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Biting Apple

In Wired magazine’s Cult of Mac blog, Leander Kahney takes a swipe at a Business Week article that does the unthinkable: it criticises Apple and in particular, suggests that Macs are too expensive. Kahney writes:

Really, it’s the same old bollocks and clearly demonstrates Salkever [the BW writer] has no understanding of Apple whatsoever.

To be fair, some of the article is misguided: when Salkever suggests that Apple should emphasise the relatively virus-free world of the Mac, he’s forgetting that such marketing would be a giant red rag to the virus writing community. However, Kahney’s ire is aroused by the suggestion that Macs are too expensive compared to PCs, and it’s clear that Kahney doesn’t want to see “trashy cheapo machines”. I don’t either, but anyone who thinks Macs are competitively priced is perhaps a little too close to Steve Jobs’ legendary Reality Distortion Field.

When it was released in 1998, the original iMac cost USD $1,299 (roughly the same as a mid-range PC) and it quickly became America’s best-selling computer. Apple dropped the price in early 1999 (to $1,199) and started increasing the specification and dropping prices further; by 2000, the 350MHz iMac was $799 and the following year, the same money would get you a 600MHz iMac – which was anything but a “trashy, cheapo machine”.

Then in 2002, Apple introduced the flat panel iMac – and the cost of an entry-level iMac soared from $799 to $1,299, while PC prices continued to plummet. In one fell swoop the iMac went from being a computer for everybody to a fetish object for the polo-neck brigade, and it stayed that way; when it was finally canned this summer, the cheapest iMac was still $1,299.

Compare that to the iPod: in 2001, the cheapest iPod was $399, while today’s entry level model is $299 (and the iPod Mini is cheaper still at $249). With the iPod Apple hasn’t just boosted the specification (although of course it has: the original iPod range started with just 5GB of storage) but it has also cut its prices by 25%, and introduced an even cheaper model to tempt more people into the iPod family.

There are strong similarities between the original iMac and the iPod; both are/were great products with brilliant marketing, gorgeous design and that all-important “cool factor” that makes Apple kit so compelling. However, both the original iMac and the iPod also fell in price as their specifications improved, whereas the anglepoise iMac didn’t. The first iMac was the best-selling computer in America, whereas its successor wasn’t even the best-selling xMac in the Apple Store. That honour goes to the ageing, education-oriented eMac which, if rumour sites can be believed, was outselling the anglepoise iMac by four to one at the beginning of this year.

Kahney writes:

Though not the cheapest, Apple’s machines are cheap. Seven years ago, a stick of laptop RAM cost $1,300. You can get a fabulous iBook for less these days.

Indeed. Four years ago, a basic iBook was $1,599 and a basic iMac $799; today, the iBook is 30% cheaper while the price of the iMac has nearly doubled. What’s wrong with that picture?

update: 24 august

Behold the power of MacSurfer! Within about 12 hours of posting this entry, MacSurfer had referred around 700 people to this page; as you’ll see from the comments, most of them disagree with me.

The two points that are coming up again and again are that I’m not comparing like for like, so a entry level PC is a much poorer proposition than an entry level Mac; and that I’m being unfair on the eMac. To take the second point first, I think it’s a fair point but I still disagree: to my mind the eMac sits outside the main Apple product lines, which are iBook/iMac for consumers, and PowerBook/Power Mac for professionals. The eMac was never intended to be part of that range, and when it initially launched it wasn’t available to ordinary customers at all; after about a month of howls from the Mac community, the eMac was made available to everyone and it became a big success. However, from the perspective of potential switchers I speak to, the eMac doesn’t appear on their radar at all (and it’s a rare sight outside Apple Centres; in most computer shops round these parts you’ll see iBooks and iMacs, but not eMacs); when they’re considering switching to a Mac it’s the iMac they think of before buying another Dell instead. As I’ve said in the comments section that’s entirely anecdotal evidence, but that’s good enough for me :-)

The other point, like for like comparison, is perfectly fair: as one poster has pointed out, if you compare the specs of various PCs against various eMacs and iMacs, you do get more Mac for your money. Again, though, I’ll play devil’s advocate: firewire, general component quality, zero latency on soundcards etc etc etc are important to more experienced computer users, but do they matter to the mum and dad who are looking for a decent machine for their kid who’s off to university, or someone who wants a cool computer for getting on the internet, doesn’t really know much about the technical stuff and doesn’t want to spend too much?

