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Articles: Consumption Vs. Creation: Apple's Changing Balance

Over the last six years, Apple has existed as a computer company that also makes consumer devices. Every year, Apple has become more divided between its device business and its computer business. The result is that Apple essentially exists as two different companies doing business under one name. One company makes products of media consumption, such as the iPod, iTunes, and Apple TV. The other, older side of Apple is a toolmaker for creative people.

The Macintosh and the software that comes from Apple are products used for creation. They're used to make great new things or create a better understanding of the world in your mind. Macintosh computers, and the software that runs on them, are founded on user creativity. However, 2007 has been a year of growing the consumption company to greater prominence, and relegating the creative departments to the back of the bus. This has and will continue to have impact on those of us who love using the Mac.

Apple's first company logo is the most telling evidence of its creative roots. The first logo was a detailed sketch of Sir Isaac Newton under the fabled apple tree. It's a logo more befitting a micro-brewery than a computer company, but it demonstrates the origins of the Apple name. The name "Apple" takes on new meaning in the context of the traditional Isaac Newton story. In the story, the apple was not Newton's idea or even the proof of his idea. Instead, the apple was the catalyst for Newton to express all that he had been thinking into one cohesive thought. What can be taken away from the first Apple Computer logo is that the computer, in the eyes of the early company, was intended as a catalyst for great ideas to be communicated. That wonderful notion survives to this day in every Macintosh computer. You can create and learn and explore and invent, and the Mac even makes it fun, or at least easier to do than any other computer platform.

Like most other Americans with a modicum of disposable income, I own an iPod. They are well engineered and brilliantly conceived devices. Every version of the iPod, iTunes, and Apple TV are great products that I wouldn't want to be without. I haven't yet met the iPhone, but I'm sure that too will become great. The only issue with these types of products is that they do not allow their users to create anything of substance. They are one-way streets of interaction. Buy the music, and then listen to the music. Buy the TV show, and then watch the TV show. It is a passive process, the end result of which is people parting with money for entertainment. Again, this is not a terrible endeavor, but one that's different than what you get out of a Macintosh. With a Mac, you open Garageband and then compose that symphony or any other minor act of creation. A Mac is a two-way street for the user: you put in, and get something out.

Six years ago we were introduced to the iPod, but it took until 2007 for its effect on Apple to show publicly, when Apple changed its name from Apple Computer to Apple Inc. In doing that, they admitted their change from a computer-focused company to a consumer devices/content distributor company that also happens to have a computer business.

As further evidence of this new focus, there was also the delay of the next version of the Mac OS, supposedly due to iPhone development. Now in Apple's latest website redesign, the Mac is but one tab in the site navigation. The iPhone and iTunes also have one tab each, which implies that both of those are of equal importance to all the Macs combined. This is not just company posturing. This year Apple has simply not been innovative with the Mac line. Most Macs have yet to significantly change configurations this year, and the ones that have changed are mostly just processor changes. New Macs are not surpassing the old models. My new iMac is still the current model six months later, and the model before that one would have suited me just as well.

It is not that the Macintosh is unimportant to Apple; it will always be a big part of the company. But the reality is that the Mac is not as important to Apple as it once was. Steve Jobs likes to win, and as great as the Mac is, it will never beat the PC for dominance in the computer market. The iPod is a winner in the music/video player market. The iPhone has the potential to be a winner in the cell phone market. Even the Apple TV could be a winner if the 2.0 version comes out with all the features people are trying to hack into it.

The Mac is a great tool, but like many great tools, it will not be in the majority of toolboxes. Being great is not a guarantee of success. Public companies thrive on being the recognized leader in their field. With the stock market, it isn't about making money, it's about doing better than you did last quarter and being likely to do better yet the next quarter. Nothing secures your market worth better than being dominant. Apple Computer has not been dominant in the computer industry for decades, but Apple Inc. has been impressive in the device and music industries. It is no wonder that Apple's board of directors would want to take the company in a direction that they can dominate; it certainly helps the stock price.

One result of the innovation drought from Apple is that pre-owned Mac sales are up. The difference between an older Mac and a new one isn't as large as it sometimes is when computer innovation is on a rampage. Not that that's all bad... it can actually be nice not to worry that something you're using or wanting to buy is not going to be overshadowed in a few months.

Fortunately, Apple still enlists resellers like PowerMax to fill in places where Apple isn't focusing or as good at. We're happy to sell an iPod, but we really like putting together complete solutions, whether with new, discontinued or pre-owned Macs. You don't have to wade through iPods, iPhones, iTunes and Apple TVs to get to a Mac-focused and knowledgeable place to buy. So even as Apple focuses its attention on these consumer stock-price-raising enterprises, rest assured there's plenty of support for you on the tool creative people love most: The Macintosh.
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