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The Apple Armada - Still worthy of the Jolly Roger?

Steve gets his F

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Think Different

Apple's image as the rule-breaking innovator has also mutated. Between 1995 and 2000, for example, TBWA produced a series of ads exhorting us all to "Think Different," extolling "The misfits. The rebels. The troublemakers. The round pegs in the square holes. The ones who see things differently." If we proved our different thinking by buying a Mac, we could count ourselves among the "rebels" featured in these ads, such as Muhammad Ali, Bob Dylan, Amelia Earhart, Albert Einstein, Pablo Picasso, and many more. Since the days when those ads filled the airwaves and covered billboards around the world, the ubiquity of the iPod and the pervasive impact of Apple's design ethos have made any defense based on "difference" an absurdity.

Think Different

Dare to be ungrammatical

But the change in Apple's "innovator" status is based on more than mere image. The company's pace of innovation has slowed in recent years. Recount the technologies that Apple either pioneered or brought to a mass market in its earlier years: the mouse, the 3.5-inch floppy, the graphical user interface, networkability as standard equipment, the all-in-one PC, WYSIWYG laser printing, CD drives in every model line, the PDA (Newton MessagePad), on-board digital audio, USB, wireless LANs, FireWire - the list goes on.

Around the turn of the century, however, Apple took a step back from its pioneer role and instead began to create products notable less for their unique capabilities than for being refinements of technologies first introduced by others. The iPod, for example, was preceded by many a pocketable MP3 player. The iSight by many a webcam. The iPhone by many a smartphone. Innovation remained in the details, but faded from core capabilities.

What's more, today's Apple isn't adopting cutting-edge technologies that are ready and waiting for it. For example, it's ignoring Intel's Turbo Memory with User Pinning, which supplements your hard drive with a good-sized chunk of flash memory and allows you to create and choose different sets of applications and data that you want to reside in that fast-access cache. And where's Blu-Ray? Not available on the Mac. How about eSATA? Nope. You get the idea.

It appears that Apple's modus operandi is shifting to one oft expressed by Paul Mandel, president of the erstwhile Mac-centric storage and clone vendor, APS: "Pioneers get the arrows. Settlers get the land."

Innovation: B

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