It’s been an interesting debate so far and I’m sure it’ll continue; I’m on deadline for the next few days so I’ll probably be pretty quiet, but that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate the feedback…

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When subtitlers attack

A wonderful wee story in the Diary section of today’s [Glasgow] Herald:

TOILING on an exercise bike in a Glasgow city-centre gym on Friday morning, Bob Pilley was idly watching the sub-titled version of ITV news on various telly monitors. Bob has often wondered whether these sub-titles are transcribed live by frenetic, adrenalin-fuelled squads of 16-year-olds typing ferociously as the news is being broadcast. His suspicions were partially confirmed at 7.10am when, for several minutes, the subtitle read: “We’ve had a fight. We will be back in a minute.”

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Lighting up the Net

Nanotechnology researchers are working on a technology that could dramatically increase the speed of the internet. By manipulating carbon atoms it may be possible to replace electronic switches with optical ones, leading to an ultra-fast internet powered not by electricity, but light. National Geographic explains.

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Whack-a-mole

The news that the RIAA has failed in its legal action against Morpheus and Grokster is a pleasant surprise, because it’s a rare example of a judge being sensible. Of course, the RIAA will appeal, and there’s the spectre of the rather scary US INDUCE act which, if implemented, means that manufacturers of iPods, CD burners and other useful objects could be sued for contributing to piracy.

The case against Morpheus and Grokster is just the latest instalment in a rather tiresome game of whack-a-mole that’s been running since 1999, when Napster first appeared on the horizon, and it won’t be the last: if the RIAA manages to get Grokster and Morpheus shut down, there’s still Kazaa, Limewire and many, many others. And then there are the FTP sites, the Russian sites such as Allofmp3.com, the private file sharing that occurs via instant messaging, and so on ad nauseam.

For years the record industry has refused to enter into licensing talks with P2P networks, and P2P file sharing has continued to flourish; using legal measures to get rid of the problem hasn’t worked since 1999, and it won’t work in the future. The answer seems pretty obvious: rather than lobbying for new and daft laws, the record industry in various countries should be lobbying for some sort of compulsory licence scheme such as the ones affecting public performance of music, radio broadcasting, webcasting and so on.

A compulsory licence might work like this: a P2P network provider must either pay the record industry a licence, or block any unauthorised content; if it fails to pay and to block, there’s no legal grey area and the company can be sued silly. Or the onus might be put on ISPs: pay a licence fee or block access to P2P. In both cases the cost of the licence would be passed on to the consumer, who might pay an extra couple of quid for broadband in exchange for free music; ISPs who don’t want to pay the licence could simply block the P2P ports and run the risk of customers heading for firms that do pay for music licences.

There’s nothing particularly new or exciting about such things. Venues and pubs where music is played need to have a licence from the Performing Right Society; when radio stations play music, they have to pay royalties to the PRS. If I record cover versions on CD I have to pay a royalty to the Mechanical Copyright Protection Society, and so on. The system’s there, it works, and it could be expanded to cover P2P networks or ISPs relatively easily.

By implementing such compulsory licences the record industry would get money, artists would get paid, consumers could continue to use P2P services and any firm who refused to pay the licence could be sued into the middle of next week. The alternative – a continuation of whack-a-mole, with consumers downloading for free, nobody getting paid and the record companies chasing after network after network, site after site – will just prolong a situation that’s bad for technology firms, bad for the record industry and bad for artists.

