I have been thinking about the relationship that I have with my Apple devices. I have been an Apple customer with 21 years. My first Mac was a sit-up and beg luggable machine and went on to laptops in the mid-90s with PowerBook 165. My current machine is a 13″ MacBook Pro. All of these machines had a name; the one I am typing this post on is called Toshiro after the Japanese actor Toshirō Mifune.
The machines have a name because they are are more than word-processors or spreadsheets. I took a blank machine and tweaked it until its settings became personal to me. The current machine is also personalised with a Bathing Ape sticker on its lid, so it breaks away from the countless silver lids that appear around me in a coffee shop or a conference.
That the personality comes from the combination of product design and software is self-evident. However this design process is also guided by the heritage of the previous machines and the Mac eco-system. Ultimately this goes back to the history of the first Mac. Back then there was no worldwide web the way we understand it now, though there where bulletin boards. According to Steven Levy’s Insanely Great Jobs envisioned the machine like a Cuisinart food processor. Something standalone, the original machines were designed without a network connection. Even the Apple II was able to be used to connect to online services like bulletin boards and telephone-based stock trading. This self-reliant machine seemed to be an extension of the kind of values and vision that came from counterculture publications like The Whole Earth Catalog published by Stewart Brand – I am sure that it is no coincidence.
With ethernet, Bluetooth, wi-fi and a HSDPA dongle my present laptop is infinitely more powerful and connected than the original Mac and its current industrial design owes more to Dieter Rams than Cuisinart, but the Mac heritage is still there.
The iPod was an empty vessel, the ‘soul’ stays in iTunes and transfers from iPod to iPod, apart from the mild irritation of losing an iPod due to the inconvenience I was never that bothered about it. It also seemed to add fuel to the warranty chip urban myth as they would often fail just after the warranty had run out.
The iPhone is an impersonal device, I don’t have an attachment to it, but I have a leash on it. My social graph is in the cloud, allowing it to be disposable by nature. However the device is less like a pet and more like parolee due to the MobileMe iPhone tracking and data wipe facility.
The iPad takes things in a different turn. Those people I know who’ve tried the device and many commentators talk about the device being a communal device. They envisage a few of them around the house, the way magazines and books are with the information being in the cloud. This ubiquity and utility is more reminiscent of the brand that Microsoft built over the previous three decades in the PC world. Apple by contrast was always a personal brand, what will this mean for the Apple brand and its ‘coolness’ in the future?