Is Apple Getting Complacent?

by Chris Howard May 09, 2006

Whatever happened to the Applelution?

Remember the iMac? THE iMac? The Bondi Blue translucent all-in-one may have impressed some. The iMac G5/Intel all-in-one is impressive. But they are both ho-hum when compared to the iMac G4. Computers reached the pinnacle of design and usability with the iMac G4. No one, not even Apple, has been able to return to the summit of that mountain.

In early 2002, with the release of the iMac G4, Apple provided us a machine that was more than an evolution and more than a revolution. It was a machine ahead of its time. In reality, the design of the iMac G5 should have preceded the iMac G4. I wrote at the time there was only one suitable adjective for it—applelutionary. In an applelution, at least one step in the evolutionary process is jumped but at the same time, an applelution presents a revolution in how we understand a commodity, or use it.

If you think about PCs in 1982, they didn’t look much different come 2002. Whereas if you compared a 1982 Apple computer to a 2002 iMac, you’d go “Wow”. But if you showed people in 1982 what the 2002 iMac looked like, they’d be impressed but not surprised. In 1982 we expected computers of 20 years into the future to look a lot different. It took an applelution to get there though.

But is Apple still applelutionary? Certainly as far as ice skating on the Styx goes, Apple has almost started a revolution among the loyalists on several occasions, but has any product itself been up to the evolutionary and revolutionary design of the iMac G4. Has any Apple product since the iMac G4 skipped a step of the evolutionary process?

The Mac mini? Laptop with bring your own keyboard, mouse and monitor.

The iMac G4? Yawn. Laptop with the keyboard ripped out and a screen stuck in its place.

The Mighty Mouse? The what? Is anyone still using them? Mine’s gathering dust somewhere.

iPod nano? Every manufacturer’s got one of them.

In fact, the iMac G4 was so applelutionary, that not one other manufacturer was able to successfully copy it.

Is anyone applelutionary in 2006? Unless you’ve been too occupied with Hades bid for the next Winter Olympics, you’d know the answer to that question. One company is launching upon us this week its own applelution. That company of course is Nintendo with the Nintendo Wii and it’s applelutionary new controller.

Nintendo in 2006 has picked up the baton that Apple dropped—and it’s a very interesting baton at that. Time Magazine has areview of the Wii. The article says in part:

Nintendo has grasped two important notions that have eluded its competitors. The first is, Don’t listen to your customers. The hard-core gaming community is extremely vocal—they blog a lot—but if Nintendo kept listening to them, hard-core gamers would be the only audience it ever had. “[Wii] was unimaginable for them,” Iwata says. “And because it was unimaginable, they could not say that they wanted it. If you are simply listening to requests from the customer, you can satisfy their needs, but you can never surprise them. Sony and Microsoft make daily-necessity kinds of things. They have to listen to the needs of the customers and try to comply with their requests.

(Maybe Nintendo dropped the Revolution name because it knew the controller represents more, that it is an applelution.)

Is Apple listening too much to its customers? Apple has afterall given us many things various users have been clamoring for for years—a multi-button mouse; Intel inside; dual boot with Windows; flash based iPods; and iPods with video playback to name a few. Is this a dangerous path Apple walks? Is it headed down the Microsoft road where customer opinion dictates too much? Apple innovated itself through the recession, but does it now need to innovate itself through the good times?

Will Apple pick up the applelution baton again? Does Apple need another applelutionary product?


  • Some interesting thoughts in this article. The iMac G4 was a beautiful machine, maybe too beautiful as to permanently match Appel’s maxime of taking the computer out of perception. Plus the arm was incredibly expensive - didn’t it cost close to $100 in production?

    Bad Beaver had this to say on May 10, 2006 Posts: 371
  • From the Webster Online Dictionary, Innovation is the introduction of something new; a new idea, method, or device.

