Image: deskology.com

Image: deskology.com

I have a number of friends who can’t understand why I pay what they refer to as ‘the Apple tax': the premium paid for Apple products over alternatives that offer much the same functionality.

I can argue about the functionality, of course. The usability, stability and (usually!) security of OS X are all things worth paying for in my view, but I’m not ashamed to admit that aesthetics also matter to me. When I’m going to spend 8+ hours in front of a computer, I’d rather I was looking at something sleek and beautiful rather than something plastic, ugly and a chore to use and understand.

I feel the same way about the other technology on my desk and in my office, but it isn’t always easy to find kit that works well and looks the part too. I can’t help thinking there’s a lot of office technology that could use the Jony Ive touch … 

I’m not just talking about aesthetics. Anyone who has ever set up a typical wireless printer will likely remember the pain for some time. As Ive himself has said, design is not just about how a product looks, but also how it works. An Apple-specced printer should connect via USB, ask me for my wifi network credentials and ten seconds later tell me it’s configured and I can remove the cable.

A scanner, likewise, should not require a separate utility to be running, I should simply connect it and be able to immediately scan a document, with OS X asking me what I want to do with it, and whether I want to do that just this once or always.

It also took about 30 seconds for someone to read this post and make this suggestion:

I couldn’t agree more: definitely a category that could use some Apple-like usability.

But in general it’s easier to find kit that does the job than tech that looks like it belongs on the same desk as a Mac.

icube

There are some third-party companies out there that do a great job. My iCube speakers (seemingly now discontinued) look right at home there, as do my B+W P5 headphones. In fact, pretty much anything by B+W or B&O would pass the test.

But my printer, scanner and shredder, not so much. The best that can be said about those black plastic items is that they are inoffensive. Not a slice of anodised aluminum in sight.

It wouldn’t be unprecedented for Apple to make a range of peripherals. Apple has dabbled in speakers and Bluetooth headsets. In the early days of the Mac, Apple made printers (and indeed was largely responsible for popularising laserprinters and giving birth to the desktop publishing revolution back in the late 80s). It of course still makes monitors and wifi routers today. But mostly its online and retail stores act as curators, offering a selection of third-party kit the company thinks makes the grade.

It does this job better with some product categories than others. There’s a good selection of Apple-like audio kit to choose from, for example, and some of the external hard drives also tick the design box. But printers …

printers

Scanners …

scanners

I’d argue that the best of them fall into the ‘inoffensive’ category; nobody is going to mistake any of them for anything designed by Apple.

Apple wouldn’t need to make the actual technology, any more than it does with its Macs, iPhones and iPads. Just create the specs, including the user-interfaces, and design the casings.

I recognize this is pure wishful thinking on my part, of course. Macs are now a relatively small part of Apple’s business, and the numbers only make sense at all because the average retail price is far higher than for iDevices. Mac peripherals would be just that.

iPhone accessories (beyond cases) might make more sense in terms of numbers, but less sense in terms of revenue: the vast majority of them are low-cost items.

On the other hand, accessories could be viewed like AppleCare: a relatively easy add-on sale to bring in some extra bucks. Offer a matching printer and scanner with zero configuration alongside a Mac purchase, and I’d have thought enough people would go for it to make it viable.

It might also go some way to appeasing analysts, at least briefly pausing the incessant demand for new product categories. An Apple printer, scanner or speaker system is hardly a revolutionary growth product, but they could bump up the average value of a sale by a worthwhile amount, and analysts care about dollar signs, not technology.

Am I alone in my day-dreaming here, or would others also be interested in getting their hands on some accessories with the Jony Ive magic? Take our poll, and let us know in the comments.

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51 Responses to “Wishful thinking: Why it’d be nice if Apple created a line of Ive-designed office technology products”

  1. That would be sweet!

    Like

  2. Apple would be mocked for making printers again, but I’d buy two of them today if they were offered. I need a printer at home, and have for about a year, but I haven’t bought one because I know how bad they are. About every two weeks I have to help my mom with her inkjet printer.

    Everything about personal printers is just “broken.” How they work, how they look, the absurdity of ink prices; all of it is absurd. The thought of a zero-config printer I could buy alongside my Apple tech and that would come backed with Apple’s top-tier customer support.makes me a salivate a little bit. And yes, I’m aware of how fanboi-ish that sounds.

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  3. Fil Aperture says:

    Well, some people do have neat ideas, but I hardly ever see them in stores. Bit like the concept cars that usually look some much better than their dull offspring in the showroom…

    http://www.ubergizmo.com/2008/02/hanging-printer-concept/

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  4. Hmmmm … You *really* don’t understand why the world’s leading COMPUTER company, that is leading the charge for the paperless office wouldn’t have their own line of paper and pen holders and printers?

