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  • Welcome to the Silly Season: Has Apple’s Creativity Left?

    March 23rd, 2009

    More than two months after Steve Jobs took his extended hiatus to recover from his various health issues, some members of the tech media, clearly in desperate search for a story, are suggesting that Apple no longer has any creativity left. The illusion they present is that Steve Jobs was the one-man band who managed all the significant developments at Apple, and his absence will ultimately deprive the company of its primary innovative force.

    Just for the sake of argument — though it argues against what Apple’s other executives have claimed — let’s assume for the moment that Jobs has had no involvement whatever in the company’s decision-making in recent weeks. Even if that’s the case, what about the decisions he made prior to that? Are we to assume that none of those decisions had any impact on what Apple planned to do in 2009? Can you believe that, on the day of his departure, he told his team that they were on their own, and anything he said up till then was to be considered null and void?

    Of course that hardly makes any sense. More to the point, unless Jobs is at death’s door, and there is no evidence of that whatever, I cannot believe for a moment that he is not in regular touch with the executive team and working with them on current and future product development and marketing strategy.

    Indeed, the features so far announced for the iPhone 3.0 SDK and firmware smack of Jobs’ input. Even if he wasn’t consulted, surely he made his thoughts known before he went away. Now I realize that the executive team could, perhaps, move in different directions in case the situation changed, but again I find it difficult to believe that such a thing would happen without Jobs knowing about and voicing any needed objections.

    I suppose the situation gets muddier if Jobs, for reasons of health, boredom or a host of other reasons, decides that he is no longer interested in working for Apple Inc. There are surely plans afoot in the event of his permanent departure. Some suggest that the same team that you’ve seen already will simply remain in charge, and that COO Tim Cook, who is acting in Jobs’ stead, will simply become the CEO. Nobody — not even the skeptics — question his ability to keep the company running efficiently, even if there are concerns about his creative abilities.

    In any case, why would the tech media think Apple has lost it?

    Well, consider the extent of the product releases so far, at least before the new iPhone SDK was introduced last week. The iLife ’09 and iWork ’09 upgrades were interesting no doubt, and some of the features welcomed by one and all. But you can hardly call them trendsetters. Then again, what would you expect for a simple version update?

    When it comes to the 17-inch MacBook Pro, once again you would expect that most of the new features simply mirror the ones presented last fall for the smaller version of Apple’s professional note-book. The larger case, however, afforded them room for a long-life battery, and there is that “non-glossy” screen option for folks for whom glossy is painful to use.

    The new iPod shuffle is getting mixed reviews, mostly because of its proprietary remote control, which you need to access most of its functionality. However, Apple has already stated that third parties will soon release compatible headphones and no doubt remote adapters so you can use the headset you have now without having to buy a new one. In the normal course of events, however, I think people who buy shuffles largely do so to save money and get the most bang for the buck. They probably don’t generally concern themselves about third-party headsets.

    That takes us to the revisions in Mac desktops. Yes, it’s been a busy month.

    There was one published report indicating that Apple had upped its production run because of a higher demand for the new models. Certainly that’s promising, particularly in light of reports that Mac sales were down rather substantially in February. That assumes that the sales reports, which strictly represent U.S.-based retail and not online and international sales, indicate a real trend.

    Looking over these upgrades, I’m rather impressed for the most part. That Apple intends to keep the Mac mini in production is a good thing, and the improvements, particularly to the graphics hardware, are welcome. It may seem expensive at first glance compared to cheap PC hardware, but when I compared Dell’s entry-level desktop, and attempted to outfit it as close as possible to the $799 Mac mini, the former hit $709 without adding 802.11n Wi-Fi, instead of the slower “g” standard, and gigabit Ethernet, which wasn’t listed as an option. Even assuming these two features had a cash value of $25, total, the value of iLife clearly accounts for the remaining price difference and then some.

    The iMac is particularly intriguing, since, basically, Apple is giving you the same hardware for $300 less. If the report of a possible $899 educational model with a 17-inch screen is true, it may present Apple with a cheap product they can offer to the general consumer market if there’s enough demand. That would surely address concerns about the so-called “Apple Tax” that does not, as far as I’m concerned, really exist.

    It all comes down to this. The products released so far are what you would expect even if Steve Jobs had been working full-time as CEO, and the year is still young.



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