Is Steve Jobs Really Milking the Macintosh?

August 19th, 2008

When I read a commentary from John Martellaro of The Mac Observer this week, suggesting that Apple might want to use some of its huge cash reserves to construct a highly-automated manufacturing facility as a hedge against poor working conditions and uncertainties in Asia, I was struck by a single paragraph that contained a quote from Steve Jobs dating back to February of 1996.

Speaking to Fortune magazine, Jobs said: “If I were running Apple, I would milk the Macintosh for all it’s worth — and get busy on the next great thing. The PC wars are over. Done. Microsoft won a long time ago.”

Understand this all happened months before Apple actually bought NeXT and brought Steve Jobs back to the company he co-founded, so maybe there was a touch of sour grapes or Monday morning quarterback posturing in that remark.

Indeed, it’s clear to me that Apple is becoming far more aggressive in its efforts to expand the Mac market, which has to come at the expense of Microsoft. Of course, this is one of those odd business relationships where two companies may compete in some areas, and cooperate in others. It’s all done for the worthy goal of making as much money as possible.

But what comes back to haunt us is whether there was something in the back of Jobs’ fertile imagination that encouraged him to make this statement about where to take the Macintosh. I mean, it’s not as if there have been huge advancements in Apple’s personal computer technology subsequent to the release of Mac OS X. All of the enhancements have been incremental, designed to better exploit the tools they were already using.

As far as Macs themselves are concerned, there really haven’t been huge changes in the form factor or the basic feature sets either. Apple is largely leveraging the latest chip designs from Intel, and, of course, AMD/ATI and NVIDIA, its graphic processor suppliers.

Even when there has an exclusive design from Intel tailored to an Apple product, such as the MacBook Air, Apple’s real competitive advantage is at best a few months. After that, the rest of the PC makers get their own chance to use the very same parts.

Certainly all this has combined to deliver lots of big profits to Apple. Mac sales are growing at several times the rate of personal computers in general, and the market share figures have exceeded 10% in some segments of the U.S. market. In fact, in the price categories in which Apple competes, Macs get a majority share of retail PC purchases. Way to go!

So is this really an attempt to milk the market until it plateaus? Indeed, are we, as some tech pundits have suggested, in the twilight of the PC era, where something new and different will inevitably take over in the near future?

Certainly, the overall movement is towards the mobile platform. Around two thirds of Apple’s computer sales are note-books now, and more than half of PCs in general. Certainly having the computing power of a desktop in a compact case is very convenient, because, except for a few niche markets, you don’t have to place a huge, lumbering beast of a tower below your desk. Today’s Mac note-books can be comfortably carted from place to place as needed — and that even applies to the 17-inch MacBook Pro. You can hook them up to larger, stationery displays and external input devices if you choose, so you definitely have the perfect all-in-one device.

At the same time, Apple’s new Wi-Fi mobile platform is taking portability into a new direction. Today’s iPhone 3G has far more memory, storage space and sheer processing power than Macs built not so many years ago. While the technology still has its teething pains, it won’t be too many years before you’ll be able to use a handheld computer to perform pretty much all of the tasks formerly reserved to larger devices.

Does this mean you are forever tethered to a touch screen to make such gadgets work? Not necessarily. There’s nothing in the basic technology that — with the appropriate software updates — would prevent you from hooking up wireless input devices, such as a standard mouse and keyboard.

What about external storage and a large flat panel display? Maybe a special docking system in the near-term would handle those chores. It won’t take a lot of time to develop cost-effective hardware that will allow you to get excellent graphics performance without a physical cable connection.

These developments, plus the expansion of standard note-books with low-power chips containing four or more processing cores, will send the traditional desktop PC off to a well-deserved retirement.

Until then, Apple will continue to milk the market for all its worth, no doubt. So it may well be, in what was probably just an off-handed remark, Steve Jobs was totally prophetic.

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19 Responses to “Is Steve Jobs Really Milking the Macintosh?”

  1. Jim Stead says:

    When Steve said that, he was talking about Mac OS 8. He and his team did milk that, by polishing it in version 9 and getting a few more years out of the old OS while writing OS X. He was prophetic in the sense that he followed his own advice… it’s history.

  2. When Steve said that, he was talking about Mac OS 8. He and his team did milk that, by polishing it in version 9 and getting a few more years out of the old OS while writing OS X. He was prophetic in the sense that he followed his own advice… it’s history.

    Perhaps, but he didn’t say “Mac OS,” he said “Macintosh,” which is the computer itself.


  3. Bill Burkholder says:

    The term, ‘Macintosh’ has been used by Apple to indicate both the computer and the entire computing experience identified by it. That allows Steve’s statement to be interpreted on any number of levels.

    Steve is always thinking about and working toward “the next big thing.” Those of us who grew up in that era all read ‘Dick Tracy’ in the comics, at least once. Some of us thought, “Wouldn’t it be cool to actually have a two-way wrist TV?”

    We’re not too far from having them… Thanks to people like Steve Jobs and his teams at Apple. The iPhone is arguably as cool already, and without all the bandwidth issues two-way live video would present.

    I envy my 9-year-old twins for the fun they’ll have with technology…

  4. Terry says:

    That was a long time ago and has nothing to do with current macs and OS X. he is pretty obviously doing far more than milking it which implies sucking as many $$$$ out of it as you can without investing in the platform.

  5. I think he’s past milking and into the cream.

  6. rjschwarz says:

    Even if he meant the hardware he could not have forseen the lackluster reception of Vista and the opportunities that created. Only the insane don’t rethink things when new data comes along.

  7. David says:

    The desktop computer is in decline, but I don’t expect it to disappear any time soon. Even if it stops being the front end for anyone except professionals and gamers, powerful yet bulky machines will live on as our home servers.

