Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Steve, 1999

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  • Robyn Gallagher,

    It was only 12 years ago, but yet sometimes it feels like 50 years ago:

    More women will buy the iBook than any other computer ever. And only partly because it looks like a giant makeup compact.

    Tee-hee. I'm a girl. I only buy computers that look like makeup.

    The excitement around Sherlock 2 is amazing. I didn't get a Mac until 2001, and by then it didn't even occur to me to use a built-in app for searching the web. That is the one area where Google totally came along and pwned Apple. I'm sure it won't be the last.

    Raglan • Since Nov 2006 • 1822 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Campbell,

    I worked in companies around Apple from roughly '84 to '94 and saw a lot of this going on - I had some of the first Mac 2 prototypes on my desk, and found/fixed hardware problems on them - Apple was always tough to work around - you worked with them at your peril, projects would get canceled at a moments notice - in fact I suspect that most projects got canceled - they owned a Cray for a while, even built it its own building, it was purty inside, almost a chapel - they designed their own CPUs, never saw the light of day - getting something to market was a challenge - firewire nearly died several times, USB was competing with it internally at the same time.

    There were lots of ups and downs - I remember going to MacHack one year, while we were there Apple announced big layoffs, live on CNN people could see friends being escorted to the door, none of the Apple people there (most of their senior systems team) could get a yes or no out of their managers - they all had to go back to California at the end of the week, and rush in from the airport to see if their security card keys still worked ....

    A lot of smart people left Apple after putting in years of work and seeing nothing, they're scattered all around the Valley now.

    And of course Apple ate its young - the small companies (like the ones I worked for) that sprung up around Apple building stuff that Apple didn't all were eaten or withered when Apple pulled the technologies in that made good profits and included them as standard in their products.

    (BTW Apple also brought CD-roms, firewire, and of course mice and real graphical displays - these were other technologies that Apple pioneered and brought to the general PC market)

    The one thing that Apple does and everyone is really jealous of is simply "high gross margins" they sell stuff at higher prices - they make more $$ from every one they sell than anyone else does - it's not something you can compete to do, I suspect that there's some unwritten law of economics that says that two people can't play that same strategy in the same market - everyone else ends up fighting, spiraling to the bottom for volume and lowest margins

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 1958 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Paul Campbell,

    real graphical displays

    Hard to credit how revolutionary that was until you see the crowd response during the original Macintosh launch - and realise that the pixelly big type scrolling across the screen is what they're raving about. Sure helps if you remember what monochrome command line interfaces were like; must mystify the young just like the wifi demo in Russell's story.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 15715 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Paul Campbell,

    The one thing that Apple does and everyone is really jealous of is simply "high gross margins" they sell stuff at higher prices

    A triumph of leading with design and having faith that people wiill pay for a better product experience. Jobs talked about taking the time to honour the design process properly, which hardly any of Apple's competitors did.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 15715 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to Paul Campbell,

    (BTW Apple also brought CD-roms, firewire, and of course mice and real graphical displays - these were other technologies that Apple pioneered and brought to the general PC market)

    Don't know if I've somehow misread that, but my recollection is that Macs rather conspicuously lacked CD-roms for some months after they'd become a standard offer on generic Windows/DOS boxes. They didn't appear until late '93, the year Photoshop stopped being a Mac-only app.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 3291 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown,

    One thing it's easy to forget now is how comically off the pace Apple was for a while in digital music. Steve thought the killer app would be people editing their home movies.

    Eventually, they had to buy SoundJam from Cassady and Greene and turn it into iTunes. You know the rest.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 17941 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Campbell,

    Apple forced all of their developers to buy CD roms within the space of about 2 months, they stopped shipping us documentation on paper. By the end of that year EVERY new mac had a CD rom in it and we all started shipping software on CD roms - PCs were still selling stuff on floppies for years later

    Apple had a real problem there - they were under injunction from Apple Music (ie the Beatles) to not do anything with music, they had to tiptoe through that minefield for years

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 1958 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Sacha,

    A triumph of leading with design and having faith that people wiill pay for a better product experience. Jobs talked about taking the time to honour the design process properly, which hardly any of Apple's competitors did.

    The rush of "designer" Windows PCs after the iMac took off was hilarious. They were almost without exception hideous.

    Apple's industry design process has always started deeper than that. They actually had to specify new plastics for the first iMacs. Before the iPhone, the Blackberry, with its dozens of tiny keys, was what smartphones were. Now, smartphones are basically variations on the iPhone.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 17941 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Apple's industry design process has always started deeper than that

    Jobs insisted that design was deeper than the product's skin. Mind you, the degree of control that sometimes involves has annoyed legions.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 15715 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Campbell,

    well yeah - the first thing I did when I bought my Mac128 in '84 was to open it, up the memory to (a whole) 1Mb, and add a hard drive (a whole 10Mb)

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 1958 posts Report Reply

  • James Butler,

    A great Macromedia technology called Flash

    Heh.

