TV-PGJanuary 22, 2002: Apple's appeal is decidedly different than that of other computer manufacturers; alert the media. Meanwhile, rumors of friction in iPodville start to circulate, and word on the street is that free water at the Apple retail stores may soon be a thing of the past...
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Prim M at YouTube

Fun With Demographics (1/22/02)

Okay, so we finally scraped together enough free time to drive an hour through the snow to go check out the new iMac up close this long weekend, and we're happy to say that it looks a heckuva lot neater in person than it did on Time's cover a couple of weeks ago. The proportion of the screen to the base is more visually pleasing than the photos imply, the overall size of the unit is friendlier than we expected, and the base, far from being a sterile glossy white mound, actually has a nifty matte finish to it that evokes images of frosted glass Christmas tree ornaments. (Trust us, that's a good thing, though we're at a loss to explain why.) The half-inch of clear plastic rimming the screen practically begs for interaction, so moving the display around feels like an imperative. And when you're actually using the thing, the base and stem are all but invisible anyway, leaving just you, your various input devices, and the all-important screen hanging in front of your face, as we'd hoped. Add all that to one unbeatable price/performance ratio, and you get more thumbs up than we have thumbs.

One interesting thing about the new iMac design is that we strongly suspect it's a perfect case of successful targeting. Given that no design can please everybody (and anything that comes close generally does so by being bland enough not to threaten the sensibilities of the lowest common denominator), we're guessing that Apple designed the new iMac specifically to appeal to the people it needs most. It's just a hunch, but we've gotten a lot of mail from people who say that "every Wintel user" they know is just wild about the new iMac. When viewed in light of Apple's retail incantation of "5 down, 95 to go," Jon Ive's latest design starts to look a whole lot like an intentional defection magnet. And that only makes sense; poor slobs like us who are already addicted to the Mac will eat whatever Cupertino hands us, so what Apple needs is a look that'll have the rest of the population drooling while tossing their Presarios out the window. (Just thank the gods of good taste that Jobs and Ive are far too classy to resurrect the Dreaded Beige Box just to grab some Wintel market share.)

Indeed, an ICM Research study referenced in a Macworld UK article certainly implies that Apple's marketing strikes a chord with demographics a mite more varied than those staked out by other computer manufacturers. In the UK, at least, "awareness of all brands is higher in the 35-54 year old age group"-- except for Apple, who is known more "among females and also among a younger target audience: 18-34 year olds." Apple's popularity among women is nothing new-- take the Japanese sales figures of the original iMac, for instance-- but it's still gratifying to hear that more women knew about Apple than about any other manufacturer, since, aside from occasional embarrassments like the Claudia Schiffer Palm organizer, the tech industry has all but ignored that half of the population. In contrast, lots more men knew about Dell than about Apple, which only makes us wonder whether those slack-jawed "Dude, you're getting a Dell" commercials are gracing the British airwaves. We shudder to think.

The really nice bit, though, is that of the study's respondents who are planning on buying a computer "in the near future," nearly twice as many women are considering Apple instead of Dell-- and the percentage of all computer-shopping respondents looking at Macs hit a respectable 14%. Compare that to Apple's alleged 5% market share (which we suspect is rather lower in the UK) and things are really looking up. Note that ICM's figures were also compiled prior to the new iMac's release, so that factor might help Apple's market share even more. On occasion we've been frustrated with Apple for concentrating so much on consumer-targeted marketing and completely ignoring enterprise sales, but considering that ICM's findings reveal that "the recession is not affecting computer home purchases as badly as it is predicted to do in the business sector," we think we'll just leave the CEOing to His Steveness from now on.

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iPod Drama For Beginners (1/22/02)

So far, the iPod looks like another success story for Apple-- a couple of weeks ago Uncle Steve revealed that 125,000 of the little suckers were sold in the product's first two months of availability, which breaks down to something like two thousand iPods sold every day; even the staunchest naysayers must be having a little trouble saying nay to numbers like that. And the iPod naturally wins converts; we, ourselves, made a steady progression from being "underwhelmed" to "sorta whelmed" to just flat-out drooling on our shoes. So, three months in, this is looking like a story with a happy ending.

