by Andrew Welch
The cat's out of the proverbial bag. At the MacWorld Expo in NYC, Steve Jobs filled in the final box in the little tic-tac-toe product board that he's bandied about for the past few years. The consumer portable, aka the iBook, was announced with much fanfare.
A firestorm of controversy has followed in the wake of the product's announcement, mostly focusing on the iBook's appearance rather than it's charming personality. The pithy critiques range from "oversized compact" (an interesting oxymoron in itself) to "candy-colored toilet seat." Well, no one said you had to have an impressive imagination to be a critic.
Personally, I agree that the iBook looks a bit effeminate, but really, who cares? I wasn't a fan of the iMac's styling when it was released about a year ago, and yet I understand what Apple is trying to do, and so I can only applaud.
In a nutshell, Apple needs to distinguish itself from the crowd, not blend into it. The recent computers from Apple shout "HEY, I'M DIFFERENT, I'M A MAC!" quite loudly (perhaps too loudly, you might think). Absolut Vodka comes in a distinctive foo-foo bottle, and the company spends millions making people aware of it through their ad campaign. Apple is simply trying to bring brand-naming back to what has become a commodity industry.
More power to them, it seems to be working. Beyond Apple's strategy, I also think it's rather refreshing to have a company that is willing to break down the walls that define what a computer should look like. The fact that there is so much resistance to this is rather clear evidence that the computer industry has stagnated into bland stereotypes. If my girlfriend likes a grape-colored iMac, that's great! I can't fault her for that any more than I'd expect to be faulted for preferring a British Racing Green car.
Now then, back to the iBook. The wireless networking, if it works as promised, is an absolute stroke of genius. I'm rather sure that Apple isn't making much (if any) money off of these networking products (compare the prices for similar products on the PC side of the fence), and yet they are pushing the envelope anyway. Why? The boring answer is that they are laying the groundwork for future products, which they'll capitalize on, and all of the exposure such a cool technology will get them. Airport technology will sell iBooks, there's no question.
The more interesting answer is Steve and the engineers at Apple sat there with big Cheshire smiles on their faces and said "Dang, how cool would it be to be able to read my eMail in the hammock outside?" Come on, you know it brings a smile to your face too.
My complaints are few; I wish it weighed less, and I wish it was a bit smaller, but I understand that these were tradeoffs to make it more durable. If the iBooks end up being as nifty as the MacWorld demo implied, I'll be first in line for one at home. I'm sure my brother and mother would absolutely love them, too. I can handle having them look a bit different; I've the feeling that people who see me working in my hammock will be envious, not disparaging.
Ambrosia Software, Inc.