In Defense of iMac DV: Response to Critical [Mac?] Reader!
- 22 Nov 99.
A particular reader of the Architosh site recently wrote in about our recent article "Apple gets mishandled by the popular press on announcements". This reader opined that the new enhancements to iMac DV, in his words," just aren't that impressive." Here's the full quote (response in blue quotes):
1. Airport - Wireless connectivity has been available for the PC for quite a while. The only thing Apple brings to the table is a base station to make wireless networking useful if you only have one computer. The base station adds considerable value paired with a portable but I have to question the wisdom of wireless connectivity in a computer that by design needs to be connected to a power outlet.
"Airport is forward thinking technology in that it is the first technology that makes wireless both easy and fun. Yes, you may be right in suggesting that portables can more easily take full advantage of Airport technology, but just because you need a power outlet to plug in to with your iMac doesn't mean that wireless is pointless for iMacs and G4's. How many people have Ethernet running around their houses to allow for fast DSL or cable access? Or a home Ethernet LAN, for that matter? Airport helps make setting up these network components easier and cheaper, in both the home and office environment. Airport is great facilitating technology."
2. Harman Kardon sound system - This is a nice speaker system but offering the (under powered) subwoofer as an "extra" makes this a ho-hum offering. To be honest, even with the addition of the subwoofer, these speakers are OK (I have heard them in RL). It brings the iMac up to the level of your average PC. By way of comparison, the Altec Lansing speakers (ACS 48) I have attached to my computer have a wider dynamic range with twice the power and they are considered "excellent speakers at their price point", not best of class. The thing Apple doesn't see is that speakers are not the answer. Apple needs to implement A3D or EAX if they want people to think their sound is anything but a joke.
"Apple is working on software technologies to enhance 3D sound abilities; it is an area where they need to improve. While there will always be better speakers to attach to a PC, the Harmon Kardon speakers -- with or without the subwoofer -- bring much better sound to the iMac DV then the previous iMacs. The tough job for Apple is getting great sound to come out of a small form-factor device. The iMac's small size and form-factor is one of its strengths and Apple may never be able to offer "best-of-class" sound in an integrated product. But the sound they are getting out of the new iMac DV's speakers is pretty darn good, considering the size and costs constraints. And if you need better sound you can add audiophile level equipment via the built-in audio ports and USB."
3. The RAGE 128 graphics card - Again, about what you would expect in a decent PC. This card has not made any serious inroad in the PC world because it just isn't impressive. The TNT2 has better image quality (at roughly the same speed) The Matrox G400 has hardware bump-mapping and the Voodoo3 has much more raw speed.
"It is true the RAGE 128 card has disappointed some power users, and maybe some at Apple. There are currently some graphics cards on the market that smoke the ATI RAGE 128 card, such as Formac's Pro Formance 3, yet this card is just now getting OpenGL driver support, while ATI has had it for awhile. If I look around at the big boys in the PC world in this price category ($999-1499), I tend to see lesser cards than ATI's RAGE 128. For instance, the Compaq Presario 5700N-500 ($1099) only has 64-bit graphics, as well as the new Dell Dimension L400C ($899). At the $1429 price range you can get 16 MB 3DFX Voodoo3 AGP graphics on the Dell Dimension XPS T450. But the TNT2 graphics card you speak of comes on PC's costing above the iMac's price range, as in the Dell Dimension XPS T700r ($2399).
The point is, 128-bit graphics at this price point is better than top brands in the PC world. Sure you can find other PC's with better graphics than the iMac DV, but not in the same brand class -- and that matters, because with Apple you are getting top tier manufacturing, tech support, ease-of-use, simplicity, and the best website on the planet from a computer company. If we are making iMac comparisons then we are talking Apple to Apple-like comparisons only. And that means brand-class matters."
4. FireWire - Few people actually need this option and most that do will buy a G4 (which are actually quite affordable) or (if they own a PC) just buy a FireWire PCI card.
"Again, this is forward looking technology leadership. Sure, you can get FireWire on PC's by adding a card, but for the "first-time" buyer they don't want to install things like PCI cards (which can range in difficulty to install depending on computer). Yet, grandpa and grandma go out and buy VCR's and camcorders all the time. And if you haven't noticed lately, these new machines are now all coming with IEEE 1394 ports (FireWire). With the iMac DV and its included iMovie software, anyone with half a brain can now use that camcorder they just bought to make some really neat family movies, write them back to tape, and share them with family. All of this without opening up a case, installing software drivers, and configuring system settings. Plug & Play desktop video is the next big thing. If you don't believe it now, just wait until Xmas 2000!"
"It's hard to 'need' something that nobody has every offered before in so convenient a package. Just look at the history of cell phones. People just can't live without them now."
