Can Apple Do the Unthinkable Again?

August 1st, 2006

Back in the 1960’s, the American ambassador to the U.N. used the words “hell freezes over,” in referring to a demand made of his Soviet counterpart during the height of the Cold War. That famous phrase seems to come back over and over in lots of circumstances, and certainly in our little corner of the world. Well, make that a small but growing corner of the world.

So I suppose your eyes didn’t widen when Apple made the iPod compatible with Windows and released a version of iTunes to accompany the expanded capability. Today, in fact, there are more people using the iPod on Windows than on the Mac.

I would also imagine that, when Steve Jobs confirmed published reports about the switch to Intel processors last year, you took that news with an similar amount of equanimity. Certainly many of you bought Intel-based Mac with few complaints, and Apple is working to address the early-release bugs, such as the batteries on some MacBook Pros.

At the same time, however, there are things left undone, gaps in Apple’s market, which could give the company greater penetration in the business market if addressed.

The other day, I suggested a minitower, a Mac that fell between the mini and the professional desktop, which we assume will be a Mac Pro. That would be the real headless iMac I talked about so often a couple of years back, before the mini came about and seemed to address that need.

Only it didn’t, because it wasn’t so much a headless iMac as a headless iBook — and now headless MacBook. In response, I gather some of our readers agree with me that this would be a product they would buy, if available.

In addition to the minitower, or mid-range machine, I think Apple ought to consider special packaging to address certain markets. A special professional desktop for the gamer’s market, for example, complete with the appropriate joystick and frame-blasing gaming card.

Another possibility is a true thin and light note-book. Now the typical definition for such a product is a weight range four to six pounds, and certainly the MacBook and the regular MacBook Pro fit into the upper levels of that category; the former is 5.2 pounds in fact.

Understand the MacBook is somewhat beefed up to sustain additional wear and tear in an educational environment and I’m not suggesting Apple produce something that is easily damaged. At the same time, if it was given a form factor closer to the MacBook Pro, with, say, that 13.3-inch or even a 12-inch screen, I can see where you’d have something tipping the scales at 4.5 pounds.

This may not seem such a big deal to you, but when you consider that there are lots of Windows portables in that range, there is apparently a real demand. More important, when you have to lug a note-book computer around all day, every ounce hurts.

I also think it’s clear that Apple is riding the consumer wave well enough, but continues to ignore business potential. Yes, I know that more and more firms are considering Macs these days, although how many will actually buy them is anyone’s guess. In a larger company, I can see a purchasing manager going over to the head of the IT department, uttering the word “Mac,” and getting a “hell freezes over” in response.

You see, the sort of audience is the kind that will buy a thousand or even ten thousand Macs as quickly as you or I might be one. It is a market that is Windows-entrenched, and I can see where issues of training and transferring of user licenses from one platform to another can make the accountants scream.

Reaching that market cannot be done with the sort of selling technique that begins and ends with those silly little “Get a Mac” TV ads, but with hard-nosed account executives who come equipped with facts and figures to demonstrate the Mac is a better buy. There will have to be lots of hands-on guidance to take the larger company across the great platform divide, for example. They can’t just be depended upon to receive a truck filled with boxes and fend for themselves.

In the end, the IT person must be made to feel that living in a new computing environment will not necessarily endanger their jobs, but empower them to work on building more efficient and reliable networks and less on chasing down system bugs and malware.

It’s not an area where Apple has made all that much of an impact, except in certain markets, such as the creative area. But with growing disenchantment with Windows, there’s nothing wrong with going after as many sales as it can, even where the doors might still be shut.

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12 Responses to “Can Apple Do the Unthinkable Again?”

  1. Weili says:

    It is true that Mac mini is underpowered but it doesn’t make any (economical) sense to make a model that falls between Mac mini and Mac Pro, especially when there’s already the iMac. It would be nice if we can all buy a Mac made especially for our needs but that’s not how a company makes money.

    As for a “gaming Mac”, being a Mac gamer myself, I must say this idea is not going to float, at least in the near future. Fact is, the games that are available for Mac is barely adequate to call Mac a gaming platform. Serious gamers would buy a console or a PC. Being a huge Mac fan myself, even I am occasionally tempted to buy a PC just to run a few games. Of course, this problem could be solved once I get a Mac Pro and install Boot Camp. Bottom line is, even if Apple released a “gaming Mac”, it would undoubtedbly be more expensive than a “gaming PC” and even a console, and with the lack of games on the Mac, what’s the point?

  2. As for a “gaming Mac”, being a Mac gamer myself, I must say this idea is not going to float, at least in the near future. Fact is, the games that are available for Mac is barely adequate to call Mac a gaming platform. Serious gamers would buy a console or a PC. Being a huge Mac fan myself, even I am occasionally tempted to buy a PC just to run a few games. Of course, this problem could be solved once I get a Mac Pro and install Boot Camp. Bottom line is, even if Apple released a “gaming Mac”, it would undoubtedbly be more expensive than a “gaming PC” and even a console, and with the lack of games on the Mac, what’s the point?

    Ah, the cart before the horse syndrome. Maybe if Apple made a big move in this direction, and a strong push to get more games ported, we might see some positive results.

    And why should it be more expensive than a similarly equipped Alienware, for example?


  3. Robert Boylin says:

    I’m in the market too for a mini-tower Mac without great confidence in seeing one this month. For gamers I can see an aluminum enclosure being available in a couple of color schemes when special ordered. This would be the easiest way for Apple to test the waters. Apple may well make a very light portable; but it’s more likely to appear next year with Intel’s ’07 technology.

