postheadericon ECS: Apple Mania

From London to New York to Beijing and even here in Kathmandu, the 2011 line-up of Apple products has struck such a sharp chord in the incessant techno chorus clamoring for hipper and trendier technology, that Apple (and Apple disciples) are drowning out all other like brands in the marketplace.

But what is it that created such a mania for, say, a mobile like the iPhone4, which is selling at a rate of over 16 million units every quarter. And why is it that in the case of tablet computers, that Apple’s iPad has outsold all others combined, and is now selling 1.2 million units per month? And along those lines – what about those record-breaking customer lines outside Apple Stores before each product launch?

Perhaps the answer to “Why Apple Mania?” is hidden within the cryptic remarks of chief Apple Designer Jonathan Ive, who on the eve of Apple’s 20th Anniversary in 1997 said: “Our products ask more questions then they answer.”

Just what did Ive mean? Like the meaning of the missing bite from the Apple logo, the questions about Apple products do indeed intrigue; here is one Q from reader Ravi Shrestha, both pith and common: “Why do Apple products cost so much?”

Many Apple products, like their new laptop line of MacBook and MacBook Pros, do cost double that of any comparable machine running Windows, so why would a consumer in these hard economic times choose say an Apple over an Acer?

Status is one theory, and our almost innate need these days for consumable symbols of such. Take choosing a new VW Jetta over a Tata Indica: both have 4 tires and hold a family of the same number, but the Jetta costs twice as much and seems to be very popular on the capital’s streets these days. The Tata says about one’s status “I’m boringly frugal” and the other says “Hey, I’m more Euro-cool and wealthy.”

Design is another theory, and one that Ive’s would pick over status. People do respond well to good design and appealing styles, whether in print, in fashion, or in the type of music player that they plug into their ears. One such early Apple experiment in both status and design was a computer called the TAM. The TAM was the predecessor of the modern-day all-in-one computer - now branded the iMac and arguably the only desktop in the world that has any consumer appeal left.

The TAM cost $7,000 USD as released, and was comprised mostly of off-the-shelf components found in most other computers of the day, but was uniquely designed with curves instead of sharp corners, had leather accouterments, a trackpad, and was sprayed throughout with expensive metallic paint. In other words, it did not look like a machine as much as it looked a work of functional futuristic art.

Other attributes of the TAM (that are still found in Apple products) include high-quality audio or video components, such as BOSE or Harmon Kardon speakers and thin high-quality LCD displays. However, the TAM only sold in the tens of thousands, and was mostly placed on executive desks and movie sets.

So status and design do not seem to fully answer the question of Apple Mania in the magnitude of the millions we see sold in Apple Stores today. But perhaps “a following” does. There is a sense of “cult” around Apple that has been evident since the early days, when college students considered young inventor Steve Jobs a “James T. Kirk” kind of captain figure, leading them to a place where no college-student had gone before.

Perhaps it was the tricorder look-alike device called the Apple Newton that first coalesced this allegiance that now has a much more galactic following - far outside the cosmos of American universities. The Newton was the first mass-produced PDA, and while it did not sell close to the the millions like its current incarnation the iPhone does, this futuristic device nevertheless helped build up the following of today – from grade schools on up to retirement homes.

But many Apple theorists believe that instead of a following, that we are instead being led down this road of Mania and fascination with anything aluminum and imprinted with an Apple logo. Case in point, Rabi Thapa (a local business owner) writes: “An apple a day keeps the doctors away – that has always been my favorite apple quote – and I am happy to report that I am ecstatic with all my apple products: iPod, iPhone, MacBook and maybe soon an iPad too. I cannot seem to resist them!”

Some experts would say that Rabi’s lack of resistance is just what Apple execs have planned all along, and that they have put Rabi (like millions of others) on the controlled path to buy more Apple with each new Apple gizmo released. And there is evidence to support this theory; take for example the ubiquitous iPod, which locks you into iTunes, which also locks you into purchasing new music, movies, and TV shows from the iTunes Store. Likewise the iPad does the same, adding a lock-in to more stores like the App Store and the iBook Store...all storefronts owned and controlled by the Apple cartel.

In addition, all new Apple computers have this feature, the App Store, which while not so restrictive (yet), puts more Apple products in your face, front and center. And once you buy in, you may never get out, as there is no way to transfer such purchases to say a Sony or Samsung device. Using another Star Trek analogy, “Resistance is futile” as more and more new Apple purchases are made.

But whether it’s status, design, cult following or a Vulcan-like mind control, it can’t be denied we are all for the most part, manic about all things made by Apple, and will be for many more years to come.

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Jiggy Gaton
lives in Kathmandu and is an aging technologist - has been since the days of Woodstock - so in the words of Roland The Gunslinger "he is from a world now gone by." However, Jigs is extremely up-to-date on all things tech and is also available for hire.
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