Justified

Back when the iPad mini debuted, many people criticized the device’s $329 price tag (for the base model), saying that it was too expensive compared to other tablets of similar size that were on the market. I thought the same thing, until I pulled back a bit and looked at the mini from a longer-term perspective.

See, for most companies, they can get along fairly decently creating products for the right now, adjusting their products, pricing, and features according to market whims. It’s a way of interfacing with the market that has always seemed reactionary to me. Look at what the public is slathering over and give it to them, riding the wave until the notoriously fickle populous decides they want something else. Alternatively, you can just create a smattering of different products with arbitrary and marginal variations, designed to cater to fractionally different subsets of popular culture, and hope that people gravitate towards one product or another, or perhaps just make them enough money to offset the cost of developing, manufacturing, and marketing who knows how many different iterations of a given product.

For Apple, however, the view is longer. The timeline extends 5–10 years out, and is driven internally by the desire to deliver really incredible products into peoples’ hands. That places the locus of control squarely inside the company, instead of vesting that power in the whims of a population that worships reality TV and Hollywood drama. As such, Apple looks at supply chains and forecasts their production costs far further ahead than most companies do, and is thus able to deliver better products over time than their competitors because they’ve had the wherewithal to cultivate and maintain a stable, consistent base (referring simultaneously to supply, production, and consumption). Thus, while the $329 price point may not have made sense for the iPad mini given the original permutation of components, an iPad mini with a Retina screen, which will undoubtedly cost more to manufacture, can still provide Apple with healthy margins since Apple has already been able to account for the decrease in price of Retina displays over time and has been able to invest in battery research to drive the new displays. That, in concert with the other inevitable improvements that Apple has made to the hardware and software of its new iOS devices, will allow Apple to manufacture a better product while still maintaining margins and trying to keep investors happy (a notoriously difficult thing to do). From one angle, it’s very difficult to see the justification for that price point. But, given time, it becomes clear that Apple never priced the iPad mini for the market when it was introduced, it was looking many years down the line.

If that’s what they can do for pricing when looking forward, imagine what they’ll be doing for products.

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Eyes, Like Lightning

Luxo's distant relative.

As the Apple news starts reaching a fever pitch, mostly surrounding the very imminent launch of the iPad 2 and perhaps some other things that Apple has up its sleeve, my attention is drawn to the unsung and curiously short-lived news regarding the MacBook Pro refresh and this new Thunderbolt port.  I’ve been reading some other news throughout the day and it appears that there are some things that folks have missed so far, things that signal a great future for Apple and the personal computer industry as a whole.

One of the first of these important bits is, of course, Thunderbolt.  Great technology, lots of bandwidth, high transfer speeds, etc.  Generally a good thing.  The article I linked to has a lot of great information regarding the specs and capabilities of this new transfer protocol.  This, by itself, tells us that Apple’s current-gen displays will look gorgeous, that they’ll be able to run free while also co-existing nicely with other peripherals (hard drives, cameras, iOS devices).  Good news, but what caught my eye was this little tidbit that came up a little while ago about Lion’s support for a desktop Retina Display.

But one particularly interesting under-the-hood change that we’ve learned about is an evolution of Mac OS X’s “resolution independence” features. Resolution independence has been a long talked about feature that would eventually provide support for high DPI (dots per inch) displays. While there has been the beginnings of support for it starting in Mac OS X Tiger (10.4) and into Mac OS X Snow Leopard (10.6), full support was never realized.

This is something that I was very interested in when it first rolled out, but never really saw the fruits of.  With Thunderbolt (née Light Peak) technology, very high-resolution displays will become the norm.  The incredible transfer speeds required to display all those juicy pixels are now present in Thunderbolt, and Apple has a way to get all those ports out there now, into the hands of the exact folks (photographers, filmmakers, journalists, designers, etc.) who would soak themselves with drool over a double-resolution display.  Target audience, check.

Then there’s this.  Didn’t really happen, did it?  Apple, however, has a history of releasing things that they (or Mr. Jobs, more specifically) expressly deny.  So now we’ve got super high-res screens on the fuzzy horizon (Just over there!  Can you see them?) powered by a transfer technology that will ensure that people using them don’t go cross-eyed or have their retinas burned out by anything other than sweet, innumerable pixels.  Suddenly, all those touchscreen iMacs that were never supposed to be look like they can be.

