The Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band , Genesis’s The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway , Brian Eno’s 801 Live , The Who’s Tommy , Alanis Morisette’s Jagged Little Pill : in the history of music, there have only been a few perfect albums.
That’s not to say there haven’t been many perfect songs. Just look at the file list in my MP3 library at home, a folder that’s 20GB and still growing, and it becomes readily apparent that at least in my musical universe the perfect song is not that hard to find. But the perfect album, a collection in which not just every song is perfect, but even the way the songs fit together is perfect — that’s a rare commodity indeed.
At Macworld Expo in January, Apple delivered what has got to be the computer industry’s equivalent of the perfect Album. iTunes and iDVD, plus the does-it-all SuperDrive make it not only possible, but incredibly simple, for users to become personal media publishers. And, of course, my personal favorite, the PowerBook G4, is sex, drugs and rock and roll carved out of a wafer-thin titanium shell.
Like a portfolio formed of pure mercury, the new PowerBook G4 is so very different than those that came before: Barely an inch thick, this portable comes with a 15.2-inch wide aspect ratio active-matrix screen, DVD-ROM drive, a 400MHz or 500MHz G4, 128MB or 256MB of RAM, and it weighs five pounds. Five pounds! I mean, I’ve got hard drives that weigh more than that.
It’s a no compromise, all-in-one portable that requires no dongles to do things like play DVD movies . . . or CD-ROMs, for that matter. It has an enormous screen perfect for viewing movies, and it’s even thinner than the Viao Z505. Take that, Sony!
The industrial design is brilliant. The PowerBook G4 is the first portable actually made of titanium, stronger than steel and lighter than aluminum. Apple has addressed many quibbles users have had about past Mac portables, too. The new keyboard is crisp and precise, and is connected to the internal superstructure using magnets — no more spongy, bowing keyboards. The battery slides in underneath instead of on the side, eliminating the chance of premature power ejection, and the headphone port is on the side again.
They even got the logo on the cover right. When you flip up the lid, the crystal Apple is no longer upside down. Right on!
My only disappointment with the PowerBook G4 is Apple has left me nothing to complain about. This is the PowerBook I’ve been asking Apple to make for eight years.
Eine Kleine iTunes
It’s true that Apple missed the revolution this Holiday by not getting CD-RW drives into their computers. But with Dylanesque timing, the company has now leapt ahead of the competition by not only bundling CD-RW in all G4 desktop Macs, but by making the process of burning CDs so much easier.
Apple learned an important lesson with iMovie: that hardware technology is basically worthless without seamless integration with software. Let’s face it: we’ve been able to burn CDs on the Mac for years. But the combination of applications required to pull it off meant that only those dedicated to the process were ever going to bother.
And there were critical things missing from the process, especially a searchable library of music files. As mentioned above, I have a lot of music on my computer. And I use that music to burn CDs for my car or to download music to my MP3 player for when I run. And being the fickle audiophile that I am, I change those playlists often. The process of compiling a new playlist from the hundreds of songs on my hard drive used to take hours. Now it’ll take minutes. And I’ll be able to concentrate on the important stuff, like musing about if Pink Floyd’s “Interstellar Overdrive” really does sound good following ELP’s “Toccata.”
And the process of going from MP3 to CD is so, so simple in iTunes, that shortly I won’t need to wait for someone else to create my perfect album; I’ll just do it myself.
Probably the most easily misunderstood new product announced by Apple in January is iDVD. In the simplest terms, iDVD will be to DVD-R what iTunes is to CD-RW: it transforms an intriguing but difficult-to-use technology into something that anyone with a need can easily do.
Burning DVDs that can play on standard home DVD players is hard, not because the burning process itself is all that complicated, but because consumer DVDs require their own custom interfaces to operate. Building these interfaces used to be the purview of programmers; it was not unlike building a Web page in HTML.
iDVD changes all that. Just point, click and drag, and you’ve got a DVD that’s got your iMovie of your trip to Hawaii, slides of the kids, and a cool QuickTime movie of little Emily’s recital on a disc your mom can pop into her DVD player and enjoy on the living room TV.
This means on a computer that costs less than just what the DVD-R burners were costing a few months ago, you can publish images and motion with an interface you can create yourself with just a few clicks. This is the kind of stuff that not only will sell a bunch of computers, but can change the landscape of the marketplace.
Mark my words, the PC market will be playing catch-up on this one for years to come.
It seems, then, that the trick to creating the perfect album is understanding what you, as an artist, are really good at. Apple finally understands what it takes for them to have a hit . . . and it’s not to invent new technology, which Apple has rarely done successfully. Rather, it’s to take other people’s inventions and make them so that everyone can enjoy and take advantage of them.
ANDREW GORE is editor in chief of Macworld . To comment on this column, please visit the Vision Thing forum at