Tom Chi  

Woah! Affordable Apple products!

January 14th, 2005 by Tom Chi :: see related comic

We at OKC are incredibly excited about the Apple announcements this week (actually, KC decided it might be more exciting to spend this week in Portugal and Spain, so I’m covering for him). Suffice it to say that after years of not being able to afford their products (’think different’-types often don’t have that much money), they’ve finally come out with some products I could just go pick up tomorrow. From the technology perspective, there is nothing new per se, but from the business perspective, the release of the ipod shuffle and mac mini are brilliant.

The ipod shuffle actually costs less than other flash players of comparable capacity, and will likely be an enormous seller. Given that 512MB jump drives go for $50 retail including their plasic housing, one can estimate that production cost are closer to $35. Now add a few buttons/switches, an audio amplifier, and an MP3/AAC decoder — and add $30 to that cost. After distribution and middleman, we are looking at $15-25 of profit for Apple. Not bad. Given the price, they could move 1-3 million units worldwide in the first year, with a net of between 15 and 75 million in profit. But even better than the money are the important inroads they will get to the PC market. The presence of an Apple product in so many homes could drive sales of the mac mini and other offerings.

Speaking of which, while the mac mini is certainly afforable as a computer, its positioning from the business perspective is less clear. Traditional mac enthusiasts and graphic/audio/video producers will not want to work on a 1.25GHz box with 256MB RAM. The consumers who might go for it are those who are looking at mid-priced machines from Dell. Also, long time PC users who are getting a 2nd or 3rd machine might consider it as well. Apple has never been successful in either of these markets historically, so the mac mini at least puts them in the game. All in all, it is a riskier business strategy than the ipod shuffle, but may certainly pay off.

Out in the community the reactions have been mixed. Gizmodo ran both the iProduct Spoof and its Rebuttal– but perhaps the most nuanced (and funny) critique I’ve run into so far came from a slashdot comment weeks ago. This is a well written satire:

“There was a time, not long ago, when you could tell everything that mattered about a person by his or her choice of operating system. You would notice a man at the local bistro with his titanium PowerBook and a deep garnet Merlot, and you instinctively knew: here is a man with a certain flair, a je ne sais quoi that makes his company worth your while. You’d wonder if the dark-clad woman striding down the street was your type; then you’d notice tucked under her arm a Duo 2300c, so retro and so delicously delicate, and you’d be smitten, simply devastated.” read the whole comment

Anyhow, two days after MacWorld, I took a quick inventory and saw 3 computers in my apartment and 6 in my office. Put into perspective, the prospect of getting another machine, even a very cute cube-ish one seemed a little less compelling. Although Steve Jobs had given me no excuse, I still felt some apprehension. Still, the shuffle still seems like a possibility, as long as I’m willing to start using iTunes/Musicmatch instead of the llama-kicking WinAmp.

What do the rest of y’all think?

7 Responses to “Woah! Affordable Apple products!”
Julian wrote:

I think Pages may be a bigger deal than people realize. I really don’t think it’s “just a word processor”.

David Heller wrote:

Would a USB port on the front of the mini been that horrible to the design?

Think about it … iPod Shuffle needs an easy access USB port to tranfer files with, right? Mac Mini doesn’t have an easy access USB port.


Otherwise, I am convinced both products rock.

But if you want the excuse, look at the cheapest monitor from Apple and you have one expensive computer again. … ;) … Yes, I know there are other places to buy monitors from, but its a weird business model when you can’t complete the package under one company.

Ok, I just went to Apple and tried to buy a mini. They don’t even offer their own monitors in the accessories and they don’t even offer a flatpanel option at all. Just an NEC CRT. Yikes!

BTW, my package came out to $900 before the monitor.
In the spirit of things I did go w/ wireless peripherals (keyboard and mouse) which required the Bluetook add on. And I doubled the memory to 512 (getting a full gig would have cust $400 more).

Oy! … I feel like I tried to buy a Yugo and they are offering me the Gucci package on it, and it doubles the price of the car. Peripherals should never add up to more than the base, IMHO. Defeats the purpose.

Tom Chi wrote:

Yeah, the mini makes the most financial sense if you have extra hardware lying around, and you are willing to surround your button-cute box with a frankenstein array of peripherals.

Still, one could make it work with a nondescript but cleanly designed CRT, a slick mouse and a nice keyboard.

As for pages, while pages might be more of a layout program, it strikes me as not very good business if they want to take on adobe indesign. The high end graphic people need something that gives them a lot of flexibility, and the soccer moms making newsletters never really would have bought indesign in the first place? So which market have you conquered? It’s not clear.

The better strategy for iWork is to build it into a true replacement for Mac Office which is interoperable but costs less. This is pretty difficult to pull off, but it makes more sense thematically.

oneirotekt wrote:

Jeez oh man, does that Rebuttal scream “chip on shoulder”. Lighten up, guys.

Alain Vaillancourt wrote:

I will never buy a Mac. I find its quirky rendition of the Xerox PARC direct manipulation concept to be too unpalatable for me. Heck, even the weird interface on the Amiga was better. But I have often used, and even studied Macs for my research and I have to admit that for persons who have never been exposed to better planned graphic interfaces the suffering will be slight. It might even be non-existent if they follow the suggestions Tognazzini has for customizing the Mac into “a monster machine” with “the interface it deserves”. When you add in the unrivaled “plug and play” capacities, then I am willing to say there is a lot going for the Macs in certain special cases, like small businesses who can’t afford tech suport staff. In fact I even got a bit excited about a year ago when I looked hard at their Airport line of wireless devices and their networking software. This week I got really, really excited because each time the Mini Mac appeared I see a network computer beater, for just about any small or medium sized business. For me the real future of that little “disposable” computer is in the business world. When it is combined with the Apple networking products it just blows away any Microsoft combo, for capital costs as well as maintenance.

Jay Z wrote:


Just curious, but what do you consider a “better planned” interface than the Mac OS (other than the Amiga)?

(I’m not implying that Mac OS is the bee’s knees, I just want to know what you are comparing it to.)

Alain Vaillancourt wrote:

I am comparing it to a generic direct manipulation interface with pieces from many. I am particularily, fundamentally irked by the Mac’s top-of-the-screen, unmovable menu. They had the perfect occasion when they went to OS X, to make something customizable, two leaps ahead of the slightly customizable bar on MS Windows. Instead, they stuck to that crippled, straight jacket implementation of Fitt’s law. Groan! On the other hand I am fundamentally delighted by the elegant, simple way anybody can change any document icon for any significant image on any Mac. Yet here too I groan mightily when I consider that they have never built on this (by paring down the process, among many things)and that it still takes more than 7 steps to change an icon image. They are simple, logical steps, but there are 4 too many in the sequence, making it an unused functionality. As a result 99% of the icon images on Mac desktops and folders are not significative. Worse, they have made “The Dock” one of the centerpieces of OS X marketing, and, as Tognazzini as pointed out, the Dock is unusable because most of the time it does not present significant images. And there are also many other things to be said about the Finder and File management interaction.

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OK/Cancel is a comic strip collaboration co-written and co-illustrated by Kevin Cheng and Tom Chi. Our subject matter focuses on interfaces, good and bad and the people behind the industry of building interfaces - usability specialists, interaction designers, human-computer interaction (HCI) experts, industrial designers, etc. (Who Links Here) ?