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  • The Tiger Report: Apple’s Secret Operating System

    May 14th, 2005

    So what did you think when you first read that headline? Right, that I’m going to tell you something about a future version of Mac OS X, or at least that’s the initial impression. But that’s not the case. I have something else in mind, and I’ll get to the point very quickly.

    You see, the other night I was just hanging out, watching the “tube,” when I noticed an iPod commercial. No big deal, since I’ve seen them before. I also saw an ad for a Creative music player, and it was pathetic. If you judged success by the quality of the ads, Apple wins hands down, but that’s not the only reason for the iPod’s amazing dominance of the market. But there was one commercial I did not see, and that was one advertising new Macs or Mac OS X.

    In fact, has anyone seen or heard any broadcast ads for Tiger? Think carefully, as I’m real curious about it. I’d love to be able to tell you that there is an advertising campaign in progress, and I’ve just not run across the right program. Maybe my tastes are just too elite (yeah, sure!), since I seldom watch a top ten rated show. Now if I was hooked on “Desperate Housewives,” would I catch one? Probably not, because operating systems just aren’t sexy enough for the mass market. I mean, how do you tell the average Joe or Jane about the joys of Spotlight and Dashboard and all the rest?

    Notice I didn’t say anything about the Mac’s relative freedom from malware, and I’ll ignore the controversy over potential vulnerabilities in Dashboard, as that story is still being written. The general feeling is that any major emphasis on the subject would serve as an invitation for the miserable creatures who create those virus to come on over and see just how susceptible the Mac really is to such damage.

    But can you really say Tiger is too obscure a subject for the general public? Well, I suppose it could be used as part of a general Mac ad campaign, right? After all, it’s not that the mainstream press hasn’t reviewed 10.4. In fact, I’ve seen more coverage of Tiger than any previous Mac operating system for as long as I can remember, and that’s pretty long.

    Now I don’t pretend to understand Apple’s marketing strategy. I suppose it’s possible that Apple believes that continued iPod boosting will be sufficient to allow other products to bask in the glow. Someone goes to the local electronics outlet to buy one, and perhaps a Mac mini catches their eye, but what if the store doesn’t carry Macs? Just the other day, for example, I noticed that the iPod is now at Circuit City, along with an adequate variety of accessories. But no Macs. From this corner of the world, the halo effect works best when a Mac is on display cheek by jowl with the iPod. That way you see the connection, since both sport Apple logos.

    Wal-Mart? Yes, the HP version of the iPod is getting some test marketing, but the possibility that the world’s largest retail chain is going to carry Macs is next to nil.

    All right, I’m not disputing the worth of the halo effect. It does seem to be working, if the recent growth in Apple’s share of the PC market is any indication. Or maybe it would have happened anyway, simply because more and more people have become disgusted with the slings and arrows of dealing with the mess known as Microsoft Windows. More and more Windows users are actively seeking alternatives, although I do not think Bill Gates is shaking in his boots just yet. After all, even Mac users buy Office, and I am willing to bet Microsoft earns more money per sale from our little corner of the universe, so it’s a win-win situation for them.

    On the other hand, I simply don’t believe that personal computers can succeed by word of mouth alone. After all, TV viewers are being blanketed by spots about the likes of Dell and Gateway. Gateway? Yes, did you see those absurd ads featuring dozens and dozens of extras running across the fields with Gateway boxes in their greasy hands? Does that somehow signify that Gateway is successful, or simply that they stole them from CompUSA? Or maybe they are rushing to the recycling center, the better to dispose of those dreadful things.

    We come down to this: You readers are pretty well connected and you don’t need a TV campaign to know that Tiger exists. In fact, any Mac user who spends a little time pouring over the news pages on the Internet ought to be fairly well informed on the subject. The fact that even Windows-oriented publications cover Tiger doesn’t hurt.

    But there are far too many out there who never read the technology pages, watch technology segments on TV or read computer magazines. Most of them own PCs running Windows. How are they going to know that Apple has a brand new operating system? How will they know that it offers features that are still pipedreams on the Windows platform, and won’t appear until Longhorn is released, and maybe not even then?

    Will they discover the Mac or Mac OS X simply by watching dancing stick figures dancing and prancing while listening to iPods? I don’t think so. But as I said, I don’t know all that much about marketing.



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