Techdom's Apple aura problem

Last week, Google unveiled its first consumer electronics device -- Nexus Q. If Steve Jobs were still alive and had announced the same product as "one more thing", there would be headlines everywhere that Apple had done it again -- that the fruit-logo company raised the bar and demonstrated its brilliance at design and innovation.

Nexus Q is a remarkable product. The sphere changes fundamental concepts about entertainment. Content is in the cloud. Smartphones control the device, and they're also where users interact with content (e.g., small versus big screen). Users can share, say, music on the same device -- not one but anyone is in control -- and all without wonky, local digital rights management. Nexus Q attaches to any modern TV or sound system, and because content is in the cloud it's available anywhere the device goes. The sphere is beautifully constructed, too. But Jobs didn't unveil the sphere, someone whose name you don't even recognize did. As such, Nexus Q is largely ignored because stigma is attached: Apple didn't invent it.

You can disagree, and many of you will, that there is an Apple aura blinding bloggers and reporters and many other people writing about high-tech. Apple is regarded as the true innovator, and too often the only one. What I hope is that in the post-Jobs era, the aura will diminish, now that the charismatic marketer isn't there to spellbound people with his "reality distortion field". (Of course, I would rather he retired than passed on.)

I've long said this about a Jobs keynote or Apple event presentation: If he was having a bad day, you left with the feeling that if you bought new product X you're life would be better for it. But if Jobs was on -- if he was having a good day -- you left feeling your life would be worse if you didn't buy the thing. That was Jobs' magical ability, to sell aspiration. That's what great marketing is all about: Selling happiness.

Jobs has left this world, but the aura remains. For lots of reasons. His influence will last through at least another generation of Apple products. Design takes time. Apple's brand commands high accolades and expectations about innovation. Something else: Many, perhaps most, of the people writing about tech use Apple products. Many use several, such as Mac laptop, iPad or iPhone. There's built-in bias they can deny, but it's really undeniable.

For example, last week during Google's I/O developer conference, in any of the three (or was it four) press rooms, the majority of bloggers or reporters used Macs. That's every time I looked. On the afternoon of the second day, I actually did a quick count in one press room: 21 Mac laptops, three Windows PCs (two of them ThinkPads), one Samsung Series 5 Chromebook and lone ASUS Transformer Prime (Android tablet).

How can the people using this stuff not be caught in the aura? I remember a computing generation ago when these same folks would have used Windows laptops -- and which company commanded most of the tech news then? Microsoft, like Apple today.

I've griped about this problem before. Tech vendors are partly to blame for inventing great stuff and poorly promoting it. Apple's magic is marketing. Few other companies can cast the spell. But I can't help remarking on the Apple aura as I use Nexus Q more and more, and I'll better explain in my forthcoming review about its appeal.

Apple would have release a cube, since the shape so enamored Jobs. Sphere is better and stands out against the rectangular edges so common in living rooms or media centers. But it is the concept, which emphasizes simplicity and hides complexity, and design that makes Nexus Q remarkable. Google's cloud-connected, social-sharing entertainment sphere is everything Apple TV should be and isn't.

Use enough products like Nexus Q and the aura lifts, the spell breaks, and you'll wonder why you ever thought so highly of "one more thing".

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