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  • A Slice of Silliness

    August 21st, 2014

    So there's a commentary from a blogger at a certain well-known tech site suggesting that Apple needs to compete with the — take a deep breath — Chromebook, Google's no-frills OS. The what? Yes, I am quite serious. The article in question, for which I will not provide the link for obvious reasons, appears to be sincere and all that, but the sheer ignorance about Apple and the marketplace is just too much to ignore.

    Before I get into the details, a demand that Apple make cheap stuff isn't new. It all dates back to the very early days of the Mac, where an IBM PC or compatible almost always cost considerably less except for the high-end models.

    Indeed, when the first netbooks came out — those very cheap and small and almost useless PC notebooks — there were demands that Apple get into the game or lose out on loads of potential sales. But not profits, since it's questionable whether Asus or any of the other netbook makers accomplished anything more than move a lot of product for a time with very little gain. Apple's response, the first iPad at $499, destroyed the netbook market in the first year.

    With smartphones, there are constant demands that Apple do cheap. Aren't Samsung and Android trouncing Apple with cheap handsets? Well, that depends on your definition of trouncing. More units doesn't mean higher profits, since cutthroat pricing reduces profits to the minimum. The standard bearer for this approach, Samsung, has reported flat sales and diminishing profits. They are being hit at both ends of the market by cheap handsets from China's Xiaomi Tech and other companies at the low end, and at the high end by Apple.

    Xiaomi's MI smartphones are marketed as lower cost alternatives to iPhones, and the company is trying hard to pretend to be China's Apple. But all they are doing is to take a skinned version of Android, called MIUI, and selling to the same customers as other Android gear. Since it is a forked version of Android, Google doesn't benefit, although it's all jumbled together when certain industry analysts attempt to paint a better picture of the platform's market share.

    So that takes us to the Chromebook, and the illusion from that commentator that Apple can somehow build a cheaper notebook by using some sort of "enhanced" version of iOS. Since the OS is given away free — and it's questionable how much of what you pay for a Mac goes to the costs of building the OS, or even that it's more than iOS — I hardly see any advantage.

    When it comes to the alleged inflated cost of Apple hardware, the so-called "Apple Tax," a MacBook Air or MacBook Pro uses premium hardware. You match that hardware as much as possible on a Windows PC, and add bundled software that's superficially similar, and the price difference isn't that significant. Sometimes it's nearly non-existent, and at the high end, the Mac Pro is cheaper. And don't forget the price of a Microsoft Surface 3, which is decidedly not cheap when compared to the MacBook Air.

    So much for the alleged price advantage.

    Besides, if you want a cheap PC from Apple, there's always the iPad. If they built one with a screen to match that of the MacBook Air, it would cost almost as much before you added the price of extra storage and more RAM. So where's the advantage, other than to splinter the platform?

    How Apple could somehow build a solid, reliable "Slice" notebook with iOS or OS X and sell it for $400 isn't explained. Apple could certainly beat the pants of other companies at that price point, because of having a better handle on the raw materials and the supply chain. But you'd still get a load of junk, and the customers who have embraced Apple would be sorely disappointed.

    The article goes on to talk about sharing apps, improved battery life and other nonsense that betrays very little knowledge of what Apple does or what it costs to build quality tech gear.

    Just as troubling is the claim that the author has 20 years experience working on the Mac, Linux, Unix and Windows platforms. That he can write an article exhibiting such ignorance makes me wonder if he, and the site on which it was published, aren't simply presenting a ridiculous concept as hit bait.

    Besides, are Chromebooks all so successful that Apple should regard them as competitive threats? The author in question seems to think they are, but an IDC survey from last year indicated that Chromebooks had only 1% of the worldwide PC/tablet market. That's not the 1% of customers any company would crave.

    So at the very least, Apple is being urged to build an unprofitable notebook to compete with a platform that has a far lower market share than Macs. Admittedly Chromebooks seem to fare much better in the U.S. in some segments, but that's hardly something to admire or imitate.

    Indeed, when some people who are already using Macs or PCs have asked me whether to consider a Chromebook, my response is always why? Logic, however, isn't allowed to get in the way when a blogger wants to generate extra traffic.



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    2 Responses to “A Slice of Silliness”

    1. […] Check out the latest article by GCN’s “Tech Night Owl,” Gene Steinberg right here: A Slice of Silliness. […]

    2. Aardman says:

      I'm beginning to read reports that the Xiaomi phones are incredibly shoddy pieces of youknowwhat with ill-fitting components and things falling off brand new phones. This news has been a grave disappointment for the people who fervently believe that you can truly get more than what you pay for.

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