(Editor's note: For background on this article and its unusual history, read this note.)
In a world where generic MP3 players are sold alongside Chia Pets in every Wal-Mart, K-Mart, and Quickie Mart, Apple's iPods are anything but commodities.
Most computers look like they were designed by manufacturers of low-end office furniture, but Macs are so beautiful that they'd probably be fixtures in movies and on TV even if product placement didn't exist.
And Apple is so basically innovative an organization that--to swipe a phrase from our own Full Disclosure columnist Stephen Manes--it essentially serves as the R&D arm of the entire technology industry.
In fact, we often find ourselves asking a question that's been around almost since Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak started selling computers back in the 1970s: If Apple can do it, why can't anyone else?
We're not going to attempt to answer that question here. But we will enumerate some of the things that make the products from Cupertino, California's most famous company uniquely lovable. That's not to say that the things we said in 10 Things We Hate About Apple are moot, but we're more than happy to give credit where it's due.
Got anything you love (or hate) about Apple yourself? Use the Comment link at the end of this article to add what you love about Apple--or to tell us that we're being too kind.
1. Sublime Designs
Apple's designs rarely feel cheap or half-baked. There are the obvious feats such as the slim, beautiful iPod Nano and the flat-panel iMac. Microsoft's Zune just doesn't compare to the Apple's iPods, and the Apple TV just might finally get us interested in the badly named digital media adapter market. And even if the upcoming iPhone doesn't become to mobile communications what the Mac was to computers, it's unquestionably off the chart in terms of pure style.
But equally impressive are the subtle innovations in Apple products that make them both more elegant and more useful: the tiny iMac remote, which clings to the side of the computer's screen. The MagSafe magnetic power adapter, which attaches to laptops lightly enough that it disconnects cleanly if you trip over it. Software and drivers, whether developed by Apple or third parties, maintain a consistent look and feel. Outside and in, it all just matches--which is more than you can say about most stuff in Windowsville.
2. The Mac OS Rules
True, we're a little miffed that we have to wait until October to get our hands on Mac OS X 10.5 (Leopard); blame the iPhone. But if Leopard is anything like Tiger (Mac OS X 10.4), it'll make Windows users jealous. Its Time Machine instant backup might be what finally gets people to back up their files. Its Spaces window management could work better than the already excellent Expose technology and the form-over-function Windows Flip 3D. Apple's Spotlight Desktop Search will search network volumes, and the nifty Dashboard widget engine will get new features. Apple being Apple, it's also entirely possible that it has some more surprises up its sleeve that it won't tell us until the moment before it springs Leopard on the world.
In the meantime, OS X 10.4 "Tiger," more than two years old now, is nearing the end of its life. Yet in most ways that matter, it's still a more pleasing, pleasingly consistent environment to work in than its newer (and arguably glitzier) competitor from Redmond. Aging Apple, in other words, is entirely capable of beating brand-new Microsoft.
3. Real Reliability
What good is a cool computer or music player if it doesn't keep going and going? Apple makes some of the most reliable products on the market--from its MacBook to its iPod digital audio players. In our most recent survey of reliability and service, the company scored higher than all other notebook manufacturers except for Lenovo, in part thanks to a better-than-average score for "satisfaction with reliability" and for overall reliability. Its digital audio players topped our list, earning the only better-than-average score for "satisfaction with reliability" (though its mark for overall reliability was only average).
Of course, Apple's track record isn't perfect, as owners of defective MacBooks will tell you. But the fact that you can get a reliable product that looks nice too makes its overall record pretty impressive.
4. Jobs Stands Up to the Media Moguls
Amidst the record industry's panic over illegal music downloads, Apple unveiled the 99-cent single-song download, an easy-to-use software music store for buying them, and a catalog that included indie and unsigned artists when most competitors stuck to the catalogs of the big labels. The iTunes Store later raised the profile of television show and movie downloads, and Jobs even called for the end of music digital rights management (DRM). Soon after, EMI said it would introduce DRM-free (albeit higher-priced) versions of its songs. (It remains to be seen if this ends up being a good move for the financially struggling big-four music company.)
We're still not happy about most songs in the iTunes library requiring you to use an iPod for portable-device playback, but we admire Apple's deal-making finesse. It shook up the entire industry, which, left to itself, would have you buying six crappy filler tracks for every three you actually wanted. Who knows where music might be if Steve Jobs had decided to spend his time making cartoons at Pixar rather than reinventing the consumer electronics industry?