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Does Amazon.co.uk know something we don’t?

The ever-reliable recommendation system on Amazon.co.uk suggests a hammer drill as the perfect partner for Doom 3.

[edited because the original link died]

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New REM track online

Warners have posted a track from the forthcoming REM album on their Web site, and it’s rather lovely [Quicktime required].

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Doom III liveblogging

I had originally planned to do a liveblog on Doom III, typing my thoughts on the laptop as I played the game on my PC. Sadly I had to abandon that idea, because it would have looked like this:

2.00pm Woo-hoo! My PC’s powerful enough!
2.15pm “Insert CD2”. Oh, come on. I want to play!
2.30pm At last! Ooh, nice cut scene.
2.35pm Nooo! It’s crashed!
2.40pm Nooo! It’s crashed!
2.45pm Nooo! It’s crashed!
2.50pm New video drivers. That’ll fix it.
2.55pm Nice cut scene.
3.00pm Why don’t I have a gun yet?
3.05pm Yay! I have a gun!
3.10pm Something bad’s going to happen.
3.15pm Something really bad’s going to happen.
3.20pm Something really, really bad’s going to happen.
3.25pm Aieee! Monsters!
3.30pm Aieee! Monsters!
3.35pm Aieee! Monsters!
4.00pm Aieee! Monsters!
5.00pm Aieee! Monsters!
6.00pm Yay! Plasma rifle!
7-12pm Aieee! Monsters!

The verdict, then? It’s not art, but it’s an effective – and very scary – shooter. It’s tempting to spend all day today playing it, because I’ve actually got ahead of deadlines, but of course that would be a waste of a day. I should catch up on chores, maybe go outside and do some exercise, catch up on my email backlog, post some insightful articles to this blog or do some work on my book. And I’ll definitely do some or all of those things after I’ve had a quick five-minute game of Doom 3. Five minutes and that’ll be it. Definitely.

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How many?

According to the Periodical Publishers’ Association, the UK has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to magazines. Media Guardian reports:

According to the PPA, there are 8,337 magazine titles currently in circulation. A little over 5,000 of those are business-to-business publications, while 3,229 are consumer titles.

I think I subscribe to at least half of them.

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Ice Ice Baby

I’ve found that most computer keyboards require far too much force to press the keys – which in my case, means sore hands after even short bursts of typing. Laptop keyboards are much more pleasant, because they use different technology known as “scissor keys”, and I’ve been trying to find a desktop keyboard that uses the same arrangement. In the end, I’ve bought a MacAlly IceKey:

It’s actually my second attempt at the IceKey: I ordered one a few weeks ago but it was faulty. Now I’ve got my hands on a fully working model, I can’t praise it enough. It’s a very fast keyboard and it’s much, much easier on the hands than a traditional desktop keyboard. The IceKey is mac-specific, although similar products are available from PC keyboard manufacturers.

update

I’ve just realised that more cynical readers may think this post is a blatant bit of promotion in return for freebies; that’s not the case. Unless I indicate otherwise, any nice things I say about specific products are genuine opinions on things I’ve shelled out hard-earned cash for, not PR puffery in exchange for cash, freebies or other considerations. Sadly I’m not important enough for PR firms to bribe :-)

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Record label gets it, blows it

The ever-readable No Rock’N’Roll Fun tells the sorry tale of Warner Bros’ attempt to embrace the power of MP3 blogs.

Firstly, here’s proof that Warners gets the power of MP3 blogs:

Warners in the US has been approaching people who run MP3 blogs offering them a Secret Machines track… It’s good that a major label has endorsed these blogs, and accepted what they’re doing, and not merely sent them a cease and desist letter.

And then, Warners blew it.

Warners then had to go and prove their demonic credentials by getting employees to post obviously false positive testimonials in the comments section – it seems that record companies still haven’t learned anything since they first started blighting Onelist email communities in the 90s.