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Does Apple Really Listen to You?

Yes, I know Steve Jobs often says that this feature or another was added to a Mac or the Mac OS because customers asked for it. I would normally be inclined to agree with him, because Apple does offer ways for you to send your feedback on their products, and certainly the return of some features to Mac OS X can be attributed to requests. Take Labels for example, although it doesn’t work quite the same as it did with Mac OS 9.

On the other hand, sometimes you have to wonder whether such claims are just marketing spin. Take the new iMac, with the glossy screens. Now is Apple correct that most of you wanted it that way? Or did they get a really great price on glossy LCD panels and hoped to keep production costs down as much as possible?

Or did they just misjudge your reaction to such things?

Now it may be that they are measuring the proportion of glossy screens sold on the MacBook Pro, where you have an option of one or the other. That is quite conceivable, except that dealing with reflections on a note-book computer is decidedly different than dealing with them on your desktop. The note-book can be easily moved, but the 24-inch iMac may not be conveniently transported from one location to another, especially if it’s best suited to a desk that attracts plenty light and window illumination from the wrong direction.

This past week, I’ve been talking to guests for this week’s episode of The Tech Night Owl LIVE both on and off the air on the subject, and author Kirk McElhearn and Macworld’s Rob Griffiths didn’t seem terribly enthusiastic over the idea of a large flat panel display with a glossy screen. Now I suppose you can say that they aren’t your typical Mac users. Being exposed regularly to the latest and greatest Apple hardware, you might think of them as elitist, although both are just regular guys. But you have to take their opinions seriously regardless.

On the other hand, if customer acceptance of the new iMac suffers, and Apple blames it on their choice of glossy over matte, don’t be surprised if they tell you that customers really wanted a choice after all. I mean, it’s not as if they have to admit they made a mistake.

Then there’s that new wireless keyboard. Now in the past, an Apple Bluetooth keyboard simply mirrored the wired version, sans the wires. They both functioned in pretty much the same fashion, except for the fact that the wireless version, for obvious reasons, didn’t feature a pair of USB ports.

In switching to aluminum, Apple has two distinctly different versions. The wired edition has the standard numeric keypad and Page Up/Page Down keys. The wireless version, coming shortly, doesn’t. Why should that be? Don’t customers want their wireless keyboards to duplicate the version tethered by cables?

Of course, Apple hasn’t given us a reason, and let’s hope we’re not being confronted by the same logic that created the notorious hockey puck mouse that lived its infamous existence in an earlier generation iMac.

Now I suppose Apple could make some good excuses as to why the wireless keyboard ended up this way. First is that most people don’t use numeric keypads, and Page Up and Page Down are also alien visitors, so why not dispense with them? Second, a narrower keyboard would center nicely in your lap, and that might make a whole lot of sense, at least to them.

This doesn’t mean that Apple always ignores the wishes of Mac users. I rather suspect they listened to some of us when they designed iWork ’08, particularly the new version of their combo word processor and page layout application, Pages.

You see, a lot of word processors can read and write Microsoft Word files. But few, if any, support the critical Track Changes feature. That is a capability that allows writers and editors to keep tabs on the progression of a manuscript from the initial writing into final production. That’s why almost every publisher I know of demands a Word document.

Well, the new version of Pages fully supports Track Changes, in both directions. I tested it carefully with a large book manuscript and the translation was perfect. Rob Griffiths tells me that he used it just as successfully when he recently reviewed another iWork ’08 component, the Numbers spreadsheet application. He had high praise for Pages too, and I wonder if Microsoft is beginning to feel the pressure. Consider that iWork ’08 sells for a mere $79, and even the Student and Teachers version of Office will likely cost just about twice that.

Pressure indeed. And I fully suspect Apple didn’t add Track Changes just to have another feature to put on a bulleted list. They did it with specific goals in mind, and taking a few sales away from Office may indeed be one of them.