Technology: New Apple products are about value
One of the criticisms of people whose grit their teeth at the mention of Apple Computer, Inc., is that its products traditionally have sold for a higher price than competitors.' The usual response of Apple enthusiasts is that the better design, and, easier use justify the higher price. Furthermore, Apple's profit margin on its products has steadily decreased over two decades. But, the two new hardware devices introduced at last week's MacWorld exposition will not need to be defended. Both the Mac Mini and the iPod Shuffle address the oft repeated criticism of Apple's prices being too high. They are about value.
The iPod Shuffle, a new flash based MP3 player, resulted in a stampede to the San Francisco Apple Store when Apple CEO Steve Jobs said some might be available there. Alas, the 2,000 iPod Shuffles sold out in a few hours. Though stores from A to C -- Apple, Best Buy and CompUSA, are promoting them, there is said to be a month-long wait to get one of the miniscule music players in hand. The iPod Shuffle undercuts competitor flash MP3 players in price and capacity. The 512 MB model costs only $99. In addition, the device features Apple's vaunted excellent design and ease of use. Wilson Rothman, writing at Time, explains the appeal of the product and answers the questions on the tips of our tongues.
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Surely you have questions about the new iPod Shuffle. In a world filled with flash-memory players, what makes it so special? Does a USB "thumb drive" MP3 player that doesn't even have an LCD screen actually count as a true iPod? Is this something worth buying or is it just a sly marketing move?
It's okay to worry about being caught up in the hype. After all, this is not the first, smallest or most feature-rich flash-memory player on the market. However, in a twist that seems to be Apple's theme of the moment, it is the most affordable. It's also, in some ways, the simplest to use.
. . .Does the Shuffle count as an iPod? I have a sideways answer: I think that people who own iPods will want an iPod Shuffle. Not only is it undeniably affordable, but as a lightweight plastic thingamajig with no moving parts, it can go where a hard-disk iPod risks more long-term damage. But that doesn't mean it isn't still sly Apple marketing.
Demand seems to already be proving that the iPod Shuffle is something consumers want. My initial skepticism about the product being called an iPod may turn out to be unjustified. 'iPod' is coming to mean MP3 player, so any form of the product can fall under the name. The range now seems to be complete -- the iPod Shuffle, iPod Mini, iPod and iPod Photo. So, yes, the Shuffle counts as an iPod. It is special because of its design -- and, its price. It is worth buying, even for those of us who are already pod people. But, that does not mean it isn't a slick marketing move.
The announcement of the iPod Shuffle shared the stage with a bigger, albeit still small, brother, the Mac Mini. The three-pound computer has made history before it ships later this week. It will be one of the smallest full-service desktop computers available, and, at $499, just plain cheap by Apple standards. CNET's Ina Fried has been talking to the target audience for the Mac Mini - switchers from Windows-compatible computers.
Windows developer Alex Gorbatchev just bought his first Mac.
The Toronto resident said he has long wanted to see how the other side lives, but the iMac was "too expensive a toy."
"I've never had my hands on a Mac and I'm really curious to get my hands on one," Gorbatchev said in an e-mail.
Gorbatchev is just the kind of person Apple Computer hoped to appeal to by introducing its $499 Mac Mini. The company reasons that plenty of Windows users have been interested in a Mac but are turned off by the hefty price tag.
The Mini achieves some of its value by being 'independent' -- the end user provides her own monitor, mouse and keyboard. But, the computer's design specifications are competitive, making it a very viable entry level computer. The Mini will allow switchers to introduce themselves to an Apple computer without the higher cost of an iMac or the bulk of an eMac. Some switchers will just become dual platform, using the Mini for some tasks and their Windows-compatible computer for others. Not that switchers and Minis will necessarily turn out to be the match made in heaven. As with the iPod Shuffle, people who already own Apple products are expressing a lot of interest. Some want to use Minis as companions to their laptops. Others see the Mini as the central unit in a media center. A home for a wireless hub and, in a group, a server array, are other possibilities.
Steve Jobs has responded to his critics and raised the stakes. Now, Apple is focusing on value.
You can take it with you. Sure, you can take your laptop with you in your car. But, it's an awkward situation. A company in New York has the solution: A Mac Mini custom installed in the dashboard of your vehicle.