    Auckland • Since Jan 2009 • 790 posts Report Reply

  • Tom Semmens,

    I have made some of the best friends of my life at Apple, and I thank you all for the many years of being able to work alongside you.

    This last sentence looks frighteningly like a last goodbye from someone close to the end. That is sad, but it would be even sadder if it wasn't for the sure knowledge that Steve Jobs won't die, he'll just get himself uploaded into a porn filter on every new Apple device made after his corporeal form ceases to exist.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1711 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Bennett,

    I've never had any direct professional dealings with Apple, but Apple products have been my main work tools for the last 20 years.

    I've worked in theatre, television and film and had hobbyist passions for photography, gaming, and music. So I'm probably the perfect target market for Apple, and it'd be fair to say the equipment and software have contributed a lot to my enjoyment of life and work.

    Just as some people measure out their life in the cars they've owned and driven, so the various phases of my life have a particular computer attached. From the elderly second-hand Mac Plus acquired in 1990 and used for word-processing, budgeting and funding applications, to the LC3 which made poster design a possibility, to the LC575 with its CD-ROM drive (Myst opened up a whole world of gaming), to the LC5500 (which with its painfully slow dialup modem opened my eyes to the world of the net and 12 hour downloads of game demos), to the lovely blue translucent iMac (the last desktop I owned), to a series of laptops: a black G3 Powerbook (great for Unreal Tournament), a titanium G4 Powerbook, an aluminum G4 powerbook, and finally my current 17" Macbook Pro - each device carries memories of home, office, children and projects across the decades.

    Add to this 4 iterations of iPods, two generations of iPhones, and an iPad 2 - and I'd have to admit to slight fanboy tendencies.

    Today I use my Mac for viewing Quicktimes of work in progress, auditioning music for film/TV projects, editing photos, participating in forums, web-browsing, downloading podcasts, staying in contact with family, friends and colleagues, helping my daughter with homework and projects, buying and discovering new music, reading the news and very occasionally playing games.

    Two mac-related stories: When I became producer of Shortland Street, I introduced Mac computers to all the sets. This was in 1997 when Apple was at a very low ebb. I did it because I wanted to give the underdog some exposure, and because the colourful Apple computers looked cool. I know that medical facilities are unlikely to run Apple gear in the real world, but this was my little evangelical opportunity. Nowadays of course Apple gear is ubiquitous in the media and it may be time to withdraw Macs from Shortland Street in favor of generic boxes.

    The second story: When I started working in SPP Head Office 2003, all the IT was Windows-based. I wasn't allowed to introduce by own Powerbook to the system for fear it might corrupt the network with viruses or somesuch. For the first and only time in my life had to struggle with an ancient Windows machine. The horror! The ugly interface, the crashes, the confusing directory system, the sheer drudge of having to work on such a soulless system. Now, things are different. Many people in the company are working on Macs.

    Both these stories demonstrate in a small way the extraordinary change of fortune that Apple has engineered since Steve Jobs returned from the wilderness. Although I don't know the man, I used to watch podcasts of his 'One more thing…' addresses with admiration and anticipation. I hope he finds rest and recuperation in his new role. I imagine that the indelible stamp his leadership made on the culture of Apple will remain long after his departure.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 140 posts Report Reply

  • Peter Darlington, in reply to Sacha,

    A triumph of leading with design and having faith that people will pay for a better product experience. Jobs talked about taking the time to honour the design process properly, which hardly any of Apple's competitors did.

    And the market works. Apple do their thing brilliantly but there's also a big demand for cheaper commodity hardware, not so pretty but more open/modular so good for hacking, pimping and shipping on to keep up to date with changes in specs. People who like to do that don't buy Apple. The margins are much smaller but the market is huge (think Asia) so it all seems to work ok.

    Nelson • Since Nov 2006 • 868 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to James Butler,

    A great Macromedia technology called Flash

    Heh.

    Indeedy.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 17941 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Simon Bennett,

    to the LC575 with its CD-ROM drive

    One of the best Macs ever. I sold mine to Chris Bourke, who used it to write his Crowded House book.

    Sadly, it was followed by some of the biggest stinking piles of shit the company ever released. I had a black Performa 580 that basically was not fit for sale. There were some dark days before Steve came back.

    When I became producer of Shortland Street, I introduced Mac computers to all the sets. This was in 1997 when Apple was at a very low ebb. I did it because I wanted to give the underdog some exposure, and because the colourful Apple computers looked cool. I know that medical facilities are unlikely to run Apple gear in the real world, but this was my little evangelical opportunity.

    That was you!? Nice. As you say, it was completely unrealistic that the receptionist at a medical clinic would have the latest Mac, but it did look cool.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 17941 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Peter Darlington,

    And the market works

    Apple also had a lot to learn about the business side of their industry from Microsoft and others.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 15715 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Russell Brown,

    One of the best Macs ever. I sold mine to Chris Bourke, who used it to write his Crowded House book.

