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Just A Thought
by Vern Seward

A Matter of Style
April 16th, 2004

"Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say and not giving a damn." - Gore Vidal (1925 - )

"It is better to look good than to feel good." - Billy Crystal (1947 - )

Since the return of Steve Jobs to Apple, the company has pretty much followed Mr. Vidal's sentiment; they've created computers that dazzle, delight, and mystify, they've charged what they believed was a fair price for them, while others, sometimes many others, believed the price was a tad too high to be fair. Still, Apple knows what it's about, and even when it makes a goof, it admits the mistake and moves on.

Pricing has been an Apple bugaboo for quite some time, according to many. Even after rave reviews, the Cube didn't fly off store shelves. Was it poorly priced? The buying public thought so, yet those who bought the Cube believed differently. Still, Apple decided the venture was a mistake, and kept on steppin'.

The iPod mini was also priced higher than many believed it should be, yet Apple can't make them fast enough. You lose some, you win some; you learn and move on.

Many have prophesied the demise of Apple; they carry around the sandwich signs that proclaim "THE END IS NIGH!!!" after each of Apple's failures, and man street corners preaching maniacally that each success only delays the inevitable.

"Just watch," they yell. "Apple will die! Repent now! Buy a PC while there is still time, and perhaps the Gods of Redmond may yet smile upon you."

Yet Apple ignores these and others who insist that they are doing it wrong. The company must be doing something right since Apple is still the bellwether of the computing industry. Where Apple goes, others will follow, or so it seems. To be in such a position you have little to measure yourself against; you have to know your industry, know what you are about, and not give a damn what others say. That's Apple's style, and to borrow a phrase from Andy Rooney; I like that.

Steve Jobs' Apple has always been about style; the technology, the innovations, even the pricing of its products have always been about style. I'm not just talking about the physical style of its products - I'll get to that in a moment - I'm talking the indefinable thing that is the sum of all things Apple that makes a Mac a Mac, and an iPod an iPod. It's Apple's style, and as long as Apple has it, it will always be relevant. And as long as Apple is relevant, computers will continue to be interesting to the non-technical among us.

Take the iPod mini, for example: Why would people scramble to buy a device when they can pay a mere $50 more and get triple the capacity? In a word; style. "It's pinker," one young woman told me when I asked her why she bought an iPod mini instead of its bigger brother. Style matters to some people as much as the technology behind it. Apple knows this.

Style is on everyone's mind these days. PC makers have realized that, once again, Apple was right all along; style matters. A Reuters's news article tells how PC companies are looking to make their next crop of PCs less bulky, and more stylish. Here's a bit of that article, titled Small Is Huge in PCs These Days:

Computer makers are getting hip to what style mavens have known for decades: The term "desktop computer" is itself a contradiction in terms as its bulk typically ensures that it will wind up under the desk instead.

Even as the race to miniaturize computer chips, laptops, and cellphones continues, the size of most desktop computers has largely remained as a towering hunk of aluminum and plastic, save for some notable exceptions such Apple Computer Inc.'s (AAPL.O: Quote, Profile, Research) iconoclastic iMac series, launched in 1998.

That's all changing. A slew of new PCs that recently hit the market are sizing down and jazzing up conventional design, prepping it for display in a more pleasing setting such as the den or the living room.

"The next form factor battles are beginning to be fought in the living room," said Peter Kastner, an analyst at the Aberdeen Group in Boston. Factors including size and decor suddenly matter a lot, he added.

Check out the full article at Reuter's News.

PC makers believe the living room is where your next PC will sit, the article says, and that is the reason for the sudden interest in style. Apple has said several times that people don't want to use their computers to watch TV, and that they've no plans for a set-top Mac. I believe Apple is right. Why put a PC where it has to compete with other things for your attention? While delivering content to the living room or family room may be desirable, few will actually find need for a computer to actually sit in those rooms. Further, adding a computer only makes the relatively simple process of watching TV far more complicated. Tech-types will love it, but I believe most others won't.

Now, give a family the ability to create content easily, and you've created a reason to have a computer. Give people the ability to augment their entertainment with the computer; in other words let the computer fit the style of the person, not the other way around. PC vendors just don't get it, Apple does. When PC makers finally do get it, Apple will be onto the next thing.

You see, the aluminum and plastic is only part of the story. Style is not just about how something looks, or even how it works; it's about how it looks in your environment and how it works with you. You can listen to digital music on one of a hundred different devices, but you are not cool unless to listen to it on an iPod.

It's all a matter of style.

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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