    Every Apple machine or software qualifies in this context so why come up with new coinage - Applutionary? Like Apple owns the patent to innovation? Surely, Apple in the first Core Duo generation does not look much different from the last G5/G4 generation it replaces. I am writing on my 17” G4 notebook and I agree the design is top notch and only now being imitated by the likes of the VAIOs, Dells, Gateways, to name a few.

    The only fault that I think should be redesigned is the oversized trackpad that my unused thumb keeps rubbing off causing the cursor to fly who knows where. An additional right button would be icing on the cake. But still, the aesthetics of this beast is pretty much achieved.

    Back on the subject, the G5/Core Duo iMacs are, in their own right, very innovative as compared to the half-sphere blob that is the iMac G4 - floating screen and that shiny metal arm, and the jelly bean G3 iMacs. Perhaps its practicality not radicality is its innovation. Apple could’ve outdone the swiveling iMac G4 but it would not be in line with the current design theme - minimalist, unobscured, simple.

    As to the Nintendo and Apple comparisons to innovations. Both have been innovating in their playground for years. It is no surprise they have market penetration as niche players. Radical designs turn off the majority. Too much change is a fearful force. Something many companies too often forget. But Nintendo and Apple’s blood is flowing innovation. They will forever play their own game - a trend setter at their best.

    And as to the Wii - if you bet your future on a radically different input interface, although promising on the surface, might become its achille’s heel. I can’t wait to try it out myself to lose some pounds gained reading and commenting on Chris’ articles wink

    Robomac had this to say on May 10, 2006 Posts: 846
  • Apparently a lot of people need a refresher on the difference between evolution and revolution. And what innovation really is.

    If you look at the original Macintosh, and the iMac G5, from a desgin point of view, it’s obviously an evolutionary development. Take a gander at the way the LC was intended to be configured, the 5*** series, the TAM, the G3 AIO, and the iMac, and it should be fairly obvious.

    The G4 was an actual departure, in which the screen became almost the whole focus. Under many conditions, the user is barely aware of the base behind the screen (particularly with the larger screens).

    Removing the guts of the computer from view was presumably intended to emphasize the user experience, something that the gigantic chin of the iMac G5 failed to reinforce, to its detriment, in my opinion.

    When you use the “floating screen,” the user’s experience is significatly different. It focuses the user entirely on the the interface. When you’re trying to turn the screen of the iMac G5, you’re fully aware that you’re maneuvering a machine.

    CapnVan had this to say on May 11, 2006 Posts: 68
  • With regard to the question of innovation at Apple:

    Apple’s got a fundamental problem that they haven’t been able to solve, and I’m not sure they’ve even really addressed yet. They don’t have a killer app.

    Desktop publishing drove the sales of the early Macintosh. The IBM-compatibles (remember the days when that was the terminology?) had nothing that could really compete with Macintosh and its inherently WYSIWYG nature. If you were doing anything with print media, you *had* to get a Mac, because it made your life so much easier. If you’ve ever laid a paper out by hand, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

    Today, there’s nothing about the Mac that has that same “must have” quality. I mean, I love my Mac and couldn’t conceive of having to use anything else on a daily basis. But there’s nothing that’s available *only* on the Mac. (And, sadly, people are willing to put up with the lame Windoze versions of iLife.)

    Being malware free and serving up a better interface isn’t enough to be so compelling that 25% of consumers couldn’t live without it.

    If Apple can turn the mini into the ultimate convergence machine, where you can get TV, DVR, phone, Net, music, content creation, etc. and make it all one-stop and thoroughly integrated, I suppose that might help, but even then I’m not sure it would be enough.

    And I’m definitely not sure that Jobs is the one to do it.

    CapnVan had this to say on May 11, 2006 Posts: 68
  • Garageband, iMovie, iDVD - They’re all killer app’s for their market’s. As is Final Cut for it’s intended market.
    Surely you’re not saying they should make some ‘killer app’ for EVERYBODY ?

