G'Bye, Apple Computer

G'Bye, Apple Computer

 

The Web is aflame with debate about whether the iPhone will succeed or fail, whether Apple's marriage with Cingular was a good or bad idea, whether or not the using the name iPhone was a smart idea or not, and whether tomorrow's Apple earnings announcements will or will not blow socks off financiers' feet. Oh, and then, of course, there's the ongoing stock options melodrama.

 

Feh.

 

What's on my mind aren't all these Web wranglings, but instead the fact that even as I type this missive on my Apple computer, the company that made it is no longer Apple Computer. It's just Apple.

 

Our favorite computer company has finally admitted that it's not just a computer company.

 

Not to say that I'm prescient or anything, but I saw this coming back when I attended the rollout of the Mac LC and IIsi in October of 1990. (You'll notice, by the way, that I said "rollout" and not "announcement." Back in those days, we journalist-types were given briefings about Apple's to-be-announced products well before their actual announcements - we even had access to engineers in those days. All that changed when Steve returned. But I digress...)

 

The LC and IIsi (and, later, the Classic II) introduced an entirely new dimension to the Mac: sound. Well, to be exact, a microphone and the ability to digitize sound. Prior to that advancement, Macs had simply been computing platforms - that is, tools for smooshing words, numbers, and images. With the addition of sound, it was clear that Macs were on their way to becoming much more than glorified typewriters, calculators, and darkrooms.

 

Apple had earlier introduced CD-ROM drives (in March of 1988, to be exact), and took quite a beating in the market as they slowly caught on. It took a while for third-party folks to start using them to provide Mac-based entertainment, but when they did, it became even clearer that the Macs on our home desktops were slowly becoming as much entertainment centers as they were productivity tools.

 

When QuickTime 1.0 was released in December of 1991, the handwriting on the wall changed to 48-point bold italic. Sure, the first iteration of QuickTime could only support choppy 160-by-120 video, but it was clear that as CPU speed increased, so would frame rates and resolution. And they did.

 

Over the past 15 years or so, we've all heard pundit after pundit talk about the soon-to-envelop-us-all "digital convergence." Former Apple Computer CEO John Scully had a well-known PowerPoint presentation about it with a famous and well-nigh-indecipherable slide that attempted to show how everything from computing to entertainment to content creation to telephony to god-knows-what-else-would soon be subsumed into one Device of the Future.

 

He was right. A bit premature, but right.

 

It was the iPod, of course, that broke the dam. We had already stuffed our Macs full of MP3s, and we were jonesing for a simple, user-friendly, way-cool device to set our music free. Apple provided it, and its fate was sealed. The "Computer" part of its name started to evaporate.

 

And now the iPhone has arrived to, as Niko would say, "Seal the deal." I'm still waiting to find out exactly how much access Apple will give third-party developers to the iPhone (where's the SDK, Steve?), but such a powerful, variable-interface device can't remain a closed system forever. As it opens up, and as it acquires more capabilities and add-ons - both hardware and software - it and its imitators (and they will be legion) may very well become Scully's dreamed-of convergence device.

 

The iPhone and Mac may still be two separate pieces of hardware, but as one synergistic system they are, indeed, the convergence of creativity, communication, and entertainment - and if you don't believe that some day they'll merge into a single device with multiple input capabilities, I have an old Mac LC I can sell you.

 

Apple Computer was right to drop the word "computer." Toss that word around in your head for a moment. It seems vaguely 20th century, doesn't it? A bit archaic. A bit utilitarian. A bit yesterday.

 

And if Apple is anything at all, it certainly isn't "yesterday."

 

Times change. So does Apple.

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avatar

GeekMan

Somehow I can't shake the feeling that Apple has given into the whiny Apple-bashers at Slashdot who have been howling about the "computer" in Apple's name because of the iPod's success.

Being a young-ish tech guy, I really don't remember a period where sound wasn't a part of serious computing (except perhaps when we were using Commodore 64s at my elementary school). For me, sound processing and computing go together.

And honestly, the iPod and the iPhone ARE computers. In the strictest, textbook definition, they are very much computers. The prejudice for what constitutes a "computer" lies with us, since we use the term now as a short form of "personal computer"; that is, the handy device with a monitor, keyboard and mouse, a hard drive, and a GUI-based OS that runs any program we can think of.

Make no mistake: the name change is 100% PR spin. Any attempt to justify it with technical reasoning is a fallacy.

avatar

rmyslewski

I disagree with your assertion that "the name change is 100% PR spin." IMHO, it's a simple admission that the term "computer" should now simply be assumed. Should GM be named "General Internal-Combustion Motors"? My point is that computers are everywhere -- even in my freakin' Longhi deep-fryer, for chrissakes. Let's assume their ubiquity, and move on.

avatar

Josh

Not that I think everything will remain as separate as it is now, but when it comes to size different devices have different needs. Every time I show the iPhone to someone they say the same thing, "it's so big though." Yes it needs a big screen so that it can function as a wide screen iPod, but it's never gonna take on the full functionality of a computer, until of course we have screens that are in a different for altogether. For the time being, I'm perfectly happy with my tiny phone and tiny iPod as two separate entities, and my computer a third and my palm pilot a fourth. If they all came together I'd either have a computer that's way too small or a gigantic phone.

avatar

Reg

Everybody and their brother is already working on doing one better than the iPhone.

There already is a Linux powered phone,

and Windows powered Cool Computer Phones.

June - June is a very long time away...

I hope that Apple can add in a few more features / do something better with the price.

Now, if Apple boosted the iPhone's brainpower and added a cool DVD docking station like the
OQO-2 - That would be most excellent!

What I Wish the iPhone OS X could Do.

avatar

Rik

The OQO you refer to starts at $1,499, and the docking station is an extra $299 with a CD±RW/DVD-ROM, and $399 with a DVD±RW/RAM. Cool stuff ain't free, Reg.

avatar

JHawk

The iPod has been out for over 5 years, and there is no public SDK for it. Apple only contracts out development for it (games), but hasn't opened it up for anyone else. Apple says that the iPhone will also be a closed system, and why not believe them? I truly think that it will hurt them, but keeping the iPod closed hasn't, so what do I know?

avatar

Rik

Yeah, I know Apple says that the iPhone will be a closed system, but I'm hoping that -- eventually -- they'll relent. The iPod is a much more limited hardware/OS platform than the iPhone; plus, the iPhone's UI capabilities are so much greater than those of the iPod. I'd love to see The Best Minds of My Generation be given carte blanche through an SDK with a tightly controlled and bulletproof set of APIs.

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