So, will Apple's latest innovation change the world or is it iPadding?
Published 22/07/2010 | 05:00
Tomorrow we will be bombarded with yet another Apple marketing extravaganza with the launch of the iPad here.
It will be followed nine days later by the arrival of the new iPhone 4, glitch and all.
These launches will follow the classic Apple recipe -- a dash of innovation and a large dollop of marketing.
But will they live up to the hype -- and the prices?
Or does Apple push innovation too far too fast causing problems such as reception issues with the new iPhone?
The company -- and its technologically snobby customers, nicknamed fanboys -- provides rich fodder for satirists.
Among many virals slagging Apple on the internet is a picture of its boss Steve Jobs contorted into a yoga-like position. "How to get reception on your iPhone," reads the caption. LoL.
The Simpsons also savaged Apple in its satirical guise of "Mapple."
"I could never afford a Mapple product," Lisa tells a saleswoman. "But can I buy fake white earbuds so people think I have a miPhone."
Salesperson: "Sure. They're called 'miPhonies' . . . and they cost $40." Lisa ends up with a 'miPod' later, getting a bill the size of a telephone book for downloading "miTunes".
Apple jokes fuelled an entire episode -- the funniest in years -- a testament to this unique company's fame.
Apple hasn't looked back since shedding its "geeky" image in 2007 when it dropped the word "computers" from its name and focused on consumer electronics.
Since then it has been named the world's most admired company three years in a row by Fortune magazine and passed out Microsoft with annual revenues topping $40bn.
But how do its latest products stack up in terms of value for money?
Most companies are content copying each other's versions of existing products. Not Apple. It conjures up completely new ones and makes them the latest consumer must-have.
The iPad is a sort of cross between an iPod and a laptop and, with a 9.7-inch colour LED backlit screen, apparently makes reading books and newspapers a pleasure.
It made famous artist David Hockney trade in his sketch pad for an iPad thanks to a £2.99 'app' called brushes which allows users to paint with their fingers.
The iPad will sell millions and "change the way we look at everything from reading newspapers to drawing," raved the 72-year-old 'fanboy.'
Two of the first Irish iPad owners concur. Glen and Graham Brannelly, 12 and 14 respectively, travelled to Belfast and queued for 10 hours to get the iPad at its UK launch in May.
Was it worth it? "Definitely," says Glen, who mainly uses it for games but, like his brother, has discovered the joy of novels such as The Three Musketeers.
"I didn't read many books before but I started when I got the iPad," he says.
Industry reviewers lauded the iPad's 'magic' but were more sceptical about its usefulness.
Computer World said: "Unlike a PC or a phone, the iPad is not a necessity".
It advised readers to wait for improved versions, particularly after the arrival of the iPhone OS 4.0 operating system, which will bring multi-tasking and other benefits.
Which? magazine mentions the word "magic" three times in its iPad review with one tester adding another word -- "sublime" -- to this highly unusual hyperbole.
However, it still rates the Amazon Kindle a better reader and the Samsung N140 notebook as superior for general tasks. Both are also considerably cheaper than the expected €500-€800 price tag of the iPad.
PC World noted the potential of the Kindle and/or the iPad to do away with pricey and back-breaking schoolbooks (average cost: €350 a year). But it too advised patience: "Future versions will address the needs of students better than the models we see today."
Apple may have stolen a march on its competitors with the ground-breaking innovation of its first iPhone, apps and all.
But apps are now freely available elsewhere and many companies have passed out other iPhone features. Some, such as the two-megapixel camera on the first iPhone, weren't that great to begin with -- and still aren't.
Apple's latest 5MP camera just about matches that of a Nokia N95 I bought in 2008 and is easily bettered by many such as the Sony Ericcson Experia with an 8MP camera.
Now rival companies whose latest phones have superior features resent that these are being overlooked by people still blinded by the aura of Apple.
A viral video on Youtube sums it up. It shows a mobile-phone sales guy outlining the initially real but then increasingly outlandish superior features of a non-Apple product to an Apple 'fangirl.'
She's not listening and replies in monotone over and over: "I don't care, I want an iPhone."
Finally, he blurts out: "It prints money. It has an app that builds you an island and transforms itself into a jet to fly you there. It grants you three wishes -- even if one is for an iPhone."
She replies in the same monotone: "I don't care."
Frustration boiled over when Apple boss Steve Jobs implied that the reception issues on its new iPhone 4 model were industry-wide.
Both Nokia and Blackberry-maker RIM issued bristling denials. Jobs' remarks were "unacceptable", said RIM, testily pointing out that its products don't need a case for connectivity (a reference to Jobs' offer of free cases to solve his phone's problems).
It's too early to rate the iPhone 4 -- it's due out on July 30 -- but let's look at its predecessor.
A survey of reliability in Which? magazine rated it the 4th most reliable type of phone -- after Samsung, Motorola and Nokia -- which isn't bad considering Apple's reputation for pushing innovative boundaries.
But Apple also got an 89pc rating for customer appeal -- more than 20 percentage points higher than any other phone.
Last February, Apple's music store iTunes sold its 10 billionth song, which, at an average price of 99c, makes $10bn in sales.
iTunes enjoys massive economies of scale and virtually no overheads compared to the average high-street outlet that has to hire staff, pay premium rents and rates etc.
So how come it charges much the same for its music as HMV?
Steve Jobs blames the greedy record companies. He maintains 70c out of every 99c goes to them -- more money than they make selling CDs.
The new iPod touch has all the gizmos you'd expect from Apple. But are you really going to carry around a device for music and movies when this function is now easily handled by your phone -- iPhone or not?
Apple has annoying pricing policies -- such as charging the earth for extras. Choosing a black instead of a white MacBook, for example, used to add hundreds to the price. Grrrrrr.
It can also push innovation too far. For example, the new iMac's wireless keyboard and mouse look cool but need irritating battery changes.
And, while Mac prices have halved in recent years, so too have those of PCs, so it still seems to charge a great deal more than the cheapest competition.
But its 'fanboys' and girls forgive all that -- and I have to 'fess up to being one too.
I'm not bothered that two years ago I paid €1,800 for a MacBook Pro (now €1,100).
It's still faster than most new laptops, while its gleaming silver casing makes them look cheap and clunky even now.
And then there are things that other companies would never dream of -- such as the magnetically attached electric lead that pops out if stumbled against, instead of sending your laptop crashing to the floor.
But then again, if it's not an Apple, would you be all that bothered anyway?