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If Only Intel and Microsoft Had Apple's Mojo

WSJ columnist Lee Gomes tells the story of how simplicity, by design, may be Apple's forte -- but it remains elusive to the likes of Intel and Microsoft.
Just take a look at one of the central products of the emerging post-PC world -- a living-room "media center" that will function like your current set-top box, but will also let you TiVo your favorite shows and access videos on the Web, among other things. Intel is making a big push to get into this market, and has launched a huge campaign around the newly minted Viiv brand to show how its chips work in these devices. But one of the first Viiv-based machines, judging by a review forwarded by industry watcher Pip Coburn, isn't anything I'd want in my house. The unit is described as big, boxy and ugly, with a loud fan and a badly designed remote control that crashes easily and takes a long time to do things even when it does work.

Apple is rumored to be preparing its own living-room video product, and whatever its shortcomings, I have a hard time imagining it getting similarly excoriated. Apple has a built-in benefit, because many assume that whatever it does is cool, the way some pop stars can start fads just by changing clothes.

But mostly, Apple has Mr. Jobs, who functions, in the words of one vendor trying to sell to Apple, as a "one-man focus group," a person with a legendary design sense who insists on getting what he wants. That is possible on the Wintel side, despite occasional claims to the contrary. Both Microsoft and Intel have long had programs in which they certify products as complying with the technical specs of their chips or operating systems. It would take only a bit of imagination to extend that idea to an entire product and the experience of using it.

A "Microsoft-approved music player" or "Intel OK'd media hub" would need a consistent look, fit, finish and user-experience that the iPod does. There are, no doubt, lots of smart, visionary individuals at both companies capable of designing delightful versions of both products. If either company could manage to allow those visions to reach the marketplace without being battered down by committee-think -- in other words, to give one person or one idea Jobs-like powers -- the sky would be the limit.

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