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ATPM 4.04
April 1998


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Apple Cider: Random Squeezings from a Mac User

by Tom Iovino,

Lights. Camera. Disaster?

I saw the movie Titanic. I'm sure that doesn't surprise anyone. Heck, who hasn't seen it? It has become one of the biggest blockbusters ever made. Surprisingly enough, it doesn't even feature one car chase, animated dinosaur, or interstellar battle.

In fact, this genre of movie, the recreation of a historical event, is probably one of the toughest films to make. Unlike pure fiction, the director has to carefully research each fact of the event and represent these facts as accurately as possible in order to keep his or her audience engaged in the action.

Of course, the further back in time the director chooses to set the film, the easier time a director has to pull off his or her magic. Fewer people have first-hand knowledge of the event. As long as the director doesn't commit an obvious anachronism, such as having Julius Cæsar calling Mark Anthony on his cell phone to make a tennis date on the Ides of March, most audience members will not be able to tell if a certain style of Roman sandal wasn't created until 300 years after the movie is set.

Of course, the reverse is true. The more recent the historical event, the more people have first-hand knowledge of the goings on of the time. And the audience members will be critical of any inaccuracies.

Recently, Ron Howard's Apollo 13 comes to mind as an example of a very well-done piece. Here was an ambitious endeavor. Take an event which happened merely 25 years earlier and carefully recreate the period so that those people who have clear memories of the events will be fooled into believing that they are watching something plausible from recent history.

Beyond the stunning visual effects and painstaking attention to set details which marked this piece, the dialogue and references to everyday technology had to be delivered convincingly to enhance the illusion.

Who can forget the nervous laughter of moviegoers when, after the ill-fated ship's oxygen tank exploded, Tom Hanks' character was forced to calculate the new trajectory long-handed on the back of a mission notebook. Then, in order to ensure the accuracy of his calculations, he read his figures to Mission Control where a roomful of engineers used slide rules to verify his work.

And people really went to the Moon this way?

In my opinion, the most interesting line of the move was when Tom Hanks' character was leading a V.I.P. tour of congressmen through the vehicle assembly building at the Kennedy Space Center. Convincingly impressed, Hanks stated that the computer used to realize the sophisticated Apollo mission was now so compact, it could fit into a space the size of a typical family room.

My, how times have changed. Today, you can find more computing power in the family car than existed on the Apollo craft. This reduction of size and increase in power has been the marching order of high technology since its inception.

So, why is Apple dropping the Newton?

When the Newton was first released, the promise of a computer that you could port around in your briefcase was real Dick Tracy TV Wristwatch stuff. Hey, even if the silly thing claimed to read your scrawl but couldn't make heads nor tails of your note to pick up a dozen eggs and a gallon of milk, the promise was there.

It was thought that one day, those engineers were going to improve handwriting recognition. One day, those engineers were going to speed up the pokey processor. One day, those engineers were going to write meaningful programs to make your Newton something to show off.

And, slowly but surely, these promises began to materialize. Last year's release of the MessagePad 2000 actually gave the device some muscle. Increased processor power, plus improved software, led to improved handwriting recognition. Finally, developers began to put together software packages that were both useful and powerful. The toy that had initially caught the attention of a few began to earn some recognition.

Soon, other companies began to jump into the fray. Realizing that small but powerful was the way to go, products such as the PalmPilot made their debuts. These products, it seems, have spurred the folks in Apple's Research and Development to improve and refine the Newton further still.

But, how did Apple's corporate brain trust meet the new challengers? In typical Apple fashion, with laser sharp focus, they released the eMate.


Don't bother improving what you have, Apple. No, that's too easy. Instead, attempt to release a new product that looks nothing like what you are attempting to establish in that portable market. Instead, come out with something completely different. Undertake this move while the company loses astronomical amounts of money quarter after quarter. Split your efforts among many products. Divide, don't conquer.

The next Deep-Blue-style chess move came when Newton, Inc. was spun off from Apple. The product, which was so popular that the programmers in my office were unable to get a unit to field test as a data collection device due to high demand, was packed off to this subsidiary company. Strange, a successful product being marched out from under control of a company in turmoil. No wonder speculation ran rampant that the company was going to go under. It looked sort of like Apple was being broken into components in order to be sold off piecemeal.

Now, Steve Jobs announces that Newton, Inc., is officially getting the axe from Apple. Rather than support dueling OS's, the strategy is to utilize the scalable Mac OS for use on a new line of portable products. Jobs pronounced that the new products will also be affordable, making PDA technology available to all.

Of course, Apple's leadership is missing the boat. A lot of people were finally won over by the Newton system. Software developers, who are responsible for creating the applications that make the system worth investing in, are now left on the deck without a lifeboat. Software developers in the office in which I work are up in arms. It took a lot of convincing on their part for the management in our office to support software development for the Newton. Initially scared off by the Apple logo, the merit of the product soon won over even the most skeptical of the bunch. Their decision went against all logic, which stated that Apple was not long for this world.

Now, well, I have to be concerned that the Mac in my office may get the axe as the management seeks to pick the office clean of Apple products. Standardization, they'll call it. Payback is more the term I was looking for. Knowing Apple's history about marketing new products makes me a little leery. We can all remember the fanfare surrounding Pippin, a product which never materialized here in the States. That experience, in addition to Newton and eMate, raises a few warning flags. Apple has documented trouble marketing products beyond servers, desktop and laptop computers. How is Apple going to release a new product and make those who have been burned in the past come back for more abuse?

In my opinion, Apple needs to find something to throw its weight into and make it a reality very soon in order to regain its credibility. Credibility has never been this much of a problem for, say, the PowerBook line, even though some models were prone to burst into flame. The difference between the PowerBooks and Newton is that Apple has made a commitment to laptops. Apple hasn't yet made to the same commitment to palmtops.

A new Mac OS palmtop truly needs to be affordable, powerful, and useful for end users. It needs to be portrayed as an integral part of the Apple family, rather than a bastard stepchild. There needs to be as big a push of the new palmtop product as there is for the OS. If you're going to launch something, you might as well do it convincingly. There needs to be voluminous support for Newton Developers who are now frustrated by Apple's decision. These people, after all, are the lifeblood of the system. No applications, no users. Most of all, Apple now needs to look back on its prior failures and learn the valuable lesson of how not to market a product.

Apple needs to step carefully. Scaring anyone else away from their products is a bad move. The danger is that the last scene of Apple: the Movie won't be the triumphant hero's welcome after a dramatic splashdown in the Pacific. Instead, it could very well be a slow pan of shivering Mac users, huddled in lifeboats, watching aghast as the company slips beneath the cold, dark North Atlantic waves.

Blue Apple"Apple Cider" is © 1998 by Tom Iovino, <>.

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