Understanding Apple – A Note on Style

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Understanding Apple – A Note on Style

Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL)  has long been trashed by detractors as offering nothing more than pretty fashion. The argument goes that Apple’s products are popular only because they are pretty and are purchased by non-thinking, fashion-following sheep. I argued elsewhere that, while clearly there is an element of this in the buying population, as a basis for analysis of the core customer base of the company, this is totally ridiculous.

After the popularity of the iMac, other manufactures such as Dell (NASDAQ: DELL) began offering  all-in-one computers. Currently offering four different base models. Samsung has copied the iPad so closely that their own lawyers could not tell the difference between their own Galaxy Tab and an iPad when asked in court. The copying of iOS design and function by Google’s (NASDAQ: GOOG) Android OS is the basis of several ongoing law suits. Additionally, few would argue that Microsoft Windows (NASDAQ: MSFT) was modeled on the original Mac OS user interface. Windows went on to become the dominant operating system, and Android currently is on more phones than iOS, although they are lagging seriously in the tablet space. So this is an issue that affects all electronic manufacturers, particularly in the mobile space.

Everyone agrees therefore, that style is important in most product designs, and most believe that Apple has led the way from the beginning. Still, however, I stick to my original point: blind fashion is not the basis of Apple product sales. That is to say, if you wish to make sound judgments on the future prospects of Apple sales, then to view them as merely subject to the frivolous whims of current fashion is to be out of touch with reality.

However, the fact remains that style most definitely is a part of what makes Apple products so popular. Clearly the allure  of the beauty of each new iDevice is an important part of its charm. So how does one manage to maintain at the same time these two apparently conflicting statements?

The issue here is to gain a deeper understanding of the concept of style. Let’s start with a dictionary definition.

World English Dictionary

style (staɪl)

 - n

  1. a form of appearance, design, or production type or make: a new style of house
  2. the way in which something is done: good or bad style
  3. the manner in which something is expressed or performed, considered as separate from its intrinsic content, meaning, etc.
  4. a distinctive, formal, or characteristic manner of expression in words, music, painting, etc.
  5. elegance or refinement of manners, dress, etc.
  6. prevailing fashion in dress, looks, etc.
  7. a fashionable or ostentatious mode of existence: to live in style

I think there are several important ones in the list. Those for the Apple detractors are #4, - and both 6 and 7 taken kind of as one. Definition #4 is something on which we can all probably agree, with both the Apple user interface, and the iDevices themselves, falling under “etc.” Most people would agree that in each of these two areas, Apple has its distinctive style.

The detractors will argue, however, that this is little more than “prevailing fashion” at best and “ostentatious” at worst. Many go on to argue that this is the only level of appeal (or perhaps the slightly more liberal main level of appeal) for Apple products. They post with mocking derision how this is the only reason any foolish customer ever buys any Apple product. The Mac is a "pretty toy," not a "real computer." Again, this was the topic of the article mentioned above.

Those of us who are fans of Apple products see more import in item #2. “The way in which something is done.” Furthermore, I have a love/hate relationship with #3, where it says “separate from its intrinsic content, meaning, etc.” And this precisely is the crux of the issue. YES! The style is separate from intrinsic content, but then again it is NOT.

To me the whole disagreement revolves around this.

The detractors see style as like the color or hemline of a coat, totally irrelevant to the function of the garment – to keep one warm. Followers of the iDevice are merely following inconsequential fluff. Like:


<img src="/media/images/user_13421/screen-shot-2012-10-10-at-73317-pm_large.png" />

To aficionados of the Apple aesthetic, on the other hand, it is more like the body of a cheetah. The beauty of the form is inextricably tied to the function. It is precisely the adherence to functional minimalism that is expressed in the aesthetic form of the exterior. The consumer with an artistic eye sees, or more, actually feels the connection of the external beauty with the internal function. This is why people become so delighted with the products: it pleases them on so many levels.

Many even go farther and understand that the design process does not stop with the surface, but goes to the core of the products. I believe it was the G5 Mac Pro (yes, the tower) that initiated the new steel Pro model casing. A friend of mine is both a high level software engineer and an artist. He finally, after years of only WinTel machines got a Mac Pro to do video editing. He called me one evening and said something like this:

I had seen your machine before and sort of knew what it was like, but it was not until I opened up mine to install some hard drives that I first really looked at the interior. I was awed by it! It was so simple, so clean, so easy, and on top of it all, beautiful. I thought, "And they go to all this effort for the inside of the machine?”


<img src="/media/images/user_13421/g5inside_large.jpg" />



And so, there are some people who do not want to have anything to do with anything Apple, no matter what. Whatever each individual’s personal reasons, that is his or her own affair. I think that this person then needs to somehow rationalize what is basically irrational behavior, by coming up with reasons to dis the Apple products. This meme of “it’s only fluff” is an easy one to grab onto and repeat mantra-like until one actually believes it.

Or perhaps there are just some people who just do not see the beauty in a cheetah.


==== Understanding Apple series

You may love Apple and their products, or hate them to the core, but you cannot deny that Apple now has the highest market cap of any company, their products are trend setters, and currently they are trading at rather low multiples, especially regarding forward earnings.

Warren Buffet has the maxim: “Invest in what you know!” So, for those who want a unique perspective on Apple’s success, I have a series of articles Understanding Apple. I hope you will find them helpful and provocative.

Let me know what you think.

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JaanS owns shares of Apple. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Motley Fool newsletter services recommend Apple and Google. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.If you have questions about this post or the Fool’s blog network, click here for information.

Malcolm Manness has a Masters degree in Computer Science, and worked for 14 years in development, technical publications and software quality assurance. He has been investing for 20 years. Currently, he does writing, and FileMaker Pro programming on contract.

His short fiction can be found (under pseudonym J. Seunnasepp) at http://50centflash.com/. His photography galleries are also reachable from links on that site.

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