Hillman's Holistic Hold On Apple's Hangups

Iive got a major advantage these days as a writer. Iim not running about holding my head and yelling "Why didnit I see this one coming?" Of course, thereis a simple reason for that. A number of weeks back, I proposed that our little friend the Cube was not going to meet the projections, and was not all it was cracked up to be. Iim not going to say "I told you so!" even if that is what Iim feeling. What Iim going to do instead is to work to analyze how we got to this point. I know that itis been gone over like crazy, but please forgive just one more look at exactly what has happened here, and why there is probably not a great reason for worry.

To quickly recount, Apple Computer was given up for dead a number of years ago. One by one, schools and industries began to drop the Macintosh from their stable of computers. They were guaranteed a certain niche market, but the Macintosh looked to be DOA. Executive after executive recommended selling off the platform and onto Windows. Their logic was sound. With Windows dominating the market, the old line of Macs became more similar to English sports cars. They were great to drive, but fraught with problematic elements.

Then, out of nowhere, Jobs is reunited with Apple, and a remarkable run begins. First, the iMac comes out and galvanizes the Macintosh community overnight. With haste, everyone and their uncle is off to purchase the hippest computer theyive seen in a long time. The imitators come on strong, solidifying the Macintosh base. With a flash of lightning, the Mac was back.

Then, bit by bit, Apple filled in the square, creating a line of computers that was simple to define. Pismos for the business world, G4s for the professional desktop, and the iBook for students and consumers. Truly, life couldnit have been brighter. Well, it couldnit last forever, and anyone who thought it would is a fool.

Enter the Cube. Now donit get me wrong. I like the Cube. I think itis cute. A supercomputer in a little box. Absolutely bitchini. No PCI slots? Okay, Iive never added a PCI device to my computer. Havenit had the need to, frankly. Strangely enough though, Iive felt since the introduction of the machine that Apple has been marketing this machine with a great deal of, well, if not secrecy, then a little bit of dishonesty.

First off, I was surprised to discover that support for non-Apple monitors was somewhat imperfect. I suppose I could have dealt with that one on its own. Then, up comes this little crack in the box thing. Somehow, I was suspecting that this machine was going to be PERFECT. Thatis the way itis been marketed. Downright perfect. The best thing you can buy. The Remarkable Cube. Still, I can handle a crack in the box.

I can also handle the statements that the Cube has a timeless design ethic. Thatis true too of course. If it worked for Picasso, then surely the Cube would work for Apple. Only it hasnit been. The machines are selling, but now Apple has warned the investors that itis not selling enough. The question? Why? Why make this choice when everything was going right?

If thereis any baseball fan in you, you know the answer. Sheer hubris. Unbelievable pride. The feeling that you can do nothing wrong. And naturally, the instant you hear that voice, youive got to turn around and tell it to be quiet or else you are screwed. Take the pitcher carrying a no-hitter into the ninth inning. More often than not, that game gets broken up by a simple base hit from the middle of the lineup. The pitcher is this close to believing that heis God, and then hangs a curve ball. For a moment, concentration is lost, and the no-hitter is gone.

For a good long time, Apple was pitching a no-hitter. The market was coming back to them, the quality was up and rolling, and it was hip to use Macs again. So, they went for the kill. I wonder sometimes if anyone in the corporate office thought to themselves "Gee, I wonder if this is the right time to introduce a new computer that is going to be at the high end of the price scale?"

Before you say "It doesnit cost so much," remember that the Cube demands certain elements. Itis built to drive an Apple Cinema display, and anyone that doesnit believe that can look at just about any of the Chiat/Day print ads for the machine. Thereis the Cube, flanked by the Harman speakers, and dwarfed by the Cinema Display. And thereis the rub. Suddenly, the price for that configuration tops $5000. Not a school in the land is going to equip a computer that way, and businesses will look at people that want that kind of money spent with unbelievable skepticism. Who wouldnit?

Look closer at those Chiat/Day ads. Do you happen to see any cables coming out of the machine? No, no you donit. Itis an unbelievable piece of design work, but a prideful machine. I donit begrudge Apple building the Cube- it has brought great joy to many. However, that many is not many enough. Sales are dropping, and investors are wary.

This is all far from over though. The buzz on OS X seems to be positive, and the core Mac users arenit knocked off by the Cube- just wary. The next steps are the ones that will define the future though. Hereis to hoping that Jobs circles the wagons, looks inside, and realizes that they threw a hanging curveball with the Cube. We need fastballs again. Hard and on the outside corner. Big time.