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On The Flip Side
by Michael Munger

Looks Count, Dufus!
August 10th, 1999

I wanted to wait a few weeks before going in depth about the iBook's design in order to see the general reaction. Without too much surprise, many people around the world said some of the most ridiculous things one can imagine.

First of all, let's look at the so called "business look" principle. I got an e-mail from a person who programs for a living and who thought that bringing an iBook to the office would not look too professional despite the fact that it answers his needs for hardware. This "business look" argument is currently all the rage across the Internet.

Why is this even an argument when the aim of this machine is not even to attract the business people? Anybody who tries to destroy it as a business portable has a weak argument, and why use arguments that are out of context? Are you so unable to criticize it for what it is intended to do (consumer portable) that you have to try and take it down for what it is not intended to do (business portable)? Is the iBook such a good consumer machine that you have to change its category in order to bash it better? Hey, would you put Oscar De La Hoya and Roy Jones in the same ring when they are in different weight categories? No. Then why talk about the iBook as a business Macintosh?

For those who remind us of the importance of their business image, let me tell you this. If your image is so important and that you are a big shot in need of a business-looking portable, you should HAVE the dough to buy a PowerBook, and mostly, you should COUGH UP the dough to have that PowerBook. The iBook is not a business machine, the PowerBook is.

Like the iMac, I am sure the iBook will find its way into offices anyway. Analysts and self-congratulating businessmen railed against the iMac last year. Despite this caterwaul from the critics, when visiting offices in Montreal, I see many iMacs. The best part of it is that they fit very well in their environment. It attracts people's attention, you know?

Remember when people like John Dvorak criticized the iMac's industrial design? I think it safe to say that balloon blew up in their faces. Well, they are at it again (especially Dvorak) and can you think of a different outcome this time? Not me.

The iBook is fine, design wise. It is curvy, its colors are as nice as the iMac's, and the overall image is rather cute. This is going to sell well with consumers.

Why are looks so important?

Why would consumers prefer an iBook to a ThinkPad as they prefer an iMac to a beige PC? It is simple. What Apple does with consumer Macintosh units is the same thing that Sony does with a stereo and Maytag does with a fridge. Appliances have to perform two functions: be as simple to use as your appliances and look good no matter how you decorate your room. The MacOS takes care of the former, while the industrial design of the iBook or iMac covers the latter.

Remember that looks represent much more than you think. When you go in a store and choose between products, shape and appearance often influence you, especially if you think that both products can serve you well. The image is very important and most companies (outside of the Wintel world) know it. This is why they always give their products the best possible presentation.

Choosing a product can even be said to the same process as choosing a mate. Some people choose personality, some choose physical attractiveness. Some care about both.

The computer buyer who cares only about RAM and hard disks when choosing their computer is analogous to the person who wants a soul mate rather than the perfect body. The truth is that the masses care about looks first, though.

Most people out there ask someone out because they like what they SEE and want to get to KNOW the person behind the attractive body. In the same way, most consumers who want a computer will react positively to the industrial design of an iMac or iBook and then will want to get to know it better. If they like the functionality as much as the outside packaging, they are ready to buy.

If a computer looks like a friggin' piece of candy, why does it sell? Because the looks count dufus!

Your comments are welcomed.

Michael Munger is a French Canadian living in Montreal. He discovered the Mac in 1994 while studying journalism, the profession he loves and practices. He also studied history and communications. In addition to his work at The Mac Observer, he authors the iBasics tutorial column at Low End Mac, and cofounded MacSoldiers in 1998.

You can find more about him at his personal Web site.

You are welcome to send me your comments or you can post them below.

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