I wanted to report here a post I recently wrote on the 68k Macintosh Liberation Army forum. It was written in response to other people’s arguments about the fact that — with the introduction of recent devices such as the AppleTV and the iPhone, and the dropping of Computer from Apple’s corporate name — Apple, Inc. is turning more and more into a consumer electronics company. And therefore that the ‘true soul’ of the Macintosh is, by now, lost forever.
When I read or listen to a debate about how the Mac has now lost ‘its true soul’, I cringe a little. Let’s see. Wasn’t the philosophy behind the Macintosh: the personal computer, the computer for the rest of us? Wasn’t that the soul of the Macintosh? A computer designed and built by people with passion, with the idea of taking computing out of the exclusive, restricted province of the tech people, and making it available to the masses?
That was the principle. The first Macintosh was indeed revolutionary, but on that level it terribly failed: the first models were painfully slow, underpowered, too pricey, and so on. ‘The rest of us’ was not buying according to Jobs’s expectations.
But the Macintosh grew, slowly but steadily. Apple underwent periods of peaks and periods of crises. Steve Jobs returned in 1998 and everything started going really well.
I loved and love System 6 and 7, I liked Mac OS 8, I didn’t have problems with Mac OS 9. And my transition to Mac OS X was incredibly smooth. I adapted to the new interface changes very quickly. It was sad to see the old Apple menu go (as regards to its function) as well as the application menu on the extreme right of the menu bar. But life goes on and my productivity wasn’t being slowed down by these small things. I use Mac OS X on a daily basis and I’ve never ever stopped once to think that ‘this is not the Mac it used to be’.
Oh the irony: perhaps Apple is becoming the new Sony, but the Mac — as it is today — has actually become the computer for the rest of us. I saw people who’ve never been quite familiar with computers learning to fiddle around on a Mac in a matter of hours. That is the point.
Some people think that, by dropping Computer from its corporate name, Apple is going to shift its focus from the Mac to other home entertainment gadgets or products. Zooming out on the whole Apple history, you’ll see that Apple has produced/branded a lot of peripherals and non-computer hardware: printers, digital cameras, scanners, monitors, PDAs, CD players, speakers, webcams, and among the projects and prototypes there are various other objects, including telephones, faxes, answering machines, a MIDI keyboard, a portable currency converter, a game console, some kind of ‘mobile directional finder’ concept (a device giving you directions in the city, a sort of primitive Google Maps).
When Jobs returned, he cleaned up Apple’s line of products pretty much. From 1998 to 2001 there were just Macs and monitors. Then came the iPod, and little else. Today there are Macs, monitors, iPods, wireless Base stations, the AppleTV, and soon a phone. It is all coherent and very Mac-like if you ask me. Once again, Apple remains focused on… ‘the rest of us’, the people, the people living in 2007’s society. So, it makes sense that the Mac is also (but not exclusively) becoming a sort of house appliance, with its ways to connect to other devices in the house like the Hi-Fi stereo or the TV. The personal computer is being absorbed in today’s society’s skin and the Mac is developing the ability to ‘disappear’ and ‘disguise’ in a house, and at the same time to stand out thanks to its great design and ease of use. Apple is making a line of products today that can be appealing to very different people (the hardcore UNIX geek, the businessman, the graphic designer, the guy next door, my 69-year-old second uncle, etc.) and, to me, this is exactly what the Mac soul is, what the guys designing and building the Macintosh in the early 1980s wanted it to be.