th Gen Nano came with either 8 or 16 gigabytes of storage, a larger screen, video playback, a built in video camera, FM radio, Cover Flow and even a pedometer to help keep track of workouts. It was, in a word, perfect and any other competitor was merely a pretender. And for some reason it only lasted a year. It was replaced with the very reason I now question my relationship with Apple.
Less is Not More: The 6th Generation Nano
In September of 2010, exactly one year after the release of the previous Nano, Apple released its successor. The New Nano, referred to from now on as the Nano Touch, was released to the buying public as a breakthrough. Small and functional with a multi-touch display. But they left out the part where they left stuff out. Like the video camera and even the ability to play video at all. So Nano Touch users can no longer sync their players with iTunes and expect to see the videos they’ve downloaded. Apple also developed a new way to navigate subfolders that requires multiple swipes and touches and whatever else. The simple elegance of the original click wheel is gone as is the classic Nano design. This thing is as elegant as a matchbox. It is an iPod Shuffle with an awkward touch screen. I played with it for about 10 minutes at the store and knew that the Nano was dead to me now.
I simply hate this thing and everything it represents.
What this represents to me is the ultimate expression of style over substance. The Apple that I fell in love with was all about getting the job done. It has been a slow process but, of late, Apple products seem to be more about being seen at Starbucks with a Mac. Taking away Firewire from the Macbook was the first clue. It came back but it took some consumer pressure. A total lack of Blue-Ray support still mystifies me. Apple CEO Steve Jobs called Blue-Ray “a big bag of hurt” due to licensing concerns. But licensing got easier and Blue-Ray is still missing. Then there is the famous Blue-Ray e-mail:
I, as well as many people I know, have HD camcorders now. The mac has been a wonderful platform for working with HD video of family and friends and special events. However, there doesn’t seem to be a good solution to distribute that HD video to family and friends while retaining high quality. I was wondering if you have any plans for Blu-ray in the mac lineup for those of us who want to be able to share our HD video.
The reply, while short, said so much:
“YouTube now supports HD video.”
Nice. In just 5 words, Steve Jobs told his consumer base that their concerns are meaningless, HD video is better served on YouTube and that he really isn’t interested in discussing it further. It fails to acknowledge that iPhones and iPod Touches don’t support HD video or Flash, necessary to view HD on YouTube. And, this is the big one, it fails to address the needs of those consumers who use their Apples for a living. Can you imagine a wedding videographer who has just finished an HD wedding video for a client and has to tell the bride and groom that if they want to see their High Def masterpiece, they need to go to YouTube? For the video producer it means more work, more equipment and more software.
Hardware products like the Macbook Air and the iPad make no sense to me. Why do they even exist? The Macbook Air is a sleek design
masterpiece. Of course it doesn’t come with a DVD/CD drive. Apple says that is not really a problem because you can always download programs or, if that isn’t an option, you can buy (from Apple) a portable drive that is almost as big as the computer itself. If you leave it your designer computer bag, you won’t look like a dork at the local Starbucks.
The iPad has an obvious reason to exist. The iTunes Store. The only real way to make an iPad useful is to personalize it through the Apps store. For money. It’s a great way to make free stuff cost money. I realize that the iPad is really in a category all by itself and that the jury is still out, but I had a conversation with an Apple engineer and told him that I was looking for any advantages an iPad could bring to the classroom. Sure, it was early in the iPad’s lifespan but, ultimately, the answer was, “Sorry, can’t help.” But it certainly looks cool.
Switching to Decaf
Apple might not of entirely changed their mission statement. And I might be overreacting. But something about the Nano Touch doesn’t feel right. It feels more like a marketing ploy than an actual, usable product. Perhaps the 5th Gen Nano was too good. Maybe it was taking sales away from the Touch and needed to be “refreshed” in order to boost Touch sales. I don’t know. But my new MP3 player will not be an iPod. Maybe I will go through some boxes in the attic and see if my old Walkman cassette player is still up there…