Yeah, there was a lot of sexy stuff in Apple’s announcement today: new thinner video iPods, iMacs with remote controls and built-in video cameras, new video features in iTunes.
But the story that got buried was the fact that Apple also released a USB dial-up modem. Why? For the folks who buy those new iMacs but don’t have a cable or ADSL connection. Among Apple’s customers, they are now the exception to the rule.
Until today, every single iMac shipped with a dial-up modem. Back in the late 1990s and even the early 2000s, for most of us, every Internet connection we made began with those whooshes and beeps.
But times change. And broadband (which connects using the iMac’s built-in Ethernet port) is now widespread enough that Apple figures customers won’t miss the modem jack. And those who still need it presumably now feel sufficiently marginalized that they’ll be willing to fork over US$49 to keep their connection alive.
Probably fair enough (especially if you’re shelling out something around two grand for an iMac in the first place). But there are some unsettling implications depending on how far this approach spreads, and how quickly. There’s still a big wide digital divide between tech haves and have-nots, and broadband is firmly on the privileged side of that gulf. Giving the haves even more of an advantage only serves to magnify the divide.
That said, the good news is that broadband has spread widely and quickly enough that Apple can make this choice as a sound business decision. And that’s the biggest reason those sexy new video features make sense.
The industry rightly sees Steve Jobs’ release of the original iMac, and the death of the floppy drive, as a milestone in the development of personal computing. The death of the dial-up modem will be remembered the same way.