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Apple and the individual media industry

We are in the midst of a new revolution in individual media, and Apple is a company at the forefront of this revolution. People are missing this, or under appreciating it, because they are thinking in terms of the "computer industry" (or, perhaps, the electronics industry).

I'll suggest here why we can talk about there being an "individual media" industry, and how Apple has been totally focused on this for many years (and, e.g., how Microsoft has not).

A little history

There once was this new thing called the "computer industry," that was so new and, in all its parts, such a relatively small chunk of the world economy, that it was convenient enough to lump it all together under one umbrella.

Microsoft is the probably the best example of a company that succeeded in the computer industry—computer software proved to be the biggest business in this industry, and they've sold a lot of it. Computer hardware was also essential, and companies like Dell were successful selling it.

Over time, the computer industry grew up and got really big and the industry kept pumping out more features at lower prices.

The shot heard around the world

The World Wide Web was and is an example of a major revolution that built on and through the computer industry. Early on, people would ask Bill Gates at Microsoft what he thought about the web and Microsoft's role, because people expected the web to fit within the computer industry in some sense.

But, to reduce a lot of stuff down to a one liner: the web has proven to be about life in a way that the computer industry—even the personal computer industry, never has. Computers are now just like the gears in your car that only gearheads care a lot about, and the web is like a whole industry and culture of totally amazing cars and roads and cities and countryside that everyone cares a lot about.

About Apple

If you dig a little, you'll notice that Apple makes computer hardware and software. Twenty-five years ago, they were a major part of the personal computer industry. So, it makes sense that some people think about Apple as being within the current computer industry. Kind-of like Microsoft, right?

Wrong.

Twenty-five years ago, the personal computer was still something of a boutique item. And, Apple was and is a company focused on boutique products. In terms of branding, Apple has always been more about special than about computers.

And today, the boutique items that Apple produces can be better described as individual media.

What is "individual media"?

"Individual media" is whatever media people use to express themselves and communicate as individuals. And, while we tend to still talk about today's individual media in terms of its forms and formats, e.g., digital photos, web pages, mp3s, email, word processor, all of the so-called social media, etc., the actual media we each use are these things that happen to have computers and code on the inside.

In the computer industry, these things are commonly called computers and computing devices (smart phones, mp3 players, etc.) and software. But, that hardly describes what they are in the lives of the people who use them as individual media.

To us, these things are special media of our individuality.

So, there's an important difference between companies making these things as computers or software (like Microsoft), and companies making these things for individual media (like Apple).

Special, and in on the secret

We know these individual media are special and important in our lives. And we recognize when someone provides us with individual media, whether it's a thing that acts like a phone or a thing that acts like a website, vs someone who just provides us with a lump of technology.

Microsoft is probably the greatest company ever in the computer industry. But, they've hardly ever been about individual media. And their attempts to produce devices and software that can be marketed as fun and special are somewhat amusing, since they're just devices and software.

So, the competition between Microsoft and Apple (for example) isn't best measured in terms of the computer industry's standards of success. Apple is successful by being super strong in a very different industry where Microsoft has little core competency.

When Microsoft tries to compete with Apple, there's this funny mismatch. Again, the gears on the plane that flies you to Paris are not as fun as Paris. And, to extend that analogy, a company trying to convince you to spend your vacation with a pile of gears rather than in Paris—well, for most people, it's like a joke, right?

Apple's marketing, e.g., the I am Mac and I am a PC commercials, completely plays on this joke. And, when you get it, you are in on that joke. It's a brilliant branding move on Apple's part to make their brand feel not only special, but make you feel special for getting that joke.

So, I know a lot of people get this joke: seems like more and more.

And what does this have to do with Juxtaprose?

Not much on some level—just some thoughts. But, we do make websites and recognize that we are creating individual media for our clients. Websites are a form of individual media.

(And, aside: note how Safari = the web browser as individual media vs Internet Explorer = the web browser as software. Though, thank you IE 8 team for starting to head in the right direction.)

We happen to use Apple products and programs that run on Mac and iPod Touch as part of our process, because the act of making these websites also requires individual media though which we express ourselves as designers. Programs like OmniGraffle and BBEdit are individual media to us.

Also, in our consulting work with larger enterprises, we recognize that the work of so-called knowledge workers is very much dependent on them having individual media—they need individual media to do their jobs well. Often, we are creating websites for them that allow them to work around the lump of technology (corporate PCs running Windows) on their desks.

***

We are beyond the information age, and into something else: I doubt it makes sense to proclaim this the age of individual media, but that's maybe a useful way to think about it for a minute.

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