Archive for June, 2010

Why people buy Apple products and why they don’t

It occurred to me while I was watching some of Steve Jobs’ old and most famous keynote addresses on you Tube (the famous introduction of the Apple Macintosh, the introduction of the iPod and iMac) that people buy Apple products not so much because said products are really that unique and innovative (some of them are like the original Apple Macintosh and the original iPhone) but rather because of how Steve Jobs sells them.  At his best (it doesn’t happen every time it has to be said, Apple has had its share of flops even under Steve Jobs), when Apple releases a new product, Steve Jobs just goes out there, flaunts it before a rapt audience and creates a ‘cult following’. When the stars are arranged the right way this cult following can end up being really huge, as was the case with the runaway success of the iPod. It has to be said though, that while the iPod was not unique or revolutionary it was still a very useful product. At the time it came out a number of other companies (Archos, iRiver) were already making HDD jukeboxes whose specs were superior to those of the new gadget from Apple. But the problem with those technologically superior devices was that for some reason the companies making them limited themselves to targeting the ‘geek market’ and they forever stayed in that niche. Then Steve Jobs came along with his iPod and took digital music to the masses, simply by showing off Apple’s new cool gadget and explaining to the masses that the real in-vogue thing now was the iPod, over a thousand songs in your pocket. The guy wasn’t talking gigabytes, he was speaking the language that everyone could understand, 1000 songs in ‘very good’ MP3 quality (in fact 160 kbps is rather average quality) in your pocket and ten hours of playback.  In a way it was a classic case of hidden demand that just had to be uncovered or that the customers simply had to be told about.

The history of Apple’s flops though teaches us another lesson; no matter how good you may be at sales, total lemons will always be flops. What was the name of that box like apple computer with extremely limited specs that Apple wanted to sell as a low end option for budget conscious consumers? The point is it flopped for the simple reason that at the time the same amount of money could buy you a PC that in terms of raw power (if not sex appeal) could give the iMac a good run for its money and people generally are not imbeciles.  And even if the ‘technology god’ himself wants them to suffer if they’re unwilling to pay more than 500 bucks for his products, they won’t do that if there are other options available.

Categories: Uncategorized

There’s people returning their iPads

An interesting page with feedback by people who’ve been returning their iPads

From reading the comments on that page several things become apparent:

1) We, human beings, are still very much susceptible to hype. As has been the case with all Apple products recently, the launch of the iPad was preceded and surrounded by huge amounts of hype and large numbers of people fell for it. Steve Jobs said Flash was bad and that Apple was re-focusing on the ‘new web standards’ such as HTML 5 (which hasn’t been finalised yet) and java script (which, strictly speaking, is not a standard at all) and people fell for it, only to shocked, once they got their hands on their new toy from apple, by how much of the web is actually driven by flash. One commenter on the page linked above says 3/4, another one bitterly complains that the iPad only provides access to at best half of the web and it’s the boring half you can access with the iPad.

2) The iPad was essentially conceived as a device for pumping money out of ‘dumb’ users. Comments by one avid e-book reader are especially telling, the guy thought he’d be able to use the iPad to read free pdf books he got off the internet or e-books his friend has on his sony e-book reader. Naturally no such luck, the whole purpose of the iPad is to get you to buy stuff from Apple, you want to read a book you’ve got to pay for it and someone else comments on how totally overpriced e-books are in the Apple e-book store. So our e-book reader is returning his iPad, as it’s no use for him.  Wake up and smell the shit.

Well, what can I say, Apple is just one company and if they want me to choose between them and the rest of the world, I’d rather choose the rest of the world, because it’s bigger, there’s more stuff out there and more of it is free, so what’s the point of locking myself into Apple and paying exorbitant prices for stuff I can get at a fraction of the price they’re charging me or even totally for free elsewhere? I’m not a charity am I?

Categories: IT

Cheap full suspension bikes

In Russian we have a saying that a greedy person ends up paying twice. Well, we almost ended up doing just that the other week when we bought two cheap Chinese made full suspension all terrain bikes at a local supermarket. It was an impulse purchase, after all the things were cheap, after all and they looked impressive with all those springs and wide tires.

