Minority Report: The 10 best things about Apple

'How do I love thee... '
Written by Seb Janacek, Contributor

'How do I love thee... '

After naming the 10 worst things about Apple earlier this month, Seb Janacek turns tail and counts down the qualities which have won the company such a loyal following.

Much like Marmite, people seem to either love or hate Apple. In the time silicon.com has been reporting on the company, the comments received on Apple-related stories are always the most animated and the most polarised in their views.

In the second of a two-part column, Seb Janacek looks at the best of Apple (in no particular order) - as inspired by years of reading silicon.com and forum feedback on the company.

You can read part one, on the 10 worst things about Apple, here.

1. The Mac

In 1984 Apple claimed it changed the face of personal computing with the launch of the first Macintosh. The Mac was an accessible computer for 'the rest of us'. Its ground-breaking features are now part and parcel of every personal computer in the world today. The Mac featured the first commercially successful implementation of a graphical user interface and used a mouse for dragging and double-clicking icons representing files, folders and applications. And both hardware and software were designed in tandem by the same company, a design ethos that has remained core to Apple up to today.

In 1998 the iMac followed in its footsteps, focusing on the end user and making the computer as usable and accessible as possible. Like the original Mac it featured an innovative all-in-one design and was the little computer that changed the world again, the best second act in personal computing and the product which led to the revitalisation of the entire company.

2. Usability

Apple's hardware and software have always focused on the needs of the user. The company's philosophy has been that computers should not only be easy to use, they should also be enjoyable. Prior to the introduction of the Mac in 1984, this was never a consideration for computing, which had been command-line driven and business-oriented.

The Mac OS in particular has long been touted as being more user friendly than Windows. The iPod's clickwheel has been a massive factor in driving sales of the music player, allowing huge lists of songs to be navigated simply and quickly. And the Apple applications iPhoto and iMovie have long been praised for simplifying multimedia tasks which can be a major headache with competing software.

A superior user experience is almost certainly responsible for the intense brand loyalty of the Mac faithful who have stuck by the company through thick and thin.

3. iPod

The iPod also appeared on the 'worst' list but, some foibles aside, the impact of the product on both Apple and digital music cannot be overstated. It wasn't the first MP3 player to market and many will argue it's not the best but you can't dispute the sales figures.

Just a few months ago some were predicting 2007 would witness the death of the iPod after sales fell for two consecutive quarters. Consequently the company reported record sales of the iconic devices, with more than 21 million iPods shifted during Q1 2007. The success of the device has been attributed to design, usability and simplicity and its tight integration with the web's largest (legal) music marketplace, the iTunes Store.

4. Innovation

The Mac maker is an agenda setter both for hardware and software. Where Apple leads others follow. For a company with such a modest position in the technology marketplace it punches above its weight, setting trends for the next generation of technology that follows in its wake.

If imitation is the highest form of flattery, it might suggest why Apple's brand is so highly regarded despite its minority position in the market. The Apple II, the Macintosh, OS X, PowerBooks, iMacs, iPods, Airport, the list of innovative and trend-setting products goes on.

5. Steve Wozniak

Steve Wozniak is one of those figures - along with Jobs, Gates, McNealy and Torvalds - who is inextricably linked with the mythology of computing. He's an engineering genius, years ahead of his time, whose vision laid the foundation for modern computing. He's also an engineer who wanted to be just that - famously eschewing senior management and the corporate dogfight and staying loyal to his roots.

The Apple II was both Wozniak's crowning glory and the first commercially successful product for the company. It was a computer that was perhaps the purest embodiment of the company's product development ethos - all the hardware and system software was not just designed by the same company but by the same person.

Although long gone from Apple (though technically still an employee), the Woz's influence and legacy at the company are immense.

6. Steve Jobs

Steve Jobs has more than his fair share of critics. But he also has an unswerving dedication to quality and an instinctive feel for the next big thing in tech. Apple was foundering when he returned to the helm but since then he has engineered a complete reversal of fortunes for the company he co-founded. He's also taken Apple in a bold new direction - turning it into a media giant with the iTunes Store's music, TV shows and movies.

Jobs stands out in the tech industry for his abilities as a natural showman. Who else could make the mainstream press sit up and take notice of a box that streams video content to your TV or music players that come in ever-diminishing sizes and a limited range of colours?

Love him or loathe him, Jobs makes a frequently dull industry a whole lot more interesting. He's one of the few real characters the technology industry can celebrate. Perhaps more than any other CEO, Jobs is synonymous with the company he runs and the thought of the great man stepping aside is enough to give Mac fans and Apple shareholders heart palpitations.

7. Mac OS X

Windows Vista arrived at the party six years late, clutching a bottle of Blue Nun. Apple's next generation operating system had launched to a chorus of 'oohs' and 'aahs' way back in 2001. Since then the company has rolled out a new iteration of the OS every 18 months or so, with the next due sometime this spring. User-friendly, elegant, stable and (so far) seemingly invulnerable to viruses, it has a plenty of good qualities. Built on the rock-solid foundations of BSD Unix, OS X has an open source core, ensuring holes could be patched and broadening the appeal of the consumer OS to the technical elite.

8. Mythology

Apple is the ultimate Silicon Valley start-up story, beginning its life in a bedroom before spilling over to a garage. The Macintosh, the computer that changed the technology landscape, was developed by a small group of dedicated engineers who toiled beneath a pirate flag in a small building on Apple's Cupertino campus. For an accessible and intimate introduction to the history of how the Mac was made, check out the website of Andy Hertzfeld, one of the original Mac's 'software wizards'.

The history of Apple's founders and the Mac itself is the subject of many books, websites and even TV shows. The company undeniably has a mystique about it that has sustained interest from its users over the rollercoaster ride it's taken in the past few decades. Partly this mythology stems from Jobs and Wozniak but Apple's chequered past and its long-running spats with other companies, in particular Microsoft have ensured it has always remained a visual part of the technology landscape.

9. iPhone

Apple's long-awaited mobile phone may be pricy, it may not come in 3G and it may not be around for another few months but the gloriously sexy iPhone was worth the wait. Apple spent two and a half years developing a device that makes the usual phone functions, MP3 playing and internet browsing work as a whole.

As for price, the original iPod entered the market at a high price-point for what it was at the time ($399 for a 5GB device). Since then the price has dropped a bit and Apple has obviously shifted millions of the devices. The iPhone also appeared on the 'worst' list but with its touchscreen interface and intuitive design, it's poised to march on a whole new market for the company. Arriving sometime in the summer, it's a huge gamble for Steve Jobs and co but I bet it'll be their next success story.

10. An alternative

Hegemonies change every decade or so, IBM had its time, Microsoft has its, Google might be next but Apple has proved to be the lasting alternative to consumers and a rival to the mainstream players for the last 30 years, due in no small part to the nine reasons listed above. Linux too offers some choice but it's mainly found a place in the enterprise and has never taken off in the home market. For consumers it's always been Apple that has led the vanguard since the inception of modern personal computing.

After some dark times in the late 80s and mid 90s, Apple returned to sustainable profitability in the last five or six years thanks to a rejuvenated product range, powerful marketing and high margins but also by trading off its more intangible assets such as the elegance, coolness and taste that make it stand out from the mainstream.

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