Why the heck is Apple so popular?

May 28, 2010 in Best Of, Social/Political Commentary, Technology by pacejmiller

The Apple iPad was launched in Australia today

[Update: After reading the Steve Jobs biography, I think I now know why the heck Apple is so popular.  Check out what I have to say about that here.]

Today marked the official launch of Apple’s new iPad in Australia.

As with just about anything released by Apple these days, people camped outside all night in the cold and rain just so they could be among the first in the country to purchase one of these babies.  The frenzy was slightly more subdued than when Apple released the iPhone, but it was still a very solid crowd.

Most admitted they didn’t know a whole lot about the product, which has been shrouded in Apple’s trademark mystery for many months.  Some others even said that they didn’t even know if they wanted one, but they just wanted to get it for the sake of it.

Seriously, what is going on here?  It’s not like Apple is giving away these things for free.  Apparently, an iPad ranges from AU$629 (for a 16GB Wi-Fi model) to AU$1049 (for a 64GB 3G + Wi-Fi model).  And there’s nothing astroundingly revolutionary about it either.  Both tablet computers and touch screens have been around for years.  Further, critics have pointed out the lack of an in-built camera and USB port.  The reviews have been varied, but the general consensus is that the iPad is essentially a bigger version of the iPhone.

Nevertheless, the iPad has once again become the latest “must have” product from the Apple.  It seems whenever Apple releases anything, no matter what it is and regardless of the merits of the product, it is always guaranteed to sell and sell big.  The iPad has been selling extraordinarily well around the world and in Australia, pre-sale orders have been mind-boggling.  There is even expected to be a shortage in stock for the first few weeks at least.

How has Apple managed to do this?  Are their products really that innovative and far ahead of the rest of the pack?  Or is it the clever marketing campaigns designed to make Apple products look ‘cool’?  Or is it a combination of these and many other factors?  Whatever it is, Apple has somehow made the iPod, iPhone and shortly almost certainly the iPad, the most ubiquitous personal devices in the developed world — possibly ever.

The iPhone

I still remember a time, many years ago, when the Apple brand almost had the opposite effect on people.  Everyone had PCs and Macs were considered ‘pretty’ computers for unsophisticated users.  Then, something happened.  I started seeing those ‘silhouette man’ iPod commercials on TV and on the side of buses.  Then there were those ads with Justin Long.  Before long, iPods were everywhere.  Everyone in the city had an iPhone.  Getting iMacs and MacBooks suddenly became the ‘in’ thing to do.  Now when I go to a cafe, most people I see have iMacs.  The lecturers in my writing course (and most students, might I add) all have MacBooks and one even said to us, “I’m a writer, of course I use a Mac!”

I don’t believe promotion alone can elevate a brand to where Apple is now.  There has to be merit in their products.  But what I don’t get is why Apple has become such a crazy phenomenon world-wide.  It’s not like competitors have not come out with similar products which either have stronger specs and/or have cheaper prices.  But none have been able to make any significant dent in Apple’s market share.  It’s almost as though consumers are hypnotised by the stylish exterior of Apple’s devices and have shut their minds to alternative products.  Can you think of another electronic device brand (or any brand, for that matter) that would have people lining up outside for 24 hours or more, just so they could be one of the first people to buy a new product?

I only have two Apple products — an 80GB Video iPod and an 8GB iPod Touch — both gifts from a former employer.  Everyone in the workplace got one, which just shows how popular — or at least how popular my employer thought — these products had become.

I don’t have anything against Apple or their products, other than the annoying fact that everything has to be synched to the extremely frustrating iTunes.  That alone was enough to make me look for cheaper and more user-friendly alternatives.

There have been numerous articles that touch on the Apple ‘phenomenon’ (I do have some reservations with this term because Apple is apparently bringing out a next gen compositing application by that name), but I haven’t found any serious pieces that have provided a comprehensive examination into just what it is that makes Apple products so popular.  I’m sure someone, somewhere, has written a thesis or dissertation on this topic — if you know where to find such a thing, please feel free to point me in the right direction.

DVD Review: The Princess and the Frog (2009)

May 28, 2010 in Movie Reviews by pacejmiller

Disney’s latest animation feature, The Princess and the Frog, will be released on DVD and Blu-ray on 16 June 2010.  Running time: 94 minutes. Rated: G

In the age of computer animations and 3D special effects, it’s always good to see a traditional hand-drawn story that is just as beautiful to the eye — but with that extra bit of fluidity and a human touch.  That’s exactly what Disney has delivered with Oscar-nominated The Princess and the Frog, a true family film that brought back the nostalgic feelings of those classic animated features from my childhood.

I must admit, The Princess and the Frog was not a film that immediately jumped out at me at during its theatrical run.  The original Grimm brothers’ fairytale about a princess who turns a frog into a prince never really appealed to me personally, and I thought the film would just be a simple retelling of that story.

However, full credit must go to John Musker and Ron Clements (creators of The Little Mermaid and Aladdin).  Instead of going down the expected route, The Princess and the Frog turns the original fairytale on its head, and the result is both surprising and hilarious.

The obvious thing that sticks out about this film is that Disney finally has a black female lead in Tiana (voiced by Anika Noni Rose from Dreamgirls), a hardworking waitress who dreams of opening up her own restaurant.  But there’s a lot more than that.  Rather than some magical alternative world, The Princess and the Frog is set in French Quarter of New Orleans.  This backdrop gives the film an entirely new dimension, bringing back that fun-filled era of jazz music, big bands and old-school dancing never before seen in Disney animated features.

Young Tiana’s world is turned upside down when Prince Naveen (voiced by Bruno Campos from Nip/Tuck) arrives for a royal visit.  Of course, there is a mysterious villain, and without giving away too much of the plot, spells and frogs become involved and the setting is transformed from New Orleans to the mystical bayous of Louisiana, where more interesting characters are introduced, including a musical alligator and a lovesick firefly.

As I understand it, The Princess and the Frog endured a lot of controversies and changes over title, the lead characters, the location and the villain — but seriously, as always, it was much ado about nothing.  In the end, it’s just pure family fun without a suggestion of political messages or racial or cultural insensitivity.

I haven’t been a big fan of animations for a while (with a few notable exceptions), but I really enjoyed The Princess and the Frog.  It is indeed a film intended for the whole family but the target is still clearly young children, despite a couple of “frightening” scenes involving voodoo and the “other side”.  The humour is very much geared towards the kids, though from about the halfway mark I found myself laughing way more than I should have been.

I don’t usually consider myself a jazz listener, but the score for this film was exceptional — lively and fun while remaining true to the Disney spirit.  But perhaps my favourite thing about The Princess and the Frog was the character of Prince Naveen.  For once, the male lead is not just some wealthy, handsome and unbelievably perfect guy who comes in to sweep the heroine off her feet.  Naveen is really a bit of a douche, and I was almost disappointed to find that he actually had some redeeming qualities by the end of the film.

3.5 stars out of 5!