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  • Are Mac Fans a Dying Breed?

    November 10th, 2006

    Some of you might think that I’m not serious about the headline, but hear me out. Times have changed, and the rabid fandom that consumed all of us for over 20 years may not survive in great numbers as Apple spreads beyond its core loyalists.

    Consider the iPod, which has become a cultural icon, and is in many more homes than Macs these days. Despite the unwavering popularity of the product, just how loyal are its users? Will they just abandon their iPods when they wear out, assuming something better comes along from another company. Or are they wedded to their music players as much as Mac users are devoted to their computers?

    That’s an interesting question raised in light of the impending arrival of Microsoft’s Zune music player. Regardless of how good the player is now, and early reports are decidedly mixed, it’s clear Microsoft is in this for the long haul, or that’s what they claim. Alas, they said the same thing about the PlaysForSure scheme, even though they’re now leaving their partners to hold the bag, as it were. But it’s certain that the Zune and the online Zune Marketplace will improve over time.

    There are also some troubling surveys that have been mentioned from time to time indicating that a fair number of iPod owners would buy a different music player if something better came along. Or at least something they perceived as better. If this is true, loyalty is secondary, but when it comes to cultural icons, the public is always fickle.

    Now when it comes to those newly-minted Mac users who have deserted the Windows platform, where do they stand? Will they become as fanatical about their Macs as the millions of folks who have stayed with the platform all these years?

    Understand that I don’t really regard myself as a fanatic about this or any technology product. I embraced the Mac early on simply because it was a superior tool with which to get my work done. Through thick and thin, even as Apple made lots and lots of stupid mistakes and nearly imploded.

    I continue to work with Macs not just out of habit, but because my experience shows that they are still far more reliable and predictable than Windows PCs. This isn’t to say I don’t have problems from time to time. Some can be quite vexing, but most times, I can forget the computer and just concentrate on my tasks of the moment.

    But what about those switchers, the folks who are new to the platform? Will they be as taken with Macs as we are, or will they just regard it as a superior tool, but one that they wouldn’t abandon should they perceive that Windows wasn’t so bad after all?

    I don’t pretend to know the answers. But I do know that Apple really has to work as hard as it can to “suck them in,” and keep them as customers. This is why I make such a big deal about all those hardware defects with recent Macs. In the scheme of things, perhaps they are no more severe than the issues you encountered on older models. I can even believe that the worst of these problems only affect a relatively small number of users, and that most people never encounter them.

    At the same time, there is that nagging feeling that a bad first impression may just convince a former Windows user that things really aren’t all that great on the other side of the tracks. Sure, Macs might be nicer to look at, and the operating system functions in a more consistent fashion. But constant crashes, discolored casings, sudden shutdowns and other sundry defects can sour all the positive feelings real fast.

    It is true that the Dell, the HP, the Gateway and all the rest have their own problems, and some Windows conflicts can be so vexing, it might take days and possibly a full system restore, including reinstallng all your applications, to set things right. But it’s easy to believe that Mac problems are no less severe, even if they present different symptoms.

    It will take a while before anyone knows whether these new Mac users are just flirting with the platform, and will soon return to their old ways; in other words, back to Windows. If their Mac experiences are reasonably trouble-free, when it comes time to buy another computer, I expect there’s a fair chance it’ll be a Mac. But if things go wrong a little too often, Dell or one of the other companies out there may just reclaim that customer.

    So are Mac fans truly a dying breed, being replaced by folks who don’t possess those old loyalties, who would abandon the platform on a moment’s notice if tempted by a few bad experiences? That’s Apple’s challenge, and it’s one they must overcome if those recent market share gains continue. Remember, people do talk, especially those who have something to complain about, and Apple surely doesn’t need to hear any more complaints.

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