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Just a Thought - Conversations With Steve

by - January 14th, 2004

On a lonely country road west of Monta Vista, a black BMW 530i pulls up next to a blue '04 Mini Cooper S that is sitting along the side of the road. The Mini Cooper chugs quietly in an effort to keep its occupant warm on that particular, and unseasonably cool Southern-California night. The BMW glides to a stop, the only sound it emits is the very muffled rhythmic thumps of a base guitar and drum.

The window on passenger side on the Mini Cooper winds down, whirring softly as the glass disappears into the door. The driver side window on the Bimmer seems to melt from view, no sound, and what motion there is seem fluid more than mechanical. As the window vanishes, the rhythmic thump is joined by lead guitars and other instruments. The man in the Mini Cooper instantly recognizes the tune, and when the vocals start, he sings along:

Why don't you ask him if he's going to stay?
Why don't you ask him if he's going away?
Why don't you tell me what's going on?

The heads of both men bob in time with the driving base. The BMW driver turns down the music. The man in the Mini Cooper regards the Bimmer driver with a nod, and gets a nod in reply.

"Steve, why don't you come on over here this time," the man in the Mini Cooper offers. "My car won't bite."

"Yeah, but your Mini Cooper doesn't have a sound system like this mug, yo! This is tight! Check this."

Steve turns up the sound on the Bimmer's Logic 7 sound system:

TUSK!
TUSK!

Even from where he is sitting, the man in the Mini Cooper can appreciate the sonic beauty that the BMW offers, but he motions for Steve to turn the sound down again. Steve complies.

"Sounds good my friend, but for what we need to talk about, it might be better discussed over here."

The Mini Cooper driver catches the disapproving look Steve gives his car. "Come on Steve, I even vacuumed it out this morning. You won't get any kooties."

Steve nods in reluctant agreement and powers down his Bimmer. A final "Tusk!" pumps through the window before the car's dash goes dark.

In a moment, Steve has settled himself into the passenger seat of the Mini Cooper, and is surprised to find that it is not too uncomfortable, but he says nothing to that affect to his host. Instead, he says, "Let's make this quick, I'm meeting Bill for cocktails in an hour."

The Mini Cooper driver reaches into the back seat and pulls forward an iBook. "I want to show you something, Steve," he says as he powers up the laptop.

The laptop shows a familiar Web page, The Apple Store Online, and Steve smiles at the image. "I've seen that before," he says to his host. "Looks good, no?"

"Yes, it does," the Mini Cooper driver replies, "but is there anything missing?"

"Missing? What do you mean?"

"I mean can you think of anything that should be on this Web page but isn't?"

"Hell's bells! I lot of stuff could be on this Web page but isn't! Dude, you are gonna hafta be a bit more specific."

"Think about this Mini, for example, then think about your shiny and well deserved Bimmer over there. Now think about your Mac line up..."

Steve's eyes roll and he throws up his hands in exaggerated exasperation. "Crepes on crackers! I wish I had a nickel for every time someone asks me that!"

"Asks you what, Steve?"

"Don't get stupid! You are going to ask me to produce a cheap Mac, right?"

"Yeah, so?"

"So? So why don't you and the rest of your ilk get it? Macs are quality products, and quality doesn't come cheap."

"We don't 'get it', Steve, because we know better, and we firmly believe that, if you set you mind to it, you could produce a Mac that is both high in quality and low in price."

"But why, on Earth, would I set my mind to it? It makes little sense. If I sell cheap Macs then that's all anyone will buy, and I can't make a living pushing Apple branded Dell toasters."

"Who says they have to be Apple branded Dell toasters? Why couldn't you create a Mac that is a Mac through and through, yet it costs way less than the current iMacs, or even the eMac."

Steve thought for moment, the Mini Cooper driver could see the wheels in Steve's head start to turn ever so slightly. Steve then shook his head, "No...no, it can't be done. At least, not done right. And it would have to be done right if Apple's gonna put its name on it. No crapware!"

"Absolutely, no crapware indeed. In fact, if you build this thing you could take your cues from the Cube."

Steve winced noticeably.

"What?" The Mini Cooper driver asked. "The Cube was a great idea, you just aimed it at the wrong people."

Steve looked at his host with doubt in his eyes.

"No kidding, Steve. The Cube woulda sold like hotcakes if you hadda found a way to lop 500 bucks off the initial price. "

His jaw set, Steve said to the Mini Cooper driver, " No way José; we made that box as best we could and trimmed as much as we dared while minding our profit margin. There's no way we could have made the Cube cheaper using the same parts. No way!"

"And I don't disagree."

Steve eyed the other. "What sort of game you playing here? First you tell me I could have made the Cube cheaper, then you agreed with me that I made the Cube as inexpensively as I could: What am I missing?"

The Mini Cooper driver slowly shakes his head, as a person might who finds he has to explain the punch-line of a very obvious joke. "Steve, you said that you could not make the Cube less expensive given the parts used; ever think about using different parts?"

"Of course! Geez Louise! I have built a computer or two in my day you know!"

