Posted tagged ‘Macintosh’

Motherhood and Apple pie

January 18, 2011

I have mentioned previously that, in technology terms, I am an Apple man. I have two Apple Macintosh desktop computers and one laptop; I have an iPhone; I have an iPad; I have two iPods; I have an Apple TV. At times in my long life I have used PCs, and I am proficient in the use of Windows, but I am always glad to get back to my Apple stuff.

But part of the Apple culture I subscribe to was formed in days of, if not adversity, then at least underdog status. First it was the hegemony of ‘IBM-compatible’ computers (a term the younger generation will never even have heard of), then of MS-DOS (which was the dawn of Microsoft), then of Windows. While these systems controlled 90 per cent or thereabouts of personal computing, it was fun to be part of the alternative Apple culture. Or at least, it was fun until Steve Jobs left Apple and its products started to look like the faceless IBM/Microsoft competition. Those were the days that I moved over for a while to Windows, made more fun by the fact that my computers were home-made by my Faculty’s then technology officer.

But Jobs returned to Apple, the Truth was re-discovered and made more Perfect still, and everything in my house went back to Purity and Good Design. Then came the iPod and the iPhone and the iPad, and all this is even more perfect than anything before. Indeed, the iPad is probably signalling the New Age of electronic enlightenment. But something is not the same. We are not the oppressed minority, we are not the under-dogs. Apple has become the largest global technology company, it almost totally controls online music sales. It does not have the dominant market share in either smartphones or computers, but it has the recognised leading product in each. Out-manoeuvered for so long by Microsoft, Apple is now thought by some analysts to be getting ready to take over its old rival. The future is Apple.

Or is it? The question mark in the story hovers over Steve Jobs himself. Here is the man who, without a doubt, gives Apple its identity, its style, its ability to fuse technology with design and culture. And he is ill. Yesterday he announced, again, that he is taking leave from the company to deal with health issues. How dependent is the world’s Apple future on this one man? Or has he now instilled in the company a sense of design and destiny that will survive him if he were to retire?

Indeed, the question is this: is computing success the product of better technology, or is it a cultural matter? I must do a bit of research on this. On my iPad of course.

Apple reflections

June 24, 2009

Today’s UK Guardian newspaper carried an article on Steve Jobs and Apple, reflecting on the driven nature of the company’s CEO. There are of course many people in Apple Inc, and indeed many whose contribution to the company’s fortunes and the quality of its products has been vital. But few companies are so closely identified with their CEO as this one is, and reports on his health and outlook on life have an immediate impact on its share price and on the confidence of its customers. Right now the talk is on whether he has recovered from his illness and is ready to return to the company.

As some readers of this blog will know, everything you read here is written and managed on Apple equipment. Right now I am sitting at my iMac; a few hours ago I was considering readers’ comments and publishing them, and responding to some of them, on my iPhone. Shortly I shall be taking my dog on a final late night walk, and while I do so I shall be listening to a particular podcast on a science policy theme on my iPod. I am wholly committed to Apple, and shudder when occasionally I find myself having to handle the equipment of other companies. And yet, if I am honest, there is nothing that this iMac does that could not be done equally well on, say, a Dell, or even a computer that someone could assemble for me in their garage from parts bought in any computer shop. And recently I gave an HP netbook as a present to a family member, and in trying it out beforehand was impressed with its features. But there is something in the Apple range that keeps me loyal, even if I could not always explain what that something is.

Some of it is the design. I loved the original Apple Macintosh in the mid-1980s. But in the Jobs-less era from the late 1980s and into the 1990s I grew disenchanted; the various LCs and Performas or whatever the models were called still had the neat Apple operating system, but the machines looked like any old IBM-compatible box, and I just lost interest and bought a PC. Only when Jobs returned and with him the unique style did I also restore the Apple brand to my home and office.

Perhaps the ‘something’ that makes me an Apple man is this: when all is said and done, Apple is more a concept than a piece of technology. What you buy into is the feel of the equipment and the philosophy of the community that has gathered around it. Not for nothing is Apple the company that popularised the desktop icon (yes, I know – it was developed by Xerox, but Apple brought it to your office). The whole Apple concept is iconic, awash with symbolism and ritual.