In actuality the problems started right there, when the chain on my bike fell off as I was changing gears. The front dérailleur kept dropping the chain between the chainrings rather than on them.  Plus think about the design of the crank set with the gaps between the chainrings wide enough for the chain to drop in and get stuck there. But I figured I could live with that, after all it didn’t happen every time and the thing was cheap.

So we rode our bikes home without any trouble. Two days later we took them for a spin. Now they were heavy, sure they were full suspension but I had to pedal really hard to gather enough speed to pass pedestrians. And I soon found that going uphill was a real murder unless I stood on the pedals and as soon as I did, the cheap plastic pedals got busted. The next day I went and bought aluminium pedals and had  my GF screw them on for me (after all the whole bike thing and buying them from that supermarket was initially her idea). Ok, now it seemed more or less ok. We went out for another ride. There is a street not far from our apartment that ends in a dead-end so there are hardly every any cars on it and it’s more or less flat so I was always able to accelerate very fast on it. This time I was pedalling like crazy when I heard some weird sound from behind where my GF was pedalling after me. At first I didn’t give it a second thought, thinking she was just changing gears or something, but then I looked back and she wasn’t there. I turned around and rode back, turned out she was changing gears but her chain broke. Bummer.

The next day we took turns riding my bike. I had some work to do so while I was at it my GF went riding. Then she came back  and I took the bike from her and off I went. I was pretty far from home, going up a relatively gently sloping street when the left crank arm broke off. I ended up having to push the damn thing all the way home.

The next day I took them back to the supermarket. The only good thing about this purchase was that the supermarket took them back without a word and gave us a full refund. I honestly don’t know why they sell crap like this.

Categories: Random thoughts

The alluer of parallel lives

As I watch Mad Men I get more and more fascinated by Donald Draper, especially the way how he’s been leading perhaps not just a double but triple or possibly even quadruple life. Early on and season 1 we’re told through a series of flashbacks about how back when he was growing up on a farm as a boy by the name of Dick Whitman, he hated his life and dreamed of getting out of it. Finally a chance to do just that presented itself in Korea, when Dick was assigned to a lone lieutenant who had been tasked with building some sort of a military facility but only been given Dick to help him.  The lieutenant’s name was   Donald Draper and he got killed during a mortar attack, his body being disfigured beyond recognition by a direct hit. Somehow Dick’s and Draper dog tags got confused, and when Dick, who got knocked out and injured in the same attack, comes to in a hospital he realises everybody thinks that he is lieutenant Draper and that the dead guy is him, Dick. Instead of setting his record straight, Dick decides to run with it and goes back to the states as Donald Draper.

Towards the end of the second season while on business in California, Don runs into a group of ‘professional recreationists’ (for lack of a better word), a bunch of people who dress very well, seem to have lots of money, speak with various kinds of European-ish/aristocratic accents, except for this one girl, who was obviously brought up speaking English in the US and who falls for Donald. Donald is cool, he doesn’t talk much and he looks like Bond, James Bond. As the girl is leaving the hotel in a luxurious convertible she invites Don to joint her, at first he refuses but then as he stands there on the porch, watching her making herself comfortable in the car and putting on a headscarf, something clicks in his head, he walks down the stairs and gets into the car. To the girl’s question whether he’ll be getting his bags, he simply says, ‘no’.

And from this point on Don enters a kind of a parallel reality where he doesn’t have to work, all he has to do is have sex with his new companion, have meals with the other ‘recreationists’ and travel with them.

Seeing some kids, Don leaves the recreationists and goes to pay a visit to the widow of the real Don Draper. In another series of flashbacks we learn how she tracked him down in New York and how Don tried denying everything at first but then confessed his scam to her and how eventually they became close friends, we also learn that Don bought her a house and supported her and the whole time they were ‘formally’ married.

So Don ends up with at least three very different lives he can choose between:

Life 1 is New York, Sterling and Cooper and his family

Life 2 is the recreationists and their nomad lifestyle, going from one luxurious hotel/mansion to another, having meals and sex and generally enjoying themselves in a beautifully decadent kind of way.

Life 2, is lieutenant Draper’s  window with her nice house, the smell of the ocean from the porch and magnificent sunsets that can be seen from the porch.