"Chill Dude! We're just talking here."

"It ain't like I don't know what I'm doing, you know. I mean, look at the iMac! Huh? If I didn't have a clue as to which end of the power cord goes into the wall would I have come up with the iMac? Huh? Answer me that, Mister KnowItAll!"

"The iMac is a great machine."

"Ya damn skippy! And what about the iPod? Huh? How about THAT? And it works on the PC even! Huh? Betcha never thought that would happen, but it did, and it's because I'm not asleep at the wheel, Buddy boy!" Steve emphasized "Buddy boy" with a finger poke in the shoulder of his host: "Bud", poke, "dy", poke, "boy", poke.

The Mini Cooper driver flinched a bit at the pokes, but remained calm, and replied, "The iPod is absotively, posilutely fantabulous. I'm serious. You should be very proud, and you are absolutely right; it proves that you are firmly in control of Apple."

"OK then, so what's all this manure about cheap Cubes and different parts and what-not?"

"The Cube was all about taking leading edge technology and shoehorning it into an 8" square cube, and it worked out beautifully. In fact, I still use a Cube for most of my writing. Great Box!"

Steve settled a bit into the Mini Cooper's leather seat (which squeaked a little) as a hint of satisfaction edged into his still boyish countenance. The Mini Cooper driver continued.

"What I was thinking is that Apple shouldn't waste all of the great engineering know-how; it could apply what it learned while developing the Cube to a new computer, one that uses very good, but relatively inexpensive parts to achieve similar results."

Steve's brow knotted as the words sank in. The Mini Cooper Driver pressed on.

"I'm thinking that instead of aiming this new Cube-like box at prosumers, let's aim it at AM-sumers; the consumer who's an amateur when it comes to technology. You know, the average guy or girl who would drive a Mini Cooper, for instance, or a Honda, or a Saturn. These folks like quality as much as the guy would buys a Bimmer... "

The Mini Cooper driver gave Steve a sideways glance to see if he would take exception to the implication, but Steve was deep in thought, and the Mini Cooper driver continued.

"Usually what these folks are offered is crap. They get clothes that don't fit right, houses that leak, cars that break and run like crap from the time they drive it off the lot until they have it towed to the junk heap. And they get computers from the likes of Dell; heartless, soulless pieces hardware that never really feels like a system because it isn't a system. These Am-sumers know quality when they see it, it is just that they can rarely afford it. That's why Honda is so popular."

"But what if Apple could offer a real alternative to the crap PCs? Not junk to match Dell's junk, but a high quality piece of equipment at a really good price. What if Apple could produce a Cube-like computer, using slower, and less expensive parts, and offer it as an alternative to Dell's bottom feeder PCs? This new computer won't win over everyone, but it would win over a lot of folks looking for a bit more quality in their work-a-day lives. Whaddya think Steve?"

The Mini Driver fell silent, stared ahead into the star studded night, and waited for Steve to respond. That was his pitch, his hook: Quality for the average Joe. It didn't smack of dollars, or market share, it didn't pander to glitz or the 'WOW' factor, the only idea that held firm was that everyone deserved a little quality it their lives, and there was no reason why Apple couldn't sell it to them.

Steve shifted in his seat. "If we took the latest G4 and put it on a 133MHZ bus..., memory would be cheap, support chips would be cheap..., come up with a really simple, but elegant box, like the Cube, but even more basic, kind of a take off on the iPod or the iBook..., it just might work." Steve nodded, smiling. "Yeah, it might actually work!"

The Mini Cooper driver allowed himself to smile. "So, you'll do it?"

"I'll past the notion on to the R&D boys and give it some priority. If they come up with something viable..." Steve hunched his shoulders. "Who knows?"

"That good enough for me."

Steve eyes the Mini Cooper driver. "So, is that the only reason why you got me out here, to ask me to make a cheap Mac?"

"Yeah, pretty much," the Mini Cooper driver shrugged.

Steve sits back and makes a show of looking at the car he is in as if seeing it for the first time. "You know, this really isn't a bad car."

"Yeah, is pretty nice. It had some minor problems in the beginning, but it turned out to be a real piece of quality."

"I hear it's a hoot to drive," Steve says with a boyish grin that is more question than statement.

"Would you like to take it down the road a taste? You can pull your car further off the road or find us a lot and then you can have a go, if you want?"

"You sure you don't mind?"

"Mind? Steve! Take the keys! But weren't you going to meet Bill for cocktails?"

Steve grabs the keys from the Cooper Mini driver and slids into the car's driver seat. "Bill can wait!"

The Cooper Mini driver leans into the driver side window. "I've got an iPod loaded in the glove box and it's set to shuffle play. Which reminds me; when you get back I'd like to talk to about a FLASH-based iPod."

A minute later the fading strains of Derek and the Dominoes' 'Layla and the Cooper Mini's taillights vanish around a curve.

is a writer who currently lives in Orlando, FL. He's been a Mac fan since Atari Computers folded, but has worked with computers of nearly every type for 20 years.

You can send your comments directly to me, or you can also post your comments below.

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