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  • When Apple Says No, Sometimes They Mean Yes!

    April 17th, 2008

    A normal part of child psychology is that, if the parent asks for something, the response will often be the opposite of what they expect. This is part of the process of establishing the child’s own independent personality. Now I wouldn’t say that Apple’s strategy shows a childlike veneer, but they certainly have long-term marketing goals that may often seem inscrutable.

    Consider a certain meeting with financial analysts, where they were asked about whether there would ever be a low-cost Mac to compete with the cheap PC boxes. Apple said they weren’t going to play in that sandbox. Three months later, the Mac mini was introduced.

    Now you just know that, when they were talking about entry-level computers, they certainly were aware of what they were planning to build. Of course, it could also be that a final manufacturing decision hadn’t been made, but that appears to be cutting it close. It was likely just some corporate spin to put Apple’s competitors off track.

    At $599, the Mac mini continues in the product line, but gets practically no promotion that I know of. Yes, you can buy a $399 PC with a display at your local Wal-Mart, but you can be assured the manufacturer isn’t making a whole lot of money from that purchase. Apple doesn’t believe in selling anything without a guaranteed return, and this is why they continue to prosper while other computer makes have troubles, particularly at the low-end of their consumer product lines.

    On several occasions, Steve Jobs was known to talk about the awful user interface of existing mobile phones, while denying Apple wanted to enter the crowded cell phone market. Tech pundits also agreed it would be foolish and clearly unprofitable for Apple to try to go up against established players, such as Nokia and Motorola.

    No laughter please.

    Now I suspect that, when Jobs was talking so disparagingly about mobile phones, the iPhone was already in development. It’s not something that just came up out of the blue. That it has been so successful right from the beginning indicates to me that a lot of care when into its design, consuming a period of several years. But Jobs was also giving you a precursor of what Apple might be doing, since existing products were so awful in so many ways.

    Of course, some of that had to do with the fact that the carriers enforced their own essentially uniform interfaces and feature sets. To them, the cell phone was simply a commodity product designed to entice you into signing up for the standard two-year service contract, where they made their real income, and the profit margins of all the American-based providers, except for Sprint of course, are all quite good. So it’s clear they know how to make money, even if the products and the services they deliver, frankly, are generally mediocre.

    With the iPhone, Apple insisted that the carriers graced with the right to carry the product had to provide certain features, such as visual voicemail. I also suspect that AT&T, for example, was admonished by Jobs and other Apple executives to improve customer service and deliver better quality reception. AT&T has been dinged by lots of people because of its various shortcomings over the years.

    Why do I have that suspicion? Well, my experience with AT&T has been pretty good, and I’ve actually seen them improve audio quality and reception in the Phoenix area. Maybe that’s due to their ongoing program to enhance existing cell towers and build new ones. I don’t know, but I certainly find them to be superior in most respects to Verizon, and I expected the opposite.

    Speaking of the iPhone, didn’t Steve Jobs recently explain why you probably wouldn’t see Flash support on that device anytime soon. The existing technology was too resource intensive, and the mobile version underpowered. Soon thereafter, Adobe said it was working on some sort of iPhone support, then it backtracked almost immediately.

    But the cat is out of the bag, and perhaps Adobe is working with Apple on a middle-of-the-road solution to provide most of the important features of Flash with a smaller memory footprint.

    Certainly, it’s easy to say that Webmasters ought to just eliminate Flash from their sites. But that’s no easy process in many cases. There are millions of sites out there that have Flash content, ranging from simple navigation menus to full-blown multimedia presentations. Flash is a significant part of their content, and the special features are often used to generate business. They can’t very well give it all up just because of Apple Inc.

    But I don’t think they have to. When Apple says no here, as in other situations, they are really telling us they’re working on a better solution. Maybe it’ll come with the release of the iPhone 2.0 update. Maybe it’ll come later. But it would be foolish for Apple not to work hard with Adobe to deliver a workable solution.

    Indeed, it’ll probably be one more case where Apple’s “no” really means “yes.”



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