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  • Those Computers Look Nice, But Can You Tell Them Apart?

    March 3rd, 2008

    The other day I was watching the talking heads on a certain cable TV news network, when I noticed that their note-books all had Apple logos on them. Funny thing, the lids seemed to be dark-colored, almost black, which doesn’t mean they were using ancient Macs. Maybe they only rated MacBooks rather than MacBook Pros, or the set designers dictated the selection.

    In any case, what this brings to light again and again is that, when you see a distinctive-looking computer on a TV show or a movie, it’s most likely a Mac. Sure, Dell has some presence in this area, but would you even give their PCs a second glance, or would they just fade into the scenery? Maybe Dell should be giving greater emphasis to their Alienware brand.

    Now maybe the producers don’t want their computers to stand out, and I can’t say that the heroes always get Macs and the villains all get PCs, but Apple has always done far better in product placement. In fact, I sometimes wonder if long-suffering tech journalists sometimes get second-class status as a result when they want products to review, except for a few high-profile tech writers you and I both know about.

    All of this reminds me of those famous Avis car rental ads, where they tell you they try harder because they are number two. It doesn’t matter where they are situated in the marketplace these days, the concept remains all so true.

    Basically the PC market, although fractured with lots of players,  generally presents itself as a somewhat cohesive if mediocre whole. You traverse the shelves at, say, a Best Buy and attempt to find the PC you want and you have to admit they all look pretty much the same. I suppose that’s true with all so-called commodity products these days. I mean, I really can’t separate a Samsung from a Sony high definition TV unless I look real close. You could probably buy either, depending on your particular needs, and get something that performs well and lasts a long time.

    In the PC market, however, the products aren’t really commodities, even if so many look and work the same. They remain complicated and temperamental beasts, apt to fail in unexpected ways at the most inopportune times. This isn’t to say that Macs can’t be flaky too, but usually in more predictable ways and certainly not as often.

    However, for the PC market as a whole, the Microsoft hegemony has, for the most part, erased much of the distinctive character that once typified the industry.

    Now, to some extent, that may be a good thing for a business. A large firm, for example, will buy hundreds or thousands of PCs as part of a single order. They will likely make their selections on specs alone from one of several competing vendors, and they are going to want their IT staff to be able to integrate those PCs seamlessly into the corporate environment. So if one office has a Dell and the next an HP, it won’t make a difference because both have Intel Core 2 Duo processors with the same speed, RAM allotment and hard drive configurations.

    That, of course, is at loggerheads with Apple’s approach, which is to empower the individual to “Think Different.” That’s why most Macs go into the hands of consumers, or content creators. It also means, of course, that a company’s management might also buy Macs to stand apart from the regular, ordinary worker bees.

    Certainly a Mac is more than just a pretty face, however, although having a feeling of pride when you work on one is a good thing. The fact that they are, in large part, more predictable and productive tools than a Windows PC means that a company’s production expenses may actually go down, which certainly doesn’t hurt in a shaky economic climate.

    Now maybe this doesn’t count for a lot if you spend your workday compiling medical records or preparing legal briefs. Even then, however, you don’t want to have to stop work in the rush of a deadline because your computer is crashing, and you can’t finish the final two paragraphs that are needed to make that court filing in the next hour.

    Well, it may keep the IT people busy trying to figure out what went wrong remotely or in a hands-on session, and maybe it will give you a little time to rest and reflect before your tasks resume. On the other hand, why put up with that nonsense in the first place?

    Apple’s distinctiveness in style and function shows you don’t have to. I’m sure this isn’t lost on Microsoft, who clearly didn’t cut the price of Windows Vista because it was the success they claimed it was.



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