There's just one little problem with that, from our perspective: happy endings can be really, really boring. Everyone knows that conflict is what keeps life interesting-- which is why, purely from a soap opera production angle, we're most grateful that Think Secret is spreading rumors about high drama between Apple and Pixo, the company that makes the iPod's operating system. "Sources" claim that Apple would have been really late to market with the iPod had Pixo not stepped in at the last minute with its handheld OS, which allowed Apple to foist those 125,000 iPods upon frenzied holiday shoppers over the course of the past few months. Had Pixo not stepped up to the plate, Apple would likely have released the product at a far thriftier and more rational point on the spending calendar... which would probably have meant a royal disappointment when the initial sales numbers surfaced.

So far, so good; Apple's iPod is a smash success, Pixo saves the day-- and we're right back to square one on the happy ending front. But this is where things start to get juicy: those same "sources" also claim that Pixo is actually a little miffed with Apple, financially speaking. Whereas those holiday iPod sales represented nearly $50 million in Apple revenue, Pixo execs are "less than happy" with what Apple paid for its OS license. And in light of Pixo's alleged money troubles, changing business models, and recent layoffs, the thought that the company might have had a bigger piece of the iPod pie must really rankle-- particularly because many of Pixo's employees apparently used to work for Apple, so there's clearly some history contributing to the mix, there.

If you really want a bit of drama iPod-style, throw in a little baseless fear that Pixo might 1) tank or 2) get really spiteful over the money thing, thus stranding the iPod without a means for OS updates and bug fixes, and you're in business! The lesson, here, kids, is that drama is everywhere if you're willing to dig a little to find it. It also helps if you're capable of believing everything the "sources" say. You've heard the slogan: "you don't have to be really credulous to work here, but it sure helps." Enjoy!

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Geniusing Is Thirsty Work (1/22/02)

Short work weeks (especially the Mondayless kind) are supposed to be generally happy occasions, which is why we were a little hesitant to kick this one off with terrifying, catastrophic news straight from the bowels of deepest human despair-- but heck, you folks can handle it, right? If we were to tell you, for instance, that an enormous doomsday asteroid was hurtling toward our planet, no Armageddon-style heroics by Bruce Willis and/or Ben Affleck would save us, and we all faced oblivion in less than seventy-two hours, you'd take it in stride. Likewise, if we were to inform you of a mutant killer airborne virus outbreak that's turning people into something resembling soup at an alarming rate, you might say "eeewww," but you'd do so with a spring in your step and a song in your heart. You are brave, brave people.

Try to keep that in mind, then, when we tell you that the Apple retail stores may soon stop handing out free bottled water at the Genius Bar.

Done screaming yet? For those of you who may not know what all the fuss is about, perhaps you were unaware that at Apple's 27 retail locations, customers can acquire a free bottle of Evian simply by asking a Mac Genius for one. (This is perhaps the best kept secret of Apple Retail Nirvana, followed closely by the fact that all Apple stores have public restrooms that are generally about six gazillion times cleaner than the ones in the mall proper.) While the official party line is that the Evian dispensed at the Apple stores is no different than the stuff available at any convenience store, we've long harbored our suspicions that it's actually some form of Genius Water which imparts Mac wisdom to those who imbibe it. Or maybe it contains a chemical compound that increases one's biological susceptibility to Reality Distortion Field energy. We're not sure.

The point is, the issue may soon be moot, as faithful viewer MattWorld tells us that his local Mac Geniuses have informed him that Apple plans to discontinue the whole "free water" shtick, and that once the current supply is gone, it won't be replenished. The reason, apparently, is that Apple feels it's spending too much cash on the gimmick; reportedly Evian actually makes special 11 oz. bottles just for Apple because the regular 12 oz. ones don't fit in the special Genius Fridges. (Note that all of this is secondhand information and totally unconfirmed by us, mostly because it would break our hearts to find out that something this goofy wasn't actually true.)

So there you have it: the end of an era. (Maybe.) Oh, if only those Genius Fridges could hold standard 12 oz. Evian bottles-- but alas, they can't, and replacing the fridges with larger ones is, of course, completely out of the question, since the Geniuses derive their massive brain power largely via the ancient art of Appliance Feng Shui. Just chalk it up as yet another tragic victim of the economic slowdown, and start planning to quench your thirst at the Orange Julius stand instead...

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