TAG | Publishing
Who can forget Apple’s notorious ‘Get a Mac’ ad campaign? ‘PC’, dressed conservatively in a suit and tie, portrayed as uptight and boring next to a causally dressed ‘Mac’ with a laidback attitude. Having successfully convinced consumers that their products are ‘cool’, Apple have made a fortune by appealing to a demographic of young, style-conscious individuals willing to pay a premium for good design.
But could a backlash against the popular brand be imminent? Recently, three events have occurred that threaten to cause waves throughout the cult of Apple enthusiasts:
Steve Jobs is often credited with Apple’s surge in popularity after his return to the company in 1996. His supporters consider him a charismatic visionary, and the dramatic dip in the value of Apple shares after he announced his leave reveals the extent to which people believe he is key to the success of Apple.
However, the share value has somewhat recovered and recent surveys suggest most Apple customers would remain loyal in spite of the departure of Jobs. Perhaps the fact that he has left twice before and returned both times suggests he will be back. (Indeed, his personal appearance at the unveiling of the iPad 2 in San Francisco last week was a ’surprise’.) Regardless, his health has certainly caused concern among Apple’s investors.
The service caused controversy among publishers due to the 30% commission taken from subscriptions purchased in Apple’s App Store. Coupled with the restriction that media companies may not offer cheaper deals elsewhere, the publishing industry, who until recently hoped Apple could be their saviour, now seem to perceive them as an avaricious threat.
This is not the first time the company’s high prices and inflexible attitude have come under scrutiny. While their products are undeniably high-end and elegant, some critics are sceptical that Apple products warrant such an expensive price tag and believe consumers are simply paying for the brand. Also, many software developers have been irritated by the strict regulations that cause some apps to be blocked from the App Store.
For a long time Apple was seen as the fashionable underdog, but in the same way that bands that become ‘too popular’ are sometimes abandoned by their original advocates, there have been signs for a while now that Apple’s mainstream success could be alienating the very people it targets.
Suicides at Foxconn, underage factory workers, and n-hexane poisoning at Wintek. Media coverage of working conditions at Apple’s Chinese manufacturers has not been favourable. This could be particularly damaging if the left-leaning, socially-aware stereotype of Apple users is to be believed (which, in all fairness, many people believe it shouldn’t). It must not be overlooked that these manufacturers also supply a range of other high-profile tech firms, but perhaps because of these preconceptions, it is Apple that has been the focus of media attention – and it may be that their reputation suffers the most.
With Microsoft embracing the modification of its Xbox Kinect by amateur software developers and Google’s ‘One Pass’ system offering publishers a cheaper and more flexible alternative to Apple’s subscription service, Apple’s rivals are welcoming the opportunity to associate themselves with openness and creativity. By continuing to use their dominant market position to exercise such a high level of control, Apple risks damaging its liberal reputation. The question is: will their transformation into corporate superpower create a backlash from their core customers, making them a victim of their own success?
So. The BETT show is over. Online CC spent a great deal of time at the event, which for the second year in a row struck me as an unholy marriage of a livestock pen and a telesales call. I only spent a day at Olympia, but the experience sapped my strength so much that it felt like a week.
I don’t have much of a problem admitting that I didn’t like BETT – it seems to be pretty much unanimously agreed by everyone I spoke to there that time at a show like BETT takes its toll; which isn’t to say that the whole thing is pointless or uninteresting of course. It’s a very good thing for people in the industry to get together like this, and every year some real gems come up, which make the over-priced refreshments and crawling through Learning Management Software stands worth it.
Take Rafi.ki, for example. Rafi.ki is an online learning community which builds partnerships between schools all over the world. Pupils exchange information with one another, embark on projects together, and make friends. Simple? Yes. Worthwhile? Undoubtedly. Successful? It seems so. The gent on the stand (one John Macnutt, lovely guy) pointed out that on facebook, most children simply collect people who are already their friends and remain in those groups. Here was something that allowed children to make new friends, and work together on projects that can be extremely valuable.
Or Roar Educate’s “Us Online“, an ‘online learning module’ which allows children to learn about what exactly you can do on the internet, via the experience of a set of fictional characters. I saw a demonstrator show how a learner can help a girl set up a myspace page, from choosing her screen name and picture to making friends; and it’s only once you’ve set up a profile picture of the character in her underwear and befriendied a suspicious individual called fluffybunny73 who says he ‘likes to play’ that the program takes you step by step through what you’ve done that might have gotten you into such a situation. This kind of digital literacy is working its way up the agenda as people accept that things like Myspace are now a fact of life, and learning through experience and simulation is a great way to get across the idea that your actions in the digital realm are not without consequences.
Or Pixton, a really fun site that allows people to (fairly) easily create and share their own webcomics. I don’t know a great deal about ‘Pixton for Schools‘, but there’s been a lot of talk about video games’ ability to present content to children. Comics, as another staple of my youth, show real potential to do the same.
Rambling around the upper levels I stumbled across some charming gents from Rolling Sound, who run multimedia courses for schools, community groups and young people ‘at risk’. Roll 7 is a recent expansion of Rolling Sound, and are a company making socially responsible video games, actively recruiting from the young people that complete courses at Rolling Sound. Their flagship piece is a game called ‘Dead Ends‘, which managed to make it onto Channel 4 News in its treatment of knife crime. It’s even got Jon Snow in it. I also almost tripped over Serious Games Interactive’s very small stall; these guys make a series of games called ‘Global Conflicts’, which aim to inform on the (extremely complex) issues behind some of the most intractable and damaging conflicts in the world. As ever, I’m a sucker for video games and so must admit to taking a disproportionate amount of interest in stalls like this…
Finally, I did a double take at the back of Olympia Grand Hall when I walked a stand where grown men and women seemed to be playing Dance Dance Revolution on the kind of wet-pour rubber surface that you get on playground floors. It turned out to be Smartus by Lappset, an intriguing hybrid of digital game based learning and physical exercise – whether it’s stepping on marked tiles in the right order, or running round posts as quickly as you can, Smartus has developed installations for playgrounds or indoor halls which have children taking orders from weather friendly consoles. Though I didn’t partake myself, I imagine it to be like performing mental arithmetic whilst playing ‘tag’.
I’m not sure I like the sound of that.