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?


  • Having used a G4 iMac for 2 years, and then switching to a G5 iMac; I would say that while I get fewer comments on the G5 than the G4, The G5 is much more useable, gorgeous, and practically sized than the weird looking G4.
    I was very glad that Apple introduced the G5 iMac when they did.  Its aestetic value in my office is amazing.

    Joshua had this to say on May 09, 2006 Posts: 2
  • While the iMac G4 may be more visually “surprising” as you say, I think the iMac G5 was more useful and functional. It has more elegant lines and is less intrusive in the home. This is all aestheitics we’re talking about here. You like the G4 iMag, I like the G5. Neither is incorrect here, but to me that G4 iMac always looked like a lamp.
    But to your greater point I think Apple is refining it’s products to have greater appeal to the masses weather for good or bad. My personal opinion is that this is for the good of Apple. My feeling is that it is the total experience that is important. I have always enjoyed the powerful design Apple brings to the industry and I do not think that has been diminished because the products are less visually impressive. I think it is a more challenging design that is less noticeable. I like that my computer is barely noticeable in my home (I do have a 20” iMag G5). It doesn’t slap you in the face and say, “look at me!”.
    Again, just a personal preference thing.
    I think as long as Apple focuses on the user experience they will not fall into the utilitarian trap that Microsoft et al have fallen into. Although they might start to get a rep for being a more adult company so to speak…

    Gabe H had this to say on May 09, 2006 Posts: 40
  • The “iLamp” G4 is really innovative and unique. It stands out over any other computer design I can think of in recent memory. I do prefer the iMac G5 for its compactness, plus it’s VESA mount compliant.

    I don’t think Apple is complacent w/design. It seems to me their focus has been more on functional design. ie: the PowerMac G5. I called it the “cheeze grater” initially. For Apple to work with the amount of heat the G5’s throw off, it’s a perfect design and the aesthetics don’t suffer in the end. They balanced functional and visual design very well in that application. It still stands as my favorite enclosure to date.

    Curious to see what the intel G5 design has in store.

    MacNuggets had this to say on May 09, 2006 Posts: 17
  • I would argue the G5 imac with flat screen all-in-one is appleutionary.  I thought that flat screens were ‘da bomb’ - saving precious space on my physical desktop at work.  But voila - combine the computer and a 20” screen and make it merely inches deep, no real estate taken up anywhere else on the desk or under the desk - it is a beautiful, functional, ideal computer for the desktop, and leaves my desk to actually use for things like writing and reading, not mounting a big computer box.

    Curious to see what’s in store, but this is good enough for me and should keep me happy (first mac in 10 years - was a mac user until college and AUTOCAD forced me to PCs).

    oskidoc had this to say on May 09, 2006 Posts: 8
  • I never liked that lamp.  I love the G5 (and now Intel) iMac.  But I think the definition of complacency, at least as far as design goes, is Jobs’s comment that they didn’t change the iMac design for the Intel Mac because it’s perfect the way it is.  That would seem to suggest an “applelutionary” stopping point for the iMac.

    I do believe, however, that Apple is continuing to do good things in the design department for the most part.  I love the latest designs of both the video iPod and the Nano.  I like the Macbooks as well.  I don’t happen to like the G5 Powermacs, though.  They look like they’re off the set of Robocop.

    Beeblebrox had this to say on May 09, 2006 Posts: 2220
  • The Rev A/B models were Apple’s peak combination of design and user serviceability for the iMac G5.  After that the VESA mount was removed and RAM became the only intended self-service component with the Intel iMac (if not the Rev C G5).

    sjk had this to say on May 09, 2006 Posts: 112
  • Eye-catching design is not necessarily good design mmkay?

    ...Jobs’s comment that they didn’t change the iMac design for the Intel Mac because it’s perfect the way it is.

    Well I think it’s widely believed that was just an excuse and the main REAL reason they didn’t change the outward designs was in order to reinforce the message that apples are still apples; they retain what makes them appley and the processor switch was unimportant.

    Benji had this to say on May 09, 2006 Posts: 927
  • I’ll also go on record saying that I think the G4 iMac’s design is stupid by today’s standards.

    Benji had this to say on May 09, 2006 Posts: 927
  • The G4 iMac may look cooler at first, but it’s definetly not as good an overall design as the iMac G5 (well, I have the Core Duo, but it’s the same hardware design).

    JJJJJ had this to say on May 09, 2006 Posts: 7
  • I would say that the iMac G4’s design stood out more than the current iMac’s, but that doesn’t necessarily mean the design is better- it was just more peculiar.
    I used to use G4 iMacs on a regular basis. I remember the design being peculiar, but cool-looking. Now I use G5 iMacs, again, on a regular basis, and I think it has a much better design than the G4.

