The Apple Store

Once again for Christmas 2001 , I braved the mall scene to go Christmas shopping, and I want to tell you, The Apple Store has been the coolest thing I've seen since I came across the Metreon in downtown SF a couple years ago. The store looked a little temporary, but after perusing the Apple web site, I see now that this is just because its minimalist design focuses all attention on the merchandise.

What really struck me is how far along these guys have come with industrial design for the consumer computing appliances. I bought a Fat Mac in college when they first came out, and loved it. I was set to be an Apple convert for life except that the doggoned things cost too much, Apple never did customers any favors on upgrades, eventually the PC got a decent GUI, and I decided to make my living developing software, which meant PC not Mac if I wanted to be successful. Pity.

The Apple Store

What these guys have to sell is not the easiest to use computer in history, despite what they say. They're selling Style, pure and simple. This Apple store is all about being hip in an artistically sensitive kind of way.

Like to wear Armani? Drive a Porsche? Have a house decorated in a contemporary style? Then you need to buy some things from Apple, because they have targeted your demographic to a "T". In that sense, this store is just like a Bang & Olufsen or Porsche Design outlet. They're all over this, and I am their demographic, so I love it!

The store was exceptionally well merchandised compared to the normal Fry's or Circuit City. Lots of friendly intelligent sales people are there to lend just the right amount of support. Every computer system there was decked out with cool peripherals. Nearly every one of them had a cool digital camera, for example. In fact, a digital camera fiend would be as excited as a computer lover in this store there were so many to choose from. There were also digital video cams, scanners, sound systems, and every other imaginable thing to connect to your Mac. This store is about not just buying computers from Apple, but about all the many things you'll want to have with your computer from Apple.

Let me give you a brief photo tour and description of what I saw there.

 

I walked in to the Apple store hoping to see an iPod, and I wasn't disappointed. There were about six of them sitting around, all live functioning devices rather than the mock-ups a place like Fry's would make you play with.

The iPod is the size of a pack of cigarettes and holds 6 gigs of music data. It has a FireWire interface, so you can transfer information to it at hard disk speeds. Frankly, these pictures do not do it justice. You have to hold one in your hand to really get the picture. This is a personal digital appliance I totally lust after!

The thing has heft to it that suggests worth like a gold Rolex President watch. Even the plastic on top has depth and luster that make you forget it is plastic, and think in terms of some high tech aviation composite cum exotic natural pearl-like material.

The screen and controls are creamy smooth in operation, with none of the clicky-doesn't-always-make-crisp-contact feel so many consumer products have.

It's only vice? You have to own a Mac because it doesn't talk to PC's. Argh! I would buy one this instant if that were not true!

The Apple AirPort is wireless networking in the eye of an industrial designer. Made of the same shimmery material as the iPod front panel, these little flying saucers look playful, but they connect all your gear via 802.11b. No plugging in a PC card is needed, just use USB. For convenience, the AirPort also has a 10/100 Ethernet connector on back to go to your DSL modem, which will automatically make it available to all Mac's in the vicinity, as well as a 56KB modem connection, which will also automatically be shared among Mac's on the Wi-Fi wireless LAN. It also has a built-in firewall so you don't have to worry about those nasty hackers coming into your home.

Compared to the trouble I've gone through on occasion to make my PC's network, I can only look on with green envy at how easy it looks in the Mac world.

Marc Levinson and Krell look positively plebian alongside this cool looking box. I don't think I've seen a better looking tower anywhere. Pity that within it beats the soul of a Power Mac G4 rather than a PC!

I have seen one case (no pun intended!) in my internet travels where an individual liked it so much he removed the Mac guts and put a PC in there. It's awfully tempting, but the Borgcube would not be amused. These white boxes are the antithesis of my Darth Vader black cube!

Goodness these were cool displays! They're HUGE! 1600 by 1200 pixels, and the form factor really makes sense to me. Not only would it be good for watching widescreen movies, but it makes more sense for computing productivity. 4:3 with this much resolution means you're wasting the horizontal dimension. The average WYSIWYG page is an 8 1/2 by 11 affair. With this monitor you can see things side by side. It really makes sense to refer to it as the "desktop", rather than most monitors which are like throwing all your documents into the bottom of a trashcan and trying to work on them there.

The good news is that Apple monitors will work for PC's. Who know? If my NEC gives out I will be sorely tempted. It's called the Apple Cinema Display, and it rocks. The bad news is that one of these beauties will set you back about $2500. Ouch!

 

The iBook was so sweet. Brushed aluminum and this wild plastic composite material everywhere. Solid feeling construction. The single mouse button is metal too! What a beauty!

Along with the Apple hardware was a raft of non-Apple items that looked tailor-made for the stylish Macs. The Canon scanner pictured on the left was just one such, although it did look like Apple had some kind of deal to market all sorts of Canon products.

There were digital still cameras, digital video cameras, and a host of other gew gaws.

The Pro Mouse and Pro Keyboard are absolutely gorgeous. Having only one button meant the mouse could hide its button so that it is triggered by rocking the case. In practice it felt a little weird, but would be workable. You just have to click as though there is a button there and not think about it too much.
The Apple Pro Speakers by Harmon Kardon are yet another cool transparent design to pamper the eyes and ears with.
These Sound Sticks and iSub subwoofer were on sale at Apple too. Very chic!

If you haven't gathered by now, I absolutely loved the whole experience. My single complaint is why can't these guys make a Wintel box that looks like this? When will Apple realize that what they sell is style, and the rest of it is just hubris? Does my Porsche have to run on a special fuel that I can't buy everywhere? No, but a Mac requires special software. Consequently, it isn't anything I want to get involved with. Apple would be so far ahead if they went Wintel it isn't funny. They could quit reinventing so many wheels. I'd bet they could build a shell on top of Windows that would preserve their look and feel. So they need to get another button on their mice--big deal! They could quit building motherboards and quit worrying whether the Power PC microprocessor is keeping up (it isn't!). If they sold a Wintel box I'd have bought one years ago as would zillions of others. They could charge exactly the same prices they do today and get higher margins due to lower R&D costs, as well as joining in with the economies of scale of the behemoth Wintel marketplace. What a pity.

When are these Apple guys going to make me happy?

 
All material 2001-2006, Robert W. Warfield.