    Luke Mildenhall-Ward had this to say on May 11, 2006 Posts: 299
  • If any of the iLife apps were actual killer apps, then Mac market share would have increased.

    That’s pretty much your definition of a killer app. People find the program so useful that they have to have it. And, since those apps are only available on the Mac, they would have to purchase a Mac. Mac market share hasn’t significantly increased (and I’ll define significant increase in this case to be at least 10% of total PC sales), ergo, nothing in the iLife suite is a killer app.

    CapnVan had this to say on May 11, 2006 Posts: 68
  • Market share isn’t gonna change overnight. Not even if Macs were suddenly able to make coffee and bagels.

    Luke Mildenhall-Ward had this to say on May 11, 2006 Posts: 299
  • And here I am thinking iPod/iTunes. It sure seems like market share in that market changed overnight.

    CapnVan had this to say on May 11, 2006 Posts: 68
  • Thanks CapnVan, you said it so well. It’s interesting to see that Nintendo has a press release about the Wii where they call it a “leap”. And that’s what you’ve grasped, these things (Mac G4, Wii) aren’t just the next logical step in development, they are a leap over at least one step. And to me, they even represent more than a revolution.

    Which is why I coined a new word, Robo. (oops sorry too, I’ll try to make my articles more infuriating so you get up off the chair and wave your arms around. smile)

    On the subject of killer apps, I remain somewhat pessimistic that we’ll ever see another true killer app. And that’s simply because of the market saturation of computers, and the “settle-for” mindset of PC users.

    If Apple were to bring out a Mac only killer app, it would soon be copied in the PC world, and even if it was inferior, PC folks would settle (naively) for it. Windows Movie Maker anyone?

    There is still oppportunuty for killer devices and services though as the iPod and iTMS proved. But again, even they can’t make much impression on the Mac’s marketshare.

    Chris Howard had this to say on May 11, 2006 Posts: 1209
  • Garageband, iMovie, iDVD - They’re all killer app’s for their market’s. As is Final Cut for it’s intended market.

    Garageband is not a killer app.  Who in the hell MUST have Garageband so badly that they’re willing to buy a Mac just to get it?  Likewise iMovie and iDVD.

    I agree that FCP is a killer app within the entertainment/video production community, but that market is itty bitty compared to the overall computer market, certainly not enough to make any significant inroads in overall marketshare.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on May 13, 2006 Posts: 2220
  • I guess one of us is incorrect about the meaning of ‘Killer App’ then. You must think it means something to change market share, whereas I thought it meant something destroying everything else in its genre.

    Is there an actual definition on the web?

    Luke Mildenhall-Ward had this to say on May 14, 2006 Posts: 299
  • Is there an actual definition on the web?

    Is Wikipedia’s definition “actual” enough?

    sjk had this to say on May 14, 2006 Posts: 112
  • Ah, so the correct definition is: “A killer application (commonly shortened to killer app) is a computer program that is so useful that people will buy a particular piece of computer hardware, gaming console, and/or an operating system simply to run that program.” after all smile

    Luke Mildenhall-Ward had this to say on May 14, 2006 Posts: 299
  • The killer app is dead. It’s a thing of the past. Even the Wii’s new controller may not prove to be a killer.

    Sony and MS have had plenty of warning it’s coming and time to develop something themselves. If they don’t and the Wiimote becomes a killer device, then it’s their fault as much as Ninetendo’s

    It is a slow responding company that is the biggest killer nowadays.

    Chris Howard had this to say on May 14, 2006 Posts: 1209
  • Hehe, nicely put on that last line, Chris.

    “Even the Wii’s new controller may not prove to be a killer.” - I disagree. If the definition is to get someone to buy the computer just for a single feature, the Wii has won me over. I will be buying one simply because of the innovative controller, when I would’ve have pegged myself as a defo on the Xbox 360. So there we have it.

    Luke Mildenhall-Ward had this to say on May 14, 2006 Posts: 299
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