And it’s really amazing, that at least at one point in his life Don is given this choice where he can literally simply decide which life he likes better and just go for it. No trails, no strings attached no nothing. Sure back in NY there’s money and a family he left behind but that family is at this stage as good as finished, he’s been staying in a hotel the past few weeks, having been told about Don’s affair with Johnny Barret’s wife, Don’s wife doesn’t want to see him in the house any more.  So it’s not like he would be ruining much by walking out on his NYC life. And he comes across as the kind of guy for whom making money comes naturally. He’ll be flush whatever he does and wherever he does it.

One can’t help but wondering what it would be like if we could really choose things in this way, just walk out on one life and into another. Well, truth be told these things happen sometimes, especially if you go into witness protection, but still in real life it’s not nearly as easy as it seems to be on Mad Men.

And even in Mad Men, Don eventually goes back to NY, to face the music and get 500 thousand dollars he got from the merger of Sterling and Cooper with a British ad agency, that went down while he was in his soul searching quest.

Categories: TV shows

iPhone finally measures up

Apple has released a new revision of the iPhone, the iPhone 4, at long last we’re seeing features that, imho, were supposed to have been included in the first iPhone, a decent camera for taking pictures and video, another one on the front for video chat, a scratch resistant surface, a multi-tasking OS, a decent display etc.

The only question that remains is why didn’t Apple introduce all these features in the first iPhone, I mean it’s not like any of them are a tremendous technological leap forward. Especially when it comes to good cams and multitasking, at the time the first iPhone came out all the other smart phone OS supported multi-tasking, and 90% of the smart phones on the market had better cameras and could take video.

And now, in his worst traditions, Mr. Jobs is touting his new device as something unique and new, never seen before.

Well better late than never, finally Apple-heads are going to enjoy the features that users of other smart phones have taken for granted for years.

Categories: IT

from computer to appliance

Since the very first time the iPad was presented to the public lots of people have been asking the question what niche is it going to fill in the modern tech market. It’s obviously less than a laptop but it’s more than a smart phone. Well it seems to me I might have the answer.

With the iPad Apple have turned another page in the development of computers, when the tech revolution was in its infancy in the dim and distant 1950’s and 1960’s computers were huge, one machine would take up several rooms and you had to interface with it using punch cards. Then there were mainframes with terminals connected to them. Those were too very expensive.  Well today Apple are doing with the iPad what MITS did with their Altair microcomputer in the mid 1970’s, they’re brining the technology to the masses.

To a standard geek, the iPad has lots of drawbacks, no multi-tasking, poor connectivity, the list may go on but to an ordinary person, someone who’s normally intimidated by computers, the iPad offers unprecedented accessibility, practically anyone can pick it up and start using it immediately, you’re promoted to power user from the get-go.

It seems like it’s been a deliberate policy by Apple ever since Steve Jabs came back in the late 1990’s. Ever since that time they’ve been trying to get computers to look and behave more like standard domestic appliances rather than some extremely sophisticated piece of technology that takes forever to tweak and whose use involves an extremely steep learning curve. If anything the iMacs have been just as revolutionary, but the iPad takes the whole game to an entirely different level.  Now the Internet isn’t that thing out there that you can only view after you’ve turned on your PC and waited for it to load. The iPad places the net literally at your fingertips. You can just sit back in your favorite chair  and enjoy the net while sipping tea.

There’s a couple caveats of course. First there’s no flash, so a lot of the rich content will be just sad face pictures for you. And the other caveat is that without a good old fashioned keyboard you probably won’t be able to use it for any meaningful work, just tweeting perhaps. But if taken for what it is, i.e. an entertainment device, the iPad is pretty good. Of course it’s still pretty far from the ideal. An ideal entertainment tablet should be able to hook up to your other equipment, so you can stream movies from the net via your iPad and on to your brand new 3D TV set from Sony or Panasonic. I don’t think the iPad in its current incarnation can do that.  And yet, it’s not bad for a pioneer device. Others will follow of course. Although I’m not sure Win7 is such a swell platform for a slate PC, but we’ll see, maybe MS will release some scaled down and simplified editions and then there’s linux of course.

Categories: IT