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Can Apple Do the Unthinkable Again?

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.