    You also talked about Apple’s general lack of design changes in the last few years. That’s partially true: The iPod hasn’t changed a whole lot for the most part, and the Mighty Mouse still feels like the Pro Mouse from 6 years earlier.

    I do strongly disagree with you on the Mac mini- to say that it looks like a laptop is a gross misconception, and makes me wonder whether or not you have ever seen a Mac mini before. Having owned a G4 Cube, I would bet the Mac mini could fit 3 times over into the Cube (I think Macworld said 4), and overall I think it’s design is superior to the iMac G4 (that, however, could be contested by many people).

    Going back to Apple’s lack of design changes, I would say all of Apple’s designs are just right where they are- nothing really needs changing at this point, and I think when time passes and styles evolve, then we’ll see the latest and greatest design to argue over. Innovation doesn’t just “stop”- it’ll happen when the time is right.

    skyhawkrider had this to say on May 09, 2006 Posts: 6
  • And making the same things into new shapes, is not really innovation.

    But I am hoping for really cool new ibook/macbook designs.

    Innovation doesn’t just “stop”- it’ll happen when the time is right.
    It doesn’t just happen either.

    Benji had this to say on May 09, 2006 Posts: 927
  • Apple, for now, can’t be over revolutionary because they are in the middle of an evolution. Sure, the new products could have been “Intel-ized” by being redesinged but then that would have taken time and Apple needs to get all their Macs on Intel fast so that it looks ok to the public. Plus, being over revolutionary might make them stray from making happy customers. Nintendo is risking big with Wii because this is truly different and everyone is asking: Will it work? If it didn’t work well, they would be rediculed. The DS was different and worked so they have a good track record… Anyways back to Apple: they still surpise in small ways: an iSight in a laptop, the “one-/two- button” way of working of the Mighty Mouse. They didn’t stop being revolutionary: they’re just playing safe.

    snowy2004 had this to say on May 09, 2006 Posts: 1
  • ”(Maybe Nintendo dropped the Revolution name because it knew the controller represents more, that it is an applelution.)”

    Oh come on now, Chris. What a cheesy statement. It actually hurts to read that :p
    Actually, I believe they renamed it because many languages couldn’t pronounce “Revolution”, let alone Japanese (wevawooshun anyone?)

    But you do bring up a good point. It’s also a brilliant comparison to Nintendo you’ve made. I think it would be a great idea for Apple to bring out the equivalent of a wireless input device for computers. I don’t think I can say the iMac G4 was very applutionary though - at least in every sense bar stylistic.

    But while they’ve slowed on hardware innovation, they’re still going at it on the software front. Don’t forget that.

    Luke Mildenhall-Ward had this to say on May 10, 2006 Posts: 299
  • Luke, I did notice that Nintendo said something at the E3 keynote today to the effect that the Wii’s controller skipped a generation. Sony’s new controller with some motion sensoring would represent the next generation. Of course Nintendo totally skipped that step. I can’t wait to get my hands on one. smile

    heheh - and yeah, it was a bit of stretch suggesting that they dropped the Revolution name for that reason, but maybe it was one tiny part of it.

    Personally, in answer to my own question, I don’t believe Apple need any “applelutionary” product at the moment. The iMac G4, the clamshell iBooks, the original iMacs and the Cube were all about getting attention (as well as sales). To that end they were very effective.

    I still believe the iMac G4 is a generation ahead of the iMac G5/Intel in terms of design. I reckon if you took someone who hadn’t seen a computer for 10 years and lined up the iMac G3, G4 and G5 and said “Now put them in order”, they’d put the G4 as the newest.

    The “floating” screen of the iMac G4 can’t be beat by the fixed screen of the G5/Intel.

    Skyhawkrider, I did use a Mac mini last year for 3 or 4 months. It was an amazing little box - I used to carry it around in a lunchbox satchel. smile I didn’t mean it looked like a laptop, but that it was a reshaped laptop sans screen and keboard.

    BTW Well done for all resiting the urge to make Wii puns, but I can’t help myself, all I can say of the Wii is Wow-wii! Ouch - now that’s cheesy, Luke smile

    Chris Howard had this to say on May 10, 2006 Posts: 1209
  • I suggested to a scottish friend earlier today if he’s going to be walking into a gaming store and asking for a “wee wii” - ohh gosh, the riots of laughter there were.

    Luke Mildenhall-Ward had this to say on May 10, 2006 Posts: 299
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