Stop the Noiz

Inconsistent Apple

Frank Fox - 2011.03.01 - Tip Jar

Could there be a company more annoying than Apple?

Apple was slow to adopt Intel's Core i5 and i7 chips, but when it comes to new technology that no one else has - like the iPhone 4's Retina display and the new Thunderbolt port - Apple beats everyone to the punch.

Why does Apple choose to be months or years behind on some things, yet cutting edge on others?

This is the beauty and consternation that comes from Apple.

Macs Are Behind in Technology

Dell, HP, and others had i5 and i7 cores in their laptop computers in January 2010, while Apple didn't show up to the party until April. Apple couldn't be the first, so it had no interest in speeding up its launch date to be just another me too competitor.

The Apple haters like to point out these obvious delays and heckle Apple users for being behind the rest of the PC world. It hurts a little to know that they have something we don't.

Why does Apple wait to deliver on such a widespread technology?

If a few months' delay on processors doesn't sound like a big deal, what about Blu-ray. The official release of Blu-ray was in 2006 - that's almost five years, and still no Blu-ray support from Apple, not even as an extra cost option. Maybe Steve Jobs doesn't need Blu-ray on his computer, but a few consumers are going to want the option.

Thunderbolt and Light Peak

Instead, we get Thunderbolt first. This is a powerful connection technology that used to be called Light Peak. As cool at this technology is, there nothing yet built to use its full capabilities. What good is it to be first on technology that is months or years away from being popular?

Apple is comfortable being first or last or staying away completely. Why? Someone at Apple has an idea what the Mac is. It can change - just look at the willingness for Mac OS X Lion to take on aspects of iOS. The changeability is the part we forget, in part because some technology gets to the Mac far ahead of everyone else.

What Apple does is pick the parts and technology that fits its vision of the Mac. That is tied closely with its business interests. Technology that everyone can have is okay, but it lacks drama and provides no business advantage. If we look through Apple's lens, we see it make choices that have meaning.

Timing Matters

Getting a laptop with a faster processor out in January would be a bad choice when you just convinced millions to buy a new laptop for Christmas. Apple gives you 30 days to change your mind. Why promote buyer's remorse so soon?

Waiting a few months is smarter.

Thunderbolt - now that is cutting edge technology with Apple's name all over it. This isn't a straightforward business justification like delaying new processors was. Here we have a single connector that can link a bunch of devices, and it's compatible with video and data. It pushes the boundary so hard that no company on the planet had a device with it before Apple.

Thank goodness that it is backward compatible with DisplayPort, FireWire, Gigabit Ethernet, and Fibre Channel, or what would anyone do with it.

You Will Want Thunderbolt

Clearly the only demand for it on your computer is that if you don't get it now, you'll have to upgrade later (it supposedly cannot be installed as an upgrade). That is the kind of weird catch 22 that is only possible in the fast paced world of computers.

Apple is saying that a year from now, all PCs are going to be obsolete because of this new technology. Apple will have sold computers with Thunderbolt for a year and won't be affected by this time bomb. That is a big advantage for Macs and their users.

Technically, the PC industry can ignore the new standard, like they mostly did with SCSI and FireWire. Apple will be the odd man out if they do. But what other standard is going to do what Thunderbolt is promising? It trumps USB, ethernet, FireWire, HDMI, DisplayPort, etc. The PC world can ignore it, but Apple can pound them for being old-fashioned and tied up in a sea of cables. The TV ad writes itself.

Apple Did This with USB

If you think this is all crazy talk, just think about USB. This was a specification developed by Microsoft, Intel, Compaq, DEC, IBM, NEC, and Nortel. USB 1.0 was introduced in January 1996, and USB ports began to appear on PC motherboards, but because these PCs still had the same parallel and serial ports they had used for years, there was no reason to develop devices for USB.

Microsoft's support of USB sucked in those days. I have an IBM laptop at work with USB ports and Windows 95 installed. It can't even read a flash drive.

It was Apple that forced the issue when it incorporated USB into the original iMac, which was announced at the start of May 1998 and shipped on August 15, 1998 - the month before the USB 1.1 specification (which it used) was finalized. Unlike the play it safe attitude of the PC world, Apple took the risk of eliminating legacy ports. The iMac had no SCSI port, no ADB port, and no floppy drive connector. USB was the only choice, and it forced peripheral makers to develop hardware for the new bus.

We can look back and see that Apple had the right idea. The iMac single-handedly made USB important.

The Vision Thing

The bottom line is that Apple's plans are more forward looking than the rest of the industry. If something doesn't match its vision and fit its business model, it gets left out (like Blu-ray and USB 3). But if it matches Apple's vision and can be brought in early for an advantage, then Apple can make it happen like no one else.

So thanks, Apple, for keeping an eye to the future - but seriously, isn't it finally time for a build to order Blu-ray option? LEM

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