Apple’s competitors attempt to play catch-up in industrial design

“I don’t know if Apple Computer Inc.’s stunning product releases like the credit card-size Nano music player spring from CEO Steve Jobs own brilliance or that of somebody who works for him. Jobs is, by the way, reputed to be a boss from Hades by more than one biographer,” James Coates writes for the Chicago Tribune. “And speaking of the devil, it’s hard not to think of the story of Faust who made a bargain with Mephistopheles as competing tech executives have watched Apple’s seemingly endless series of attention grabbing new goods and services since 1997. That’s when Jobs rushed back from retirement to save the company from MBAs run amok.”

Coates writes, “This time, however, Nano is being met by developments on the Windows side that are putting Apple-type style on form and function for the first time in years, if ever. New schemes have surfaced where top executives tout new and elegant lines to emulate that flair for style that Apple owns. New projects at Dell… among others focus on developing computers and gear that appeal for the sheer beauty of their design rather than just getting a job done. A few days ago Michael Dell, founder and head gearhead in charge at Dell Computer Inc., went to New York’s pricey Ritz Carlton hotel on Central Park South to announce a burnished metal-clad laptop dubbed XPS, which emulates Apple’s to-die-for tungsten-encased PowerBook.”

“If you doubt Jobs’ machinemaking mojo, find your way to a place like the Apple Store on Michigan Avenue and stand in line to put a Nano in your hands. It is like the first time a Cub Scout holds a pocketknife with a fold-out spoon, a miracle of miniaturization and a wonder to behold,” Coates writes. “Nanos come in black or pearly gates white and mimic the well-known iPod with a distinctive touch-sensitive control wheel below the small display screen.”

Full article here.

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If you don’t know basic facts or understand what you’re trying to write about, why bother?

1. Steve Jobs did not “rush back form retirement” to save Apple. Steve Jobs was forced out of Apple in 1985. Officially, Jobs resigned. Soon after, Jobs founded NeXT which Apple ultimately bought for $402 million in 1996, bringing back Jobs as an advisor. NeXT’s operating system, NeXTSTEP, became Mac OS X. In 1997, Jobs assumed the title of Apple’s interim CEO. Jobs installed many NeXT executives in key positions at at Apple. In effect, NeXT was paid $402 million to take over Apple. The rest is history. In 2001, Jobs dropped the “interim” from his Apple CEO title. Along the way, Jobs also found time to co-found Pixar and remains Pixar’s CEO to this day.

2. Dell’s attempts at “sheer beauty” with their “XPS” line of desktops and laptops are failures of emulating “Apple-type” design. The designs are ugly and we all had a good laugh about them here. Fact: Dell’s “designers” don’t threaten Apple’s design guru Jonathan Ive and won’t be winning any design awards outside those given by Dell’s marketing department.

3. Apple PowerBooks are not “tungsten-encased.” They are encased in lightweight aluminum alloy.

4. iPod nanos’ “distinctive touch-sensitive control wheel below the small display screen” do not “mimic the well-known iPod.” They are iPods.

Related articles:
Dell goes after Apple’s high-end Mac market with ‘XPS brand’ desktop and laptop ‘luxury’ Windows PCs – September 28, 2005


  1. ”4. iPod nanos’ “distinctive touch-sensitive control wheel below the small display screen” do not “mimic the well-known iPod.” They are iPods.”

    Whoa there, MDN, cool down. Yes, there are both iPods but, for example, the shuffle doen’t ”mimic the well-kmow iPod” and it’s an iPod.

  2. You can pay me $404 Million and I’ll be glad to take over too. 😀

    Plus just because it looks a Mac doesn’t mean it is, I bet there will be thousands of people tossing their expensive Dell laptops across the room because they will realize it still runs the crappie OS found on a $300 el cheapo Dell.

    It’s absolutely stupid to pay big money for a single processor computer now unless it’s a dual processor/core as the entire industry is going over in 2006.

    In fact here in October we might actually be seeing a dual-dual core PowerMac G5 and X-Servers with 970MP PPC’s from IBM. (yes I know about the Intel switch, but it’s going to be gradual transition, first laptops is my guess)

    It will be terribly expensive, a QuadMac, most likely around $5000

  3. Just more evidence that as the world changes constantl, journalists, who can;t write about the limited things they actually do know about (since they are usually yesterday’s news), have to pretend to be knowledgeable and make up silly stories on popular topics… They usually fail miserably as a result, and editors rarely realise this fact since they are just as cleless as well…

    I should know I am an editor by profession, and I can honestly say that if my writers had to write about anything other than Apple, Steve Jobs, iPods, PCs, Windows (unfortunately), motorcycles, choppers and kustomising, I would be in some trouble…

  4. The XPS series is butt ugly! It smacks of the design philosophy of the ’50’s when they said ” lets make our cars look like they go fast by putting rocket cones and jet aircraft fins on them!”

    That’s is not the Apple approach, their approach is more akin to the Bauhaus “form is function” ideal. Strip to the essence and leave out decoration and embellishments. Once again they are comparing apples and … turds.

  5. I read an article where Dell compared the new highline Dell computers to a Cadillac or a Lexus. A Lexus? WTF! This guy must have some pretty bad Crack! Maybe a Cadillac! Specifically a Cimeron! (a rebadged Cavalier!). If Lexus built thier vehicles like Dell builds computers, The entire staff of Lexus div of TMC would fall on thier swords in full public view as a matter of Honor! Although it is tough to decide the biggest insult Dell-Lexus or Lexus-Cadillac! IMHO.

  6. I like his line: “ save the company from MBAs run amok.” Probably about right.

    So what if PC boxmakers produce a decent design? The point is rather wasted if it only runs something as ugly as Windows software.

    Design itself is only half the issue of course. Quality, ground-breaking engineering is more important and Apple doeas both in spades.

  7. A “form is function” ideal would have allowed more space for extra hard drives in the G5 enclosure, without having to spend hundreds more for custom brackets, while compromising the G5’s cooling. The nano is the epitome of space aware design, the G5 the opposite.

  8. One correction:
    Pixar was founded by George Lucas and Ed Catmull as the computer graphics division of LucasFilm. It was purchased by Jobs for 10 million and given the name Pixar. Ed Catmull was “named” co-founder of Pixar.

    I know it is nitpicking, but the entity that was LucasFilm’s computer graphics division was just renamed Pixar… so technically Steve Jobs just had the vision to know what that group could become.

    It is also interesting to remember that for a long time Pixar was a hardware/software company (like Apple), but found that the market for their extremely high-end graphics workstations was pretty small. Having laid hands on a Pixar workstation all I can say is I am glad they decided to concentrate on films and Renderman.

  9. Saying that the thing that differentiates Macs is their looks merely proves that the writer knows nothing of Macs.

    The elegance starts deep inside the case, predominantly with the operating system. Everything else is mostly window-dressing … albeit exquisitely designed window-dressing.

    The way that Apple hardware is designed is part of a larger process. Nothing superfluous is added, instead the design is refined and honed to the most perfect possible extent. Few companies will ever take the trouble to invest quite so much effort and emotion into the way that all the bits look and feel and how they work together.

    Until Dell make a computer with the fit and finish of a Mac and with an elegant OS on the inside, it will be just another PC in a designer box.

  10. Hey, James Coates has always been a tool… He tries to be “impartial” but comes off looking (reading?) like a bafoon. His writing is so simplistic that sometimes I wonder what he’s really trying to say.

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