Things I learned at MacWorld

I managed to make it to the final day of MacWorld in San Francisco and after a day of walking around and looking at all the exhibits, if I never see the new iPod mini ad again, it will be too soon. I mean, they only released it a few days ago, but somehow all of San Francisco is plastered with the ads. And the whole time I was at MacWorld, I never actually managed to see the stupid thing. (I personally think it’s a rip off– for $50 more and a negligibly larger footprint, you can get more than three times the storage capacity.)

But I did learn a few things after wandering around the exhibit halls of Moscone Center:

Apple Locks. If Apple is going to continue to target the education market, this is important. Higher education institutions (colleges and universities) face the unique predicament of providing public, but still secure computer clusters and because of Apple’s big love affair with educational institutions, many of these clusters are stocked with Macs. At Stanford, personal computer theft is extremely low (it usually only occurs when somebody leaves a computer out in the open with an invisible bow and sign saying “Take Me”), but public computer theft is a frequent problem. Universities all over the country have been hacking together solutions, from a combination of padlocks and bike chains to actual custom computer locks, but they often either A) don’t work that well and/or B) require damaging the equipment’s casing to attach them (by fusing metal plates onto the casing) and/or C) don’t secure peripherals. Stolen mice and keyboards are probably our biggest problem at Stanford, but there are plenty of cases where somebody puts in the sizable amount of time and effort to pry off metal plates and cut cables. These little Apple Locks are custom built for the Mac towers, securing each computer and the peripherals without damaging the case, and are relatively inexpensive as well.

Continuity of design. I usually believe that it shouldn’t matter what vendor/company you buy a particular gadget from– you should simply buy the best gadget for you and your price range. But, I have to admit that if you were so inclined and ended up buying all of your gadgets from Apple, while you’re home or office might look like it’s out of Space Odyssey 2001, you would have continuity of design. On top of the gadgets, you could also get come Mac-compatible furniture (when did furniture become platform specific?), like this desk for the new iMac.

Apple is still a little confused. They have so little of the market share in most of their product lines, but the people at Apple are still trying to make products for a thousand different markets– consumer electronics (iPod), personal computers (iMac), commercial servers (XServ), and more. I get that they’re trying to create this whole “iLife” concept (and can I just mention how much I am annoyed by things that are named after the medium through which they are delivered– “i” or “e” anything), but the whole conflicted hype around Mac OS X reflects their confusion. Macs have historically been appealing to the computer novice, the not-so-technically savvy, because they were, theoretically, supposed to be easier to use, easier to maintain, more secure (kind of), etc. With OS X, the people at Apple have basically thrown on a shiny new interface to Unix to make it accessible to everyone. While cool initially, people who appreciate and/or know how to use Unix end up opening up a terminal window or X session most of the time anyway and people who don’t know how to use Unix never end up using any of the useful Unix features and end up having to re-learn how to use a Mac anyway.

In any case, at the end of the day, I guess it’s nice to see that despite having less than ten percent of the market share, Mac users are still just so excited to be Mac users. Part of me believes that a lot of that enthusiasm is really just about rooting for the underdog. Nevetheless, even in the face of all that Mac-frenzy, I proudly broke out my Dell laptop in the middle of the MacWorld Internet cafe to check my email and surf the Web.