    However I seriously don't recommend trying to use one to lay out a photo-intensive house of the year magazine. Not a fond memory.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 15715 posts Report Reply

  • HORansome,

    Also, "Halo." Look what happened there.

    (It's okay, though. I can now play "Marathon" on my iPad.)

    Tāmaki Makaurau • Since Sep 2008 • 396 posts Report Reply

  • James Butler,

    I'm trying to remember what model we had at home during my late Dad's brief stint as editor of the New Zealand Model Railway Journal - one of the early beige PowerPC separates I think. And I dearly loved the ancient ex-VUW Color Classic I had as a student - coming from my Mum's animal physiology lab, it was preloaded with all sorts of useful early-90's dataviz software. My assignments had a distinct retro feel.

    But as much as I admire Macs and respect their technical and design prowess, I can't imagine ever buying one nowdays - I'm too used to getting my software for free, and being able to do what I want with it. But then I'm hardly their target market (in fact any company for whom I am a target market would go down the tubes pretty quickly).

    Auckland • Since Jan 2009 • 790 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to Russell Brown,

    . . . it was completely unrealistic that the receptionist at a medical clinic would have the latest Mac, but it did look cool.

    It was the receptionist's Apple //c at a pretentiously overdecorated Auckland dental practice that fatally undermined my trust and drove me to seek treatment elsewhere. This was at the time when the thing had been obsolete for about 5 years, they'd obviously chosen it because it "looked cool". Much like whoever lumbered Roy Scheider with one in 1984's godawful 2010.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 3291 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Peter Darlington,

    And the market works. Apple do their thing brilliantly but there's also a big demand for cheaper commodity hardware, not so pretty but more open/modular so good for hacking, pimping and shipping on to keep up to date with changes in specs. People who like to do that don't buy Apple.

    And yet, at Webstock, Foo, etc, there are a lot of people who can and do hack code, who carry a Macbook as their personal machine. At least three quarters of the conference circuit regulars seem to have them nowadays -- which does not, of course, prevent them from cursing Apple.

    I am somewhat worried about the iOS-ification of the Mac. It suits me to have a more managed environment on a phone and a tablet -- but I still want my computer to be a computer, not an appliance.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 17941 posts Report Reply

  • Paul Campbell,

    remember I said that "Apple eats its young" ... the fact that it has its eyes on a percentage from everyone who writes software for its platforms now seems to me to be an indication that, well, programmers are next ....

    Dunedin • Since Nov 2006 • 1958 posts Report Reply

  • James George,

    Oh god let the fan bois have their moment. I mean who really cares which mega corp rapes yer wallet, thanks chiefly to abusing the loopholes which their lackeys insinuated into the plethora of insane bi-lateral trade agreements our pols foist upon us.
    In a moment of utter stupidity I bought an Apple II sometime in the late 70's. There was a shop at street level in the Swanson Towers building where I worked.
    After a particularly dull morning with the drongos who ran the Labour Dept back then, I splurged out a couple of grand (you could still buy a house on the less salubrious parts of the Auckland isthmus for that).
    Never again.

    Like so much that continues to this day with this company's products, marketing buzz was more important than utility. It worked OK as a typewriter oops sorry "word processor", but couldn't match the contemporaneous x86 processors that were being put out by IBM or, most importantly; Wang who used a 16bit data bus on the 8086 based system. It was a killer word processor and Multiplan was great if incompatible with everyone else.
    However the special 16bit lotus 123 run on that slayed every other iteration of that spreadsheet app.
    I used to do all my grunt work on a Wang in multiplan, import the csv's into Lotus then export the result into an IBM to edit and add graphics. And no, one Apple could not have 'done it all' Number crunching was slow and precarious on apples back then.

    Since the Apple II I have never used Apple; not because its products are made in concentration cum work camps, but because I know that whatever they are selling will always be available in better a form factor (ie free from restrictive conditions) for less elsewhere.
    As Henry Ford pointed out a long time ago, you can make a reasonable quid shooting for the top end of the markets where dilettantes fret over matching their keyboard to the drapes, but the most profitable business is that which considers the masses, the hoi polloi, to be their number one customer. Apple appear to be going after us plebs at the moment so doubtless the form ahead of function types will find someone else to adore.

    Since Sep 2007 • 66 posts Report Reply

  • Lucy Stewart, in reply to Sacha,

    Sure helps if you remember what monochrome command line interfaces were like; must mystify the young just like the wifi demo in Russell's story.

    I'm juuuuuust old enough to really remember when having a computer with 256 colours was a Big Deal. I think there were a few computers running DOS at my school when I started. Apart from that...

    The wifi demo still seems like a big deal when I think about it, though, That didn't really become a commonplace home thing (in houses that can afford it, anyhow) until relatively recently - kids would have to be fairly young to not remember when it was unusual.

    Amherst, MA • Since Nov 2006 • 2087 posts Report Reply

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