5. Slot DVD - PCs have already done it, didn't like it, dropped it like a hot potato. It may work out on the Mac since the CD icon appears on the desktop. The reason PCs don't use them is because people were trying to load one CD on top of another. As a "computer professional" I don't care for them. It is possible to get a CD out of a dead tray loader without scratching it, a slot loader will be much more difficult without spending some time taking it apart.
"A slot loading CD tray is no big deal in the Mac world because all drives and cartridges show up on the desktop. Plus, it's one of the first things you learn as a Mac user: drag items like CD's to the trash to eject them. My two year-old son had this technique down pat when he was just 18 months old. Yet, at over two now, he still gets dangerously careless with placing CD's on a tray that in itself is another item to snag, bump and break. The new slot-loading DVD iMac's will mean one less item to break and one less worry for Mac users with little kids. As for what would happen if one tried to load a second CD on accident? Not sure? That's a good question for Apple."
Why PC users continue to disbelieve why Apple's new products are cool is sometimes beyond comprehension, especially since some of the very features which Apple introduces (or brings to market in a way such that they take off) end up being the very new cool features on next year's PC's.
Let's make a prediction. While some say Apple's new iMac DV offers items like built-in FireWire with integrated iMovie software and nobody has real need for them, I say: next year this time PC's will offer the same (exactly) -- proclaiming simple video desktop production and integration with digital camcorders and DVD set-top players. Real turnkey solutions.
Prediction two. While some say there is no need for "wireless" Airport technologies in non-mobile products, I say: this time next year the entire consumer PC world will be consumed with home LAN's with shared fast Internet connections and multi-player gaming, multi-email, etc. How does this happen today on the new iMac DV? With simple built-in Ethernet, superior networking software (from the ease-of-use view) and today's simple Airport technology -- plug & play wireless. Go figure.
As for sound and graphics performance, for the iMac's target audience and price point, in an integrated product category, Apple's technologies are quite capable. Sound improvements are forthcoming with new sound software and Apple's graphics will only get better with improved OpenGL support and with Apple's recent acquisition of Raycer Graphics (a graphics firm serving the workstation market) and its patent portfolio, Apple may be a able to place workstation level graphics on future iMacs. But again, Apple's 128-bit graphics on the iMac are definitely contenders, no doubt about it -- and they don't need to be the best in the market to make or break the product.
|Because achieving gestalt-like levels of quality means that the product reaches its highest level of appreciation only through experience means that PC users can never fully understand why Mac users seem so zealot like. |
Apple's iMac DV is a Gestalt Product
What people fail to understand about Apple is that the company offers products with a strong gestalt -- the German word for integration of experiences, patterns or structures, where, in particular, the total experience cannot be equated to the sum of the parts. To say, "strong gestalt" in this case is to apply an adjective about the iMac as an art object and art experience.
Yes! I did say "art experience", which is what Steve Jobs has always talked about at Apple. It's what they do, turn raw silicon into art -- the blending of [computer] science and art. Apple's products resonate with a sense of completeness, wholeness and integration which is akin to experiencing a great piece of architecture, sculpture, or music. Being the purveyors of the most highly refined operating system and integrated hardware gives Apple a huge advantage over common PC manufactures -- which nowadays are more like assemblers -- when it comes to achieving this sense of gestalt in a product.
|And they have no idea how immensely useful it is to have your CD's appear on your desktop -- something that DOESN'T exists for PC users because their entire computing experience is strictly based on the sum of its parts. |
Because achieving gestalt-like levels of quality means that the product reaches its highest level of appreciation only through experience means that PC users can never fully understand why Mac users seem so zealot like. And it also means that they can never understand what they are missing by comparing computers in terms of MHz, graphics speeds, and other technical specifications, including things like Plug & Play -- which serve a dual role in defining quantitative and experience-based assessments of computers. In fact, Mac users don't tend to think about assessing individual computers at all, since for them it's always about the whole experience of the integration between Mac hardware and the Mac OS. When they do upgrade to new and better equipment their comparisons seem always to be OS-centered. For example, as in "when I close my PowerBook G3's lid the OS goes to sleep automatically and awakes when I open it." Or, "with my PowerBook's media drive bays I can hot-swap my battery for a zip drive and the zip appears on the desktop automatically ready for identification and use."
What non-Mac users don't understand about products like the iMac DV is that the entire computing experience is integrated by one company, willing to take full responsibility for when that experience breaks down or doesn't quite live up. Longtime Mac users are so ingrained in this level of integration that they really don't have any idea at all what it is like to be a PC user. They have no idea what it is like to call Microsoft's tech support and only be told that they should call Dell instead, or Gateway, or whatever.
And PC users, on the otherhand, have no idea how immensely useful it is to have your CD's appear on your desktop -- something that DOESN'T exists for PC users because their entire computing experience is strictly based on the sum of its parts. Like most things in life, the sum of its parts rarely exceeds the whole, much less approximates it. Which is why anyone who knows the "gestalt computing" of the Macintosh will always tend to prefer it.
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