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    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      I’m 99.9 percent paperless: http://9to5mac.com/2013/09/20/how-to-live-a-paperless-life-with-mac-ipad-and-iphone/

      But even I need a printer and a pen occasionally …

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      • Indeed. The minute the iPad hit many of us moved to almost paperless for the first time despite talking about the “paperless office” since the early 90’s.

        Of course some offices will still need paper. I haven’t had a printer at home for about five years now, but in my day job I print perhaps a few pages a week.

        I also do a lot of drawing for my private business and that involves paper and good old fashioned india ink. It’s one of my biggest pet peeves that the iPad is basically useless in terms of replacing drawing instruments.

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      • Ben Lovejoy says:

        Yep, with me it’s the occasional product return shipping label, ticket for those companies who haven’t yet figured out the irony of making you print an e-ticket and online visa applications.

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    • thejuanald says:

      Industry will not become paperless in the near future, especially in the sciences. My work has batch records that are hundreds of page long, and on my project, we make at least one of those batch records every two weeks. That’s just from me, and I work in the leading company in the world in my field.

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  5. Paul Threatt says:

    B&O already exists for people that want high art in a wider range consumer goods. If Apple wanted to make really expensive, overly thick anodized aluminum office supplies, they’d have very few customers. Apple can convince someone that they could benefit from an iPhone or an iMac that’s worth the “apple tax”, but that pitch would become a joke if you’re talking about a desktop business card holder.

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  6. pucagaeilge says:

    It’s sad to think that American ingenuity has sunk to such levels that only one company, Apple, puts enough thought and care into each product and into the long term ROI that one gets from a truly well-designed product, that no other company comes to mind as a serious competitor.

    Capitalism is good. Competition is good. Why can no other company compete with Apple? Has corporate culture turned into that 1984 commercial?–more of the same, with no real ingenuity?

    Like

    • Fernando Cervantes says:

      I could not agree more with you. That is why I buy Apple products and will continue buying them. Not because of the “elite status” that many people claim gives you, simply and bluntly because I know 100% that I am going to get a high quality product that’s going to last and is going to do everything I need it to without having to figure out how to work it first and without dealing with all the issues that poor design brings about. As if that were not enough to get me to buy an Apple product, the aesthetics of their products speak for themselves. This is why I am not even a bit ashamed to say I buy Apple products, because no other “competitor” can offer what Apple offers me, or by any means COMPETE with Apple.

      Like

  7. thejuanald says:

    My HP 5150 Photosmart printer was a breeze to setup wirelessly, on both my Windows 8.1 machine and my Macbook Air. It was almost exactly what you described as your ideal, except I never had to connect it via USB. Basically it was just Add Printer->Network Printer->pick the only network printer that pops up->type in wireless password->done.

    I agree that Jony Ive would design some amazing peripherals, though, and I would hope they would be compatible with either Windows or OSX. I would buy multiple peripherals right away, for the aesthetics alone.

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  8. Fred Stein says:

    I do love the thought. But remember when Steve said that all of Apple’s products could fit on a kitchen table?
    Or more recently Tim said, “We don’t wan’t make the most products…” The point both make is about simplicity and focus, which makes Apple so great (and so mis-understood). Apple will forego many great opportunities (like a larger screen iPhone – at least for now) in order to keep the whole company focused.

    Apple could easily expand the portfolio which would increase revenue and profit. Then pundits and investors would hail Apple as innovative and a growth company. But eventually Apple would become like all other large companies – governed by policy and process rather than top leaders who fully understand every product.

    One more thing – The Apple ‘tax’ is bogus. When you compare Apple’s product to truly comparable products, the prices are in line. Sometimes Apple’s price is lower. If you subtract the resale value of Apple’s products after 2 years of use, the is NO premium for Apple.

    Like

    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      I’d certainly agree the Apple tax is exaggerated, when compared like-for-like, and resale is a big element. I sold a three-year-old MBP for £600. A comparable 3yo Windows machine might have realised half of that.

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  9. That whole “Apple tax” thing is a myth. Aesthetics aside, if you spec out a comparable machine from PC manufacturers often you actually pay more. People don’t seem to understand. Apple is more expensive, but not due to a hidden tax. It’s like saying why buy a BMW when you can buy a Ford? Dell sells Fords, Apple sells BMWs. It’s that simple. It’s a higher quality product. Some people are perfectly happy driving a Ford as well as using a cheap plastic $400 computer, but like everything, you get what you pay for.

