I’ll buy almost anything if it’s shiny and made by Apple

April 18, 2010

It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them. Steve Jobs

Without the iPod, the digital music age would have been defined by files and folders instead of songs and albums. Though the medium of music has changed, the iPod experience has kept the spirit of what it means to be a music lover alive. John Mayer, singer-songwriter

It’s so slim Kate Moss uses it to cut her cocaine. Bill Maher on the iPod nano

It is possible that the public will not fall on the iPad, as I did, like lions on an antelope. Perhaps they will find the apps and the iBooks too expensive. Maybe they will wait for more fully featured later models. But for me, my iPad is like a gun lobbyist’s rifle: the only way you will take it from me is to prise it from my cold, dead hands. One melancholy thought occurs as my fingers glide and flow over the surface of this astonishing object: Douglas Adams is not alive to see the closest thing to his Hitchhiker’s Guide that humankind has yet devised. Stephen Fry

This week’s article is about Apple and the title comes from an Onion video I put up a link to a while back – Apple Introduces Revolutionary New Laptop with No Keyboard. First a few facts about Apple. The company, which has over has 35,000 employees and annual sales of $42.91 billion, was established in 1976, becoming a corporation in 1977. It was known as Apple Computer Inc. until 2007, when computer was dropped from the name. The logo has an interesting story. The earliest Apple logo featured Isaac Newton sitting under the tree which helped him develop his theory of gravity.   The company itself had its up and downs but it undoubtedly lost out to the PC. It was the period between 1998 and 2001 that saw Apple’s Renaissance with the iMac, the iBook and of course the iPod. Few could have imagined the success of this last device. And now this year they have brought out the iPad, which they hope will revolutionise the tablet market.

There is no doubt that Apple does a lot of things very well. The designs are wonderfully seductive and their interfaces have set the standard for the industry. They have an obsessive attention to detail and usability. A key figure here is Jonathan Ive, an English designer and the Senior Vice President of Industrial Design at Apple Inc, who has been the principal designer of the iMac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad. The iTunes music store has sold a staggering 10 billion songs and four billion apps have been downloaded since 2008.. And of course Macs do not have viruses, which I have to say is their most tempting characteristic.

But I am not an Apple fan. To paraphrase that quote about American soldiers during WWII they are overhyped, overpriced and over here. They like to portray themselves as the anti-totalitarian option but this seems to be a bit of a pose. I prefer open systems. Apple has their own vision – their operating system the OS X can only be used on the Mac and the iPhone apps are also exclusive. Now the iPad comes without flash. I have a particular phobia about iTunes. I have an mp3 player and I just drag and drop. Why would I want to use Apple’s proprietary software? They go against the ethos of the net.

But what I think is irrelevant. If it works for them, they will be happy. Apple has reinvented itself using two devices that are basically closed, a strategy that had proved unsuccessful in the eighties. Companies are only open when it is convenient for them. The fate of Apple will not be decided by committee or by decree but by the decisions of millions of individual consumers. That is the beauty of a market system. Probably there will be room for different options. I couldn’t help but feel a bit of schadenfreude at the latest story about the iPad being banned from Israel amid concerns that its Wi-Fi signals could disrupt other devices. I am not sure whether there are other reasons behind the ban but it could explain the delay in the international launch. Whatever happens, I don’t think I’ll be getting an Apple product anytime soon. And if you want my Sony e-book you’ll have to prise it from my cold, dead hands.


QI: A selection #5

April 18, 2010

Here is another selection of trivia that I have picked from the QI column in the Telegraph:

According to the 2009 Michelin Guide, Tokyo has overtaken Paris as the world’s gastronomic capital, with 11 three-star establishments to Paris’s 10. France remains the leading three-star nation, with 25 to Japan’s 18. Britain has three three-star restaurants, the same as Belgium.

Florence Nightingale spent the last 50 years of her life in bed

In 2008, Romanian policemen were given twice weekly lessons from ballet dancers to improve their style and grace. “The aim is to develop an ability to regulate traffic and achieve elegance in their movements, which will not only be agreeable to the eyes but could also help drivers waiting at a red light get rid of their stress or sadness,” said Dorel Cojan, the head of the community police in the town of Timisoara. In the Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, district police are paid a monthly bonus of 30 rupees to grow a moustache because bosses say it helps them to command more respect when they are on patrol.

