Wednesday, May 24, 2006

How Steven Jobs got me. Sorry, Marty.

Things are going well for Steven Jobs and Apple computers.

A little more than three years ago, I was asked to spend a week in Taiwan as a consultant for Taiwan Broadband Communications, a cable company owned by The Carlyle Group. They wanted me to advise them on whether they could move a bill through the Taiwanese legislature using an American-style public affairs campaign, complete with broadcast advertising, grassroots lobbying, and political campaigning -- the works. After spending a week there and talking to a bunch of people, I advised them that I thought they could, and I gave them a brief memo on how it could be done. They asked me if I would be willing to move to Taiwan for 6-12 months to oversee the execution of the plan I had written, and I said I would.

Nothing came of the TBC effort -- they couldn't get any of the other major players in the industry to go along with the idea, and in the end they decided it wouldn't be appropriate for them to go it alone.

But while I was waiting to hear back, I began to consider how would I live in Taiwan for as long as a year, living out of a hotel room? (Granted, it was a five-star hotel. Nothing but the best for a Carlyle Group consultant. But a hotel room is a hotel room. Confined. Small. Restrictive. And one without a widescreen TV with a good A/V system for my DVDs and CDs.)

The widescreen TV I could do without. My music collection -- lovingly assembled over the course of decades, with more than 2000 CDs -- I could not.

So I looked, for the first time, at MP3 players. After a few days' worth of market research, it became clear to me that my best choice would be this then-still-new Apple device called an "iPod."

I had initially been reluctant to even check out an Apple device. At the time, I used an IBM ThinkPad, and I adored it. It was easy to use, I had all the software I thought I needed, and it was reliable. And everyone knows IBMs and Apples don't get along.

I was wrong.

The second-generation iPod I bought -- the 30-gig model -- was formatted to work with either Windows or Mac OS X. Granted, the Windows version of the application required that I also purchase a separate Firewire adapter, which led to some interesting email exchanges with a techie who turned out to be in Greece, but once I got everything installed properly, it worked fine. It took me the better part of a week to rip my CD collection to my hard drive so I could then transfer the music files to the iPod. And once it worked, it ... worked. Really, really well.

So well that the moment Apple came out with a 40-gig version of the iPod, I bought one. And then replaced that with the 60-gig version as soon as THAT came out.

And something else was happening: Every time I walked into an Apple store (here in Chicago, on Michigan Avenue, in the heart of the Magnificent Mile; at the Short Hills Mall, in New Jersey; or at Clarendon, in Arlington, Virginia), I was floored by the designs I saw.

The designs of the computers on display -- sleek, functional, powerful. The designs of the peripheral devices on display -- small, functional, powerful. The design of the stores themselves -- easy to move around in, easy to find what you needed.

Meanwhile, I was having troubles with my ThinkPad. I crashed a hard drive around Thanksgiving 2003, and lost everything on it. Nope, no backup. Ouch. So I got a new hard drive installed and started from scratch, even reinstalling the music files that were on my iPod back onto the new hard drive. Things seemed to be fine, until I crashed the new hard drive almost exactly a year after I'd bought it. The good news was, I had learned my lesson -- I had an external drive to back up my data, so at least that wasn't lost.

But now I'd suffered two hard drive crashes on my ThinkPad. Even when it was working, the computer froze regularly, requiring reboots way too often for my taste. And I'd had to fight off all the various viruses that were out there. I spend so much time on the Internet it's the computer equivalent of walking naked through the labs at the Centers for Disease Control -- with honey smeared all over my body.

The overwhelming majority of the evil people who have nothing better to do with themselves than create computer viruses create computer viruses that attack Windows-based PCs, not Macs. Why? I have no idea. Because they hate Bill Gates? I don't know. I don't get that at all. Regardless, they do NOT create viruses to attack Macs. Hell, they're probably creating those viruses ON Macs!

So ... I scrunched up, and laid out a coupla grand for a Powerbook G-4 with a 15" screen, I GB RAM, and an 80-GB hard drive.

And I adore it.

Steven Jobs made a critical strategic decision when he decided to make the iPod available to Windows users. Up to that point, Apple made products for Apple users, period. If you wanted to run a particularly cool Apple software program, you had to buy an Apple computer. There was just no way around that problem. Most people aren't willing to ditch a several-thousand dollar investment in their computer and installed software just to get one new software application, so Apple was stuck.

But with the decision to make the iPod available to Windows users, they got me in the store. And once they did, it was only a matter of time before I broke down and fell for the advantages of the Mac.

Now Apple has gone even further, and crafted a deal with Intel, so Macs now use Intel chips. And they've got a new software/hardware fix called Boot Camp, to make it even easier for Windows users to make the transition.

The only person I know who doesn't like my Mac is Marty, the best computer guy I know. He was the one who first turned me on to the ThinkPad several years ago, and he walked me either in person or via phone through all my ThinkPad troubles.

Last year, I went back to New Jersey to work for Bret Schundler's 2005 gubernatorial campaign, and Marty was one of the first guys who greeted me in the new Schundler headquarters. We were happy to see each other -- in addition to being a great computer guy, he's also been a good friend.

But then his eyes fell upon my sleek new PowerBook, and he began cursing under his breath. I asked him why. He said that he used to sell them, but didn't any longer. Now fearful, I asked what was wrong with it.

"Wrong?" he replied. "Nothing's wrong with it. It's a great computer. But they don't break down, so there's no money in them for the retailers. What you want, if you're a retailer like me, you see, is a computer that works fine until it doesn't, and then you have to bring it back to me to fix it. That's where we make our money."


Sorry, Marty.

By the way, if you haven't been near a television in a couple of months, you've missed the new Apple ad campaign. Click here to see them.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a new Mac user, I concur. Only wish I'd gone for the big Mac earlier.

3:22 PM  

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