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    • thejuanald says:

      It didn’t use to be a myth, and it isn’t a myth still in terms of desktops.

      In terms of notebooks, it’s getting pretty close. A maxed out Dell XPS 15″ with a 512GB SSD is only $250 cheaper than a maxed out Macbook Pro and they have the same specs otherwise. The only differences are that the Dell XPS has a touch screen, higher resolution monitor that is much better than the Macbook Pro’s Retina Display and that the MBP is way more aesthetically pleasing. I would call that an overall draw, maybe leaning toward the Dell XPS at $2350 compared to the $2600 of the MBP. It all comes down to what’s more important to the person buying it. The screens on those Dells are really nice, but the overall body of the MBP is so pretty.

      I think where the Apple tax comes along mostly is in making the optional additions to the base models.

      Like

  10. I’ve owned a couple Apple printers in the past. As much as I loved my StyleWriter, I’d really love another LaserWriter.

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  11. While I would love an Apple designed printer, scanner, speaker setup. I think bundling them with the Mac purchase would give customers a feeling of Dellesqueness which is something no one wants.

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  12. I recently had the unfortunate task of changing my company’s phone system from a traditional phone line to VOIP service. I found VOIP phone service and VOIP phones to be an unintuitive mess. There is definitely an opportunity for a company like Apple to come in and change that industry. Apple already has FaceTime audio; add the ability to call non-facetime customers and they’d have a compelling VOIP alternative. Obviously, Apple could substantially improve on the phone hardware as well. No idea if the size of this market would attract Apple, but it is fun to dream about.

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  13. John Smith says:

    I’d like Apple to focus a bit more on having their products actually work and less on Jonny Ives personal opinions of what looks nice. I was paying more for a premium product, not a pretty product.

    Pretty much every product or software release is rapidly followed by x.1.01, x.1.02, x.1.03 etc with some prospect of it actually working at an undisclosed point of time. This week we have found that the most basic security functionality on virtually all their products was untested and non-functional for at least 18 months.

    Frankly I don’t need a plain white printer that doesn’t print or a plain white chair with no back and 3.5 legs which collapses when I sit on it.

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  14. PMZanetti says:

    I often wish they would replace many other items on my desk. Including External storage that is not $400 for 3 TB.

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  15. Why doesn’t Apple make this printer?: http://www.artefactgroup.com/content/work/swyp/
    Just watch the video, it’s awesome.

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  16. I like reading Ben’s blogs, they’re not snobbish or arrogant and good valid points!

    Like

  17. Shaun G says:

    It would be nice if Apple made an ultra thin and light portable wireless printer/scanner than I could slip into my bag alongside my MB and iPad. Maybe even create something that doesn’t require ink. There are some label printers that use special paper so they don’t need to use regular ink cartridges. That would certainly help to expand the concept of the mobile office.

    Like

  18. drtyrell969 says:

    This is brilliant and long overdue. When I worked with Steve, the Apple store was PACKED with all kinds of cool Apple branded products. Bring it back!

    Like

  19. DubTheDJ says:

    Another great opinion piece Ben, i’d also love to see some brilliant Apple designed accessories. Not a big printer user but I remember this ‘See What You Print’ concept video from a few years back that i’d love to see as a real life product.

    Like

  20. animatedude says:

    finally someone speak my mind! i’ve been saying this for a a long time now! i would love for Apple to make a range of peripherals.and yes let’s start with printers…..you might be surprised but i never purchased a printer because of aesthetics reasons….all the the printers in the market right now look the same as printers from 15 years ago…ugly.

    Like

  21. Marklewood at Serenity Lodge says:

    Frankly, yes, I’d rather spend extra bucks for peripherals made by Apple specifically for Apple computers, iPhones, iPads, etc., than deal with this crap that one ends up struggling to get set up and then doesn’t work half the time afterwards.

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  22. yeah that will be good, $200 stapler which staples like never before, and you will never miss a shot ;)

    Like

  23. sc0rch1ng says:

    I use Brother MFC-7860DWR printer in my office.
    It supports WPS to connect to wi-fi network faster. It has Ethernet port in case your office doesn’t have wi-fi.
    Setting it up in OS X took me smth. around 10 sec: System preferences>Printers&Scanners>”+”>Add, OS X will download the driver, done! Works perfectly!

    Like

  24. Clara Marie says:

    Apple tax! Like that expression. I must admit I was disappointed with my MacBook in 2007, plastic casing cracked and the battery went flat very quickly. now useless. their airprint wireless printing is slowly improving, but have been using the print n share app for mobile printing

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  25. Just bought a new printer – it’s an awful black monster! Would be great to have an Apple-stylish printer near the desk.

    Like