Japanese brands and the origins of their names: Canon was first called Kwanon after the Buddhist goddess. The name was changed to entice foreign markets when the company began its roll-out of 35mm cameras in 1935. Nintendo translates into English as “leave luck to heaven”. The company first started trading in 1889, making hanafuda, a type of Japanese playing card. Sony was founded in 1946 as Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo (Tokyo Telecommunications Engineering Corporation). This was cumbersome so in 1955 co-founder Akio Morita came up with Sony, which combined sonus, Latin for sound, with Sonny, an American term of endearment for a little boy. Sony’s products would, he claimed, combine excellent sound and small size.

When Oliver Cromwell was a baby, he was abducted by his granddad’s pet monkey and carried on to the roof of Hinchingbrooke House.

A 1973 survey of the origins of English words revealed an almost even split between Germanic, French and Latin origins. However, this is misleading – of the 1,000 most commonly used English words, 83 per cent are of Germanic origin and all the top 100 come from Germanic roots. The words of French origin are often to do with property, military matters, administration and sophisticated food. Latin and Greek supply many of the philosophical or technical terms. Borrowings from other languages, although tiny in comparison, can be quite significant in certain areas. Dutch gave us many nautical terms, German merchants gave us trade, smuggle and dollar, and many scientific terms came from Arabic.

America’s Marjorie Gestring (1922-1992) won a gold medal for springboard diving in 1936 at the Olympics in Berlin. At 13, she remains the youngest ever Olympic champion. School dropout Chester Greenwood was born in Farmington, Maine in 1858 and invented earmuffs at the age of 15. He went on to make a fortune supplying ear protectors to soldiers during the First World War. French philosopher Blaise Pascal was 18 when he designed the first counting machine to make his father’s job as a tax collector easier in 1642. He called it the Pascaline and it was able to add and subtract to two decimal places. George Nissen of Iowa started work on the trampoline when he was 16. A keen gymnast, he was inspired by a visit to the circus to start work on a “jumping table” that would help put him back in the air after landing. Nissen, 96, lives in San Diego. He’s still inventing and manages several handstands a day.

The youngest current head of state in the world is Bhutan’s King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck (pictured), who was 28 years old when he was crowned in November 2008. The Oxford-educated bachelor is extremely popular in his country and one of the favourite topics of gossip is who the young king will marry (his father married four sisters). The youngest English monarch was Henry VI, who took the throne at nine months of age, but Mary Queen of Scots acceded to the Scottish throne when she was only six days old.

The Romans had three different words for kissing. The chaste kiss, or osculum (literally “little mouth” or “pucker”) which was used as a greeting; the lovers’ kiss on the lips or basium from which the French, Italian and Spanish get their words for kissing; and the saviolum, the full-on kiss with tongues which we now call the French kiss. The only time the saviolum was acceptable in public was at the end of a marriage ceremony. In German the Nauchkuss is the kiss given to make up for all the ones that have previously been forgotten. Why do we kiss? One theory is that the intimate smell and taste of a kiss allows us to detect immune system proteins (the MHC or major histocompatibility complex). Females tend to prefer males with different immune systems to their own, as this gives their offspring better resistance to disease. But be careful: being on the pill makes women less sensitive to these proteins.

According to 2009 surveys by YouGov and Maestro, there are 8.6 million UK adults actively dating, roughly half the total number of singletons. The cost of the average date is £206.87, the financial brunt of which is mostly borne by men, although women spend almost as much (£191.38) on clothes, hair and beauty products in preparation. At the national average of four dates each per year, this equates to a total dating market value of more than £8 billion. The highest spenders on average are the Welsh; the highest ratio of single women to men is found in Glasgow; the lowest is in Reading. Some 4.7 million people claim to have used a dating website in the past year and one in five marriages of 19-25 year-olds started online. Some 43 per cent of people use Google to check out a first date.

My media week 18/04/10

April 18, 2010

Today’s Observer has a piece by Nick Cohen about author Simon Singh’s victory over the British Chiropractic Association in what I hope will prove to be a landmark case. Britain’s libel laws are a disgrace and in this case have been used by these charlatans to try to silence scientific criticism: Now charlatans will know to beware the geeks.

Counterpoint interviewed Peter Nowak who examines how our everyday lives have been shaped by Sex, Bombs and Burgers.

BBC’s The Interview talked to American tech guru Ray Kurzweil, about how technology could make death a thing of the past.