    The corporate customer is demanding beyond the IT resistance. Mulit-year purchase planning is presented to management. Apple refuses to provide the needed roadmap info to make corporations comfortable in their purchase decisions. Beyond that, a lack of field support and Apple’s reluctance to shape their culture towards the corporate mindset will continue to limit their success. Apple’s more likely to enjoy success in small and medium business segments. Focusing on server and storage is an area Apple can expand their success in corporate levels. That’s likely to remain the limit on their focus for some time IMHO. The consumer side has more predictable success outcomes while playing to Apple’s strengths.

  4. simon says:

    Apple would never make a gaming machine. They are outclassed in this area. I’m told that OpenGL optimization (on a Mac) is the key to success. You can port all the games till kingdom come but it won’t help if they run poorly. Remember it’s not Apple that is porting the games, it the game manufacturers. Apple needs to convince them to continue to build Mac version of games. At this point, in order to increase Mac game developement, the only real way to do that is to provide a platform that blows the PC/XBox/Playstation out of the water. If Apple can build such a machine, the game developers will come. When people see and experience a superior gaming platform, they will come.

    Also, don’t forget, in order to have a superior gaming platform, Apple will need surround sound support. So far this doesnt exist (except for playing DVD).

  5. jung says:

    Apple may downsize the desktop all together. Certain creative markets (audio/video) require PCI-X/PCI-E expansion and multiple hard drives. But most don’t and want smaller size, but more power than an iMac. When was the last time you installed a PCI card? External USB, Firewire, SATA, devices are much easier to install (just plug it in) but the trade off is having a lot more wires and mismatch of shapes and sizes and colors.

    The solution? Imagine a modular design that is a mini-tower that can be expanded to a full size tower. Imagine modules such as: Airport, cable/dsl modem, card reader, raid drives, removable HD, ipod Dock, HDTV tuner, etc. This way you have easy expansion, reduced need for extra wires, maintain consistent aesthetics w/o customizing the core system.

    Another idea: Current technology brings us to the point of making available “portable desktops”. I think some other company is already doing this. These are essentially giant 20″ LCD laptops w/o battery…. kind of like an iMac but more power and expadability.

  6. Poster says:

    The underlying problem with enterprise sales is that it definitely threatens the IT schmuck’s existence. There’s no way around that, when you consider just how many machines a single Mac IT guy can maintain vs. the departments that the PC folks need. The IT staff is 99% dead weight and is a byproduct of Windows’ unnecessary complexity and jerry-rigged solutions to make it work. I’m afraid there’s nothing that you can tell these people but, “You’re the weakest link. Goodbye.” Surely they are aware just how inefficient the Windows setup is. After all, that’s why so many of them have already migrated to Linux at home.

  7. Max says:

    Well i hope Apple produce a hi-end gaming machine, not because im a gamer, but its a strategy that needs to be placed, for the real increase of sales to happen.

    A MacPro could have the kind of dock that jung sugested, and still be available for pro users.

    But its clear for all of us that Apple earns more over price, than quantity, being allocated in a cathegory of “luxury” product, away from a regular low priced branded pc like Dell.

    I just want them to maintaign its top product position, making it clear that Macs still are superior machines.

  8. Tero says:

    Here in Europe, the corporate and especially the educational markets are moving into Linux based solutions, definitely not into Macs. I’ve never heard any one even considering a Mac as a viable alternative, since they’re considered purely consumer oriented products, which is true, of course. Apple has done absolutely nothing make the Mac/OSX combo a corporate grade platform; their target is now almost 100% on the consumer side of the fence.

    But then, why should they even try to go now head-on against the Windows and Linux based corporate solutions, when the consumer market is as lucrative as it is, and they’re starting to see some success therein? Apple should build upon that receipt, rather than waste time and resources now on some half-hearted attempts at the corporate market. That can come later on, backed up with real corporate oriented products and solutions, if so desired.

  9. Arthur Smokestomuch says:

    > Apple has done absolutely nothing make the Mac/OSX combo a corporate grade platform…

    ?… *blink blink* ??

    Yea… absolutly nothing “corporate grade” about the Mac/ Mac OS X combo…

    … ummm… yea… ?

  10. don S says:

    Mac will not be widely accepted in the larger business community until IT people have been assured their jobs will not disappear. That is the main stumbling block, IMHO. They are like the linotype operators of the old newspaper industry who doggedly fought electronic typesetting. So there may be a growth industry in-the-making to help the entrenched masses breathe. Create a company to manage the crossover tasks and re-train existing IT personnel.

    I’d like to hear comments.

  11. RobInNZ says:

    Ummmm. Scuse my possible ignorance Jung, but how would one plug in an external SATA drive without first installing a controller card in the PCI-E bus?

  12. Paul Christensen says:

    I had the occasion to talk to a corporate purchasing manager/Comptroller at a dinner party last weekend and I mentioned to him that I just purchased a new MacBook. He said he just refreshed some laptops for his company, a US Government Contractor, and there was input from some people who wanted Dell Laptops and some wanted Macs. He bought all MacBooks/MacBook Pro Laptops and solved the issue for both. I think you will see this happening more and more since the MacBooks are competitively price, and can “Do Windows” as fast as any Dell, HP or IBM. I have been a Mac User (and a Windows user) for almost 20 years and went from my G5 Dual 1.8 to the MacBook and found it faster (MacBook). I believe Apple is on the verge of taking sare and kicking butt in the Corporate word. When new technologies like “Cross-over” are available the impact will be even greater. If Apple can prove to the corporate IT “C-levels” the Mac is not a “Toy” and can be a good corporate citizen and save them money they will keep gaining ‘share.

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