I may be jumping a little far now, but there is something of interest here for any modern organisation, including a university. DCU’s mission, for example, is strongly linked with a sense of identity, and with the idea that it doesn’t just offer a suite of educational programmes and research projects, but a particular concept of what we are in our time and our place. And I suspect that our success somewhat depends on our being able to convey this distinctive image, both to ourselves and to others. That isn’t a trivial or superficial thing: identity and community are everything, and I would like to think that access to DCU is also access to a particular outward-looking community.

I wish Steve Jobs well, and hope he returns to Apple at the end of the month, refreshed and invigorated. I’ll be watching.

Apple without Jobs? Is this conceivable?

January 15, 2009

For Apple fans, a heart-stopping moment: there are reports this morning that Steve Jobs, co-founder and CEO of Apple, is taking ‘leave of absence’ while he receives treatment for his fairly mysterious illness, described initially as a ‘hormone imbalance’ and now as ‘something more complex’. Predictable, Apple shares have dropped in value, and the internet is alive with rumour and speculation. The first thing to say, I think, is that I wish Steve Jobs well and hope he has a very speedy recovery. I hope he resumes the reins of Apple in the summer as promised.

As is being observed everywhere, this is not the first such leave of absence. In fact, he went on ‘leave’ for 12 years in 1985, and then in 2005 when he was being treated for pancreatic cancer. During his long absence from the mid 1980s the company went through a series of CEOs, designs and plans, and while I don’t claim to be absolutely typical of its market, I left the Apple world behind by the early 1990s when its computer products had lost the innovative edge technically and, aesthetically, began to resemble ‘ordinary’ PCs more and more. And not long after Steve’s return, I returned also, restoring the Macintosh on my desktop and accumulating iPods and iPhones.

Steve Jobs is not a technological wizard, but he is a total genius when it comes to identifying market demand and wrapping the technology in design that sets trends. He is the face and the voice and the music of Apple. Whatever happens to him right now, there will be a time when he is gone, and Apple will need to demonstrate that it can still find the magic without him. Maybe this leave of absence is a good testing ground for that.

For the moment, however, I wish Steve a full and speedy recovery, and a return to Apple in robust health.

Apples with everything

July 18, 2008

This blog is brought to you with very significant inputs from Apple Inc. The computer on which I am writing right now is an iMac. On my travels, I carry with me an Apple MacBook Pro; and at home I privately own a Mac Mini. In my pocket is my iPhone, and my car is wired to play (and display) my iPod. All three members of my family have iPods, and two of them also own an Apple Macintosh.

I first migrated to Apple in 1987, just as the Irish Government was negotiating the Programme for National Recovery (well, there is probably no direct causal relationship between these, but you can’t be sure). Back then I persuaded my Head of Department to let me have a Mac Plus. I then spent almost all of my personal savings on buying an Apple LaserWiter – one of the early laser printers, costing about the same as a medium size car back then, a purchase I felt I could not ask the College to make for me. I then went through a succession of Macs until 1995, when I felt that the company had lost its way. Its computers now looked like PCs, and didn’t behave as well (and of course, Steve Jobs had gone). So when Windows 95 came out, I migrated to the PC world. A colleague of mine built PCs from individual parts, and for five years I worked on his home-made computers (including one laptop which always overheated and once caused a small fire on a plane, but that’s another story).

At that time, in the late 1990s, I was Dean of a Faculty in the University of Hull. There was a pocket in the Faculty of Mac users, and with the zeal of Saul of Tarsus I persecuted them mercilessly, forcing them eventually to migrate to PCs to ensure compatibility in the Faculty’s technology. I repent of that now!

I continued on PCs in DCU from 2000, but began to look again at Macs after the arrival of OS X (and Steve Jobs was back, Hallelujah). I began to realise how much I missed Apple, and how the quality of my thinking and writing had deteriorated while I was on PCs. So in 2004 I returned to the fold, on my knees, and with the promise never to leave again. And as Umberto Eco noted when writing about the theology of the Macintosh, ‘everyone has the right to salvation’.

 

PS. This is not an anti-Microsoft rant – much of the software on my Macintosh is by Microsoft…


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