Buying advice, from one to a billion dollars

This month’s topic leaves me with a bit of a puzzle on my hands, sensation-seekers. I’ve been looking back on the past year’s columns and to my shock and horror noted that it’s been a few months since I offered any simple, practical advice to you, the valued reader.

“How about ‘the best way to spend X dollars to improve your life as an Apple user’?” I thought. “I choose a dollar amount and talk about the most useful ways to spend it, if you’re a MacOS or iOS user.”

Pure Tabasco. But there’s a snag: the pinpoint demographics that are available to modern publications such as this one indicate that Macworld’s readership covers all income ranges. From those up on the very top who, when they run out of clean towels, simply buy a new house with clean towels already in it, to those right at the bottom who are so strapped for cash that they need to steal energy from the hardworking sun and wind instead of paying for it like decent people.

I’m egalitarian by nature. The only answer is to write separate advice for each of you.

If you have only one dollar to spend, and you wish to improve your life as an Apple user: get a free cloud storage account on Dropbox.com. Dropbox has moved far beyond iDisk and truly become “the Internet’s thumb drive.” So many apps on so many mobile devices can natively access your Dropbox files that for the first time, you can have a truly seamless workflow that crosses all of your computers without any need for syncing or backup.

I can start this column by creating a text file here on my MacBook, finish writing it on my iPad when I get to the coffeeshop, and then edit and file it from my iPhone without ever telling any of the apps on any of these devices where the file is or how to get to it. Genius.

Yes, it’s free. Use the dollar to buy a Coke. Use it to toast the genius who insisted that you try Dropbox.

If you have only a hundred bucks to spend: buy an Apple TV. Your HDTV is the biggest screen in your house and the Apple TV lets you connect it to all of the iTunes libraries in your house and (via AirPlay) every MacOS and iOS device you own. And though it doesn’t run third-party apps, the fact that it’s an iOS device with an iPad processor makes you wonder about what’s in store for 2011.

So: you get complete iTunes connectivity and several months of speculating about future releases. Sounds like the perfect Apple product to me.

If you have only a thousand bucks to spend: Buy four or five Airport Extreme base stations and offer free upgrades to all of the coffeshops, libraries, and bagel places that you hang out in.

Honestly, it’s the only way to ensure that the best features of the Mac OS will actually work. If you want to be able to use Back To My Mac and attach volumes remotely, you can either spend weeks of your time and sacrifice countless lives doing network diagnostics and troubleshooting…or you can just get your favorite office-away-from-home to use Apple networking equipment.

If you have a hundred thousand dollars: hire Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen to come to your house and act out the Apple commercials live for your and your friends. The calm, soothing command tone of Captain Picard suits an “I’m A Mac” guy well. And only a man who has fought the Balrog and been dragged to his death in the abyss of Khazad-Dum can bring the proper dimension and pain to the personification of the Windows operating system.

Bonus: what a Christmas party. Your cousin Helen, the one who thought she was such a big shot for renting that live reindeer last year, will simply have to kill herself.

If you have a million dollars: lease an executive jet. Any fun you might have by spontaneously popping over to Singapore for an ice cream is secondary to the insider information it can yield you, if used properly. The idea is to figure out where Steve Jobs is going to fly into on a specific day, wait for him to disembark, and then after distracting the guard, you switch your plane for his.

Steve owns a Gulfstream G5. That’ll be well out of your price range but older models of the executive edition of the Embraer Legacy are quite affordable, particularly if you keep a close eye on Craigslist. The Legacy is available in the same 15-seater, twin-engine configuration as the G5 and it’s a close enough match to pass casual external inspection, at least for the hour you’ll spend in the airport parking lot rifling all of the Gulfstream’s seat pockets for documents and engineering samples.

If you have a hundred million dollars and you want to improve your life as an Apple owner: start a company that makes Android-based tablets and phones and do it right. As-is, Android is only competing with Apple in sheer numbers. We want Android to challenge Apple where it matters: in the innovation game, where Apple will feel an extra push to keep moving iOS forward.

Android is a fine OS that’s almost always kneecapped by handset makers who generally can’t be bothered and by carriers who worry about a specific phone cannibalizing sales of other profitable products or making lucrative add-on services obsolete.

Killer Android features like sharing a 3G connection via WiFi are eliminated. Terrific standard apps such as Google’s own camera app are jettisoned for something hacky that was licensed as part of a signature UI package. And the potential for creating a whole new UI that builds upon Android while remaining compatible with all existing Android apps has mostly gone untapped.

Challenge your software and hardware team to make something as useful, fresh, and stylish as the iPhone and iPad, except make it more open for both users and developers. Sell them unlocked and rootable.

In a nutshell: cause every existing iPhone and iPad owner chew their lower lips and wonder if they haven’t made a mistake.

Apple’s a practical company. In the end, they respond to what the users want. They’re not going to change their basic policies until another company has a massive success with mobile devices that only differ from iDevices in the amount of freedom they allow. When freedom becomes the most desired feature of a device, then Apple will finally design the perfect phone for everybody.

And if you have a billion dollars to spend: you need an in-house visionary and consultant. I invite you to contact me for availability information and housing needs at your soonest convenience.

[Andy Ihnatko is a beloved technology columnist who has been writing about the Mac since long before it was doomed the first time.]

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