The recent announcements of first Google Talk and now the iPod nano have prompted me to say something. Despite the joking about my curmudgeonliness, I’m actually just as prone to excitement about shiny newness as anyone. My first reaction today in seeing the nano was “It comes in black! It’s tiny! It has color!”. But that lasted about 20 seconds.
Here’s a little secret about me: I’m not really a Californian. I’ve lived here since I was two, but I was born a Yankee and in many ways I’m still one. That word implies certain qualities like thriftiness, a taste for minimalism, and a propensity to speak your mind but hold your emotions in check. I’ve tempered the thriftiness a bit, though I still can’t understand why anyone would throw away their plastic grocery bags and then buy brand-new trash bags, or not just re-label a file folder, or people who don’t know how to darn a hole or fix a hem or use one teabag to make two cups of tea. The point is, the old Yankee adage “use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without” is well ingrained in my subconscious. If I’m going to spend money (or time) I expect to receive value in return. And value is most definitely not defined as “more stuff” (minimalism, remember?), it is defined as “something I will get a lot of use out of”.
Which often puts me at odds with consumer culture in general, and the tech world in particular. I have tough standards. I don’t automatically install upgrades or new beta releases because generally it’s a waste of my time, hard drive space and/or money. That goes double for beta products that require hours of combing forums for hints before they might start working as intended (hint: working products not yet entirely fleshed out or with minor glitches are in beta, getting users to find the bugs in your basic code is called alpha). Both Apple and Google are usually very good at producing high-value lean, useful and durable products and for that reason both rank high on my list of favorite companies, right up there with Trader Joe’s and Honda.
Not these releases though. I have yet to find anything I’d want Google Talk to do that iChat doesn’t already, so for those of you who have sent me invitations thanks but no thanks. When they have an application that functions as both an IM and IRC client seamlessly, so that you can be having an IM chat with one person and invite a third to participate in that same window, then I will pay attention. When I have the ability to be logged in under multiple usernames simultaneously and to have my friend see responses as coming from my firstnamemiddleinitiallastname account and some random five dollar n00b see responses as coming from my anonymoususername account at the same time, then I’ll consider switching. My 3rd generation iPod (purchased used) is still functioning just fine thankyouverymuch, and unless it dies I won’t be replacing it anytime soon. What the majority of Apple’s existing customers actually want is more storage (80GB or more) and videocast support. The nano is not a bad product, but it should be called Shuffle Deluxe. It targets the same market, though I suppose you could add in those who have bought the Shuffle but are frustrated by its limitations.
I find it admirable that Google and Apple (especially Google) both let their developers run with their imaginations a bit. It’s certainly better than the focus group inspired mediocrity that’s seen so often in other industries. But guess what? While they were busy working on these projects, people are mumbling their frustrations with Google, and buying extra hard drives to stash their growing music & video collections. Focus, people. F-o-c-u-s.