Let’s also talk about how Lion fits into this.

Apple’s new OS is a powerful statement for user-friendliness without the expense of power.  Lion, being designed with all kinds of iOS conventions baked-in, seems oddly reminiscent of a hardware/software duet that mysteriously disappeared right before the launch of the iPhone some years ago.  The keyboard, developed by a company called “FingerWorks,” was a capacitative (if I remember correctly) keyboard that allowed for multiple fingers on the board simultaneously.  I was going to buy one for my 12″ PowerBook G4, when suddenly the device was nowhere to be found.  The company’s website stated that they had been acquired by Apple, and I started telling my friends to get ready for something huge.

I’m not sure where to find these videos anymore, but FingerWorks’ instructional videos on their pages look oddly like what I’m seeing in Apple’s own marketing material for Lion.  While not expressly a touchscreen OS, Apple will undoubtedly start adjusting their future plans to be able to create computers that have that capability.  Even though it isn’t what they’re designed for now, the older paradigm of keyboard percussion and mouse gymnastics will shift one day, and I’ll bet dollars to donuts that Apple wants to be at that bleeding edge.

While perhaps not quite where we’re headed, the idea of a beautiful, completely interactive table that syncs with the phone/camera/device that you lay on top of it (NFC, anyone?) and allows us to interact with our information naturally is a science fiction dream, and Apple’s vision is putting it within reach once again.

UPDATED: A couple folks asked about the title of the post.  The title is actually a line from a poem written by a martial artist about Aikido, the next line is “Throw, like thunder.”  Seeing as how the post is about Thunderbolt, I thought I’d add something related in there.  Sorta esoteric, but fun.


On to the Next One

There’s been a lot of rumor and speculation recently surrounding the upcoming “iPad 2” that Apple is slated to release soon. Topping out the list are buzzwords and ideas like “Retina Display” (which apple coined last year when they released the iPhone 4), SD storage, and (as always) the polarizing issue of cameras (both front and rear, in this case) .

All this is fine and good. Apple will undoubtedly introduce some new technology, or at least integrate already-proven into the new wundertablet. The real kick here seems to be the high-resolution display that everyone seems to be all hot and bothered about. I say that this display is simply the next step, while others say it’s impossible. The arguments, however, are decidedly jargon-riddled and quite technical. The higher-resolution display will require a powerful processor/GPU/magic unicorn sparkles. There is technology under the surface of these 3,145,728 pixels, perhaps very powerful technology, but that isn’t the the issue here. Folks who own iPads aren’t concerned with resolution, floating point calculations, or chipsets’ model numbers. Folks who own iPads want to read books, magazines, and websites without eye fatigue. They want to draw, to view their pictures in a way that no other device can display them. They want to type documents and see the text on the screen with razor-sharp clarity. They want to show their clients presentations of their products and services with a level of clarity that hasn’t been seen even in Apple’s top-tier professional laptops.

Furthermore, I imagine that there are a great deal of print outfits out there who are aching to see their content blazing on over three million brilliant pixels. Can you imagine how National Geographic will look when that screen displays their new cover for the first time, almost indistinguishable from print with a 178-degree viewing angle? If real, that display will be so sharp that people all over the world will be heading into eye doctors for eyeball lacerations. Bad joke. Think about it though: the app is delayed, unveiling the new service is pushed back, the whole thing hushed until the coming of the benevolent iPad the second. Angels sing, and the trumpets herald peace on earth. Or something like that.

Even that, as amazing as it may seem, isn’t the point, though. The point is that it’s the right thing to do. We’re at a critical point in consumer technology (as we always are). Our books, libraries, magazines, physical media, phone numbers…virtually everything about the technologies that have defined our world for the past three hundred years is changing. In order to move gracefully on the shifting sands of the technological landscape, Apple has decided to improve on a device that introduced a new way of thinking about computing. They’re pushing it places that other companies haven’t thought about yet or even considered a possibility. They’re going to move things along and light a fire under the entire tablet landscape. Regardless of what screen the new iPad will use, or how many pixels it has crammed in its svelte frame, it will be the next step towards a paradigm shift technology as we know it.