    The faster we make our computers and the larger the drives we put in them, the larger and more complex our files become. I don’t see that ever changing. The QuickTake digital camera delivered 640×480 still images and the first QuickTime movies were silent collections of 160×120 pixel frames. Today we shoot RAW images and watch 1080p video with embedded 7.1 audio. Tomorrow we’re going to have 300 dpi displays and demand media files to match.

  8. pat says:

    Steve Jobs often makes bold statements, then does the other. I think he said it wasn’t necessary to have an iPhone, then came out with one. And so on.The recent one was a slam on Kindle by saying people don’t read anymore. Which makes me wonder if they will come out with some kind of tablet that is like a large iPod Touch that has the ability to read books. I don’t expect it, because there doesn’t seem the market for such a large device, but…who knows?

    Steve was talking a long time about about milking the Mac – and I’m sure he really believed it.

    Anyway, Steve’s always onto the next thing, right? The Mac will still be there, but he was interested in the next thing.

    And, so we got the iPod and now the iPhone. Is there anything else left to discover and create? I can’t think of anything, but Apple has always been a hell of a lot smarter than me.


  9. Bridge Burner says:

    Well Mr. Steinberg, yet another fluff piece with only a paycheck in mind. Your article is neither accurate nor informative. Steve Jobs is a jack ass and there were very good reasons he was tossed out of Apple in the first place. Any success he has shown only reflects how poorly and incompetently his predecessors preformed not how well he is doing. Anyone ‘qualified’ for his position would have done equally as well, maybe better. Sadly Apple’s Board is also incompetent and put even more incompetent idiots in the top position. Apple sans Steve has no direction at all… There’s the real story!

    Maybe you should do some research also… A laptop is not a portable desktop. It is a smaller, weaker, more fragile and more expensive baby brother of desktops. Any laptop that could perform head to head against a desktop would have a half hour battery life. Does it really make any sense to pay more (by far) for a smaller screen, nonstandard keyboard, nonstandard mousing devise, slower processor, less memory, smaller hard drive, which also has a much higher failure rate? Premium pricing has always been attached to laptops because of the smaller market and the cost of miniaturization. This is simply no longer true and current models now cost about the same to manufacture. We all clamor for faster computers and broadband speeds yet we unknowingly buy laptops and connect via wireless only to severely reduce their speed. The simple truth is; Desktops connected via copper (or fiber optics) will ALWAYS out perform laptops or wireless connections. How about you write another article to atone for this big load of poop and expose the truth about laptops and wireless, instead of perpetuating the already abundant misconceptions regarding these technologies. Give me a high performance desktop, hard connected to the internet any day! And dump that Bozo Steve!

    On a positive note you did spell your name right…

  10. I realize you’re just a bomb thrower with no real interest in presenting facts, so I’ll just point out that, if you bought Apple’s stock when Steve Jobs returned to the company, you’d be very rich today.


  11. Bridge Burner says:

    Well I did bring up many facts… Those who know Steve well enough will say the same about him. Maybe you should consult some experts regarding laptop and wireless performance also.

    But nice change of subject though…. As I recall Hitler brought Germany out of a recession too. Maybe we should have let him continue his pursuits also?

  12. Well I did bring up many facts… Those who know Steve well enough will say the same about him. Maybe you should consult some experts regarding laptop and wireless performance also.

    But nice change of subject though…. As I recall Hitler brought Germany out of a recession too. Maybe we should have let him continue his pursuits also?

    First let me remind you about your reading comprehension problem, the fact that you ignored the phrase “except for a few niche markets” in my comments about the capabilities of a notebook. Obviously, I realize that the top-of-the-line Mac Pro beats the pants off a MacBook Pro, at least for now. But as quad-core chips become more ubiquitous in the portable space, you’ll see smaller and smaller markets for the traditional desktop workstation.

    In any case, this conversation is taking a very sick turn, with your reference to Hitler. Do us a favor and don’t return with this gibberish. Thank you.


  13. in a small town... says:

    That sorry diversion aside…

    I think Steve Job’s presence in the digital media world has been a boon for many persons no matter their own persuasion or beliefs.

    The advances brought about by those who push others to try harder and advance the boundaries of the present do offer us better tools and processes to solve problems of the present and future.

    And I doubt ‘milking the Mac’ was the real thrust of the topic at the time; & as time oves forward, we can see there is more to the man and more to the world than was seen in general when that was said.

    I wish Steve Jobs well, and good cheer; & the same with all persons and all nations.

    Good luck & happy computing! 🙂

  14. Bill in NC says:

    Moving the Macbook to an aluminum case and the latest version of Intel’s CPU/chipset is evolutionary, not revolutionary.

    Years ago, a company had a product that would project a keyboard onto a flat surface, and sense which “key” you pressed.

    If Apple could integrate that technology into the iPhone…

  15. in a small town ... says:

    Doesn’t the iPhone already have a touch-screen keyboard
    which is used in the horizontal position?

    There are many great ideas still in the Apple portfolio.
    Too bad I couldn’t have afforded the patent on many
    of mine I gave away; some eventually became products.

    The keyboard on the iPhone, along with its touch-screen
    technologies, are rumored to be transferable to MacBook.

    ••• ••• ••• •••

    Good luck & happy computing! 🙂

  16. francisd says:

    The iPhone already has an external display connector, you can buy it on the apple website. Includes a charger too.

  17. The iPhone already has an external display connector, you can buy it on the apple website. Includes a charger too.

    I’m thinking in terms of a wireless connection.


  18. Tristan says:

    Slight side topic…. I do wish Apple would allow the iPhone’s OS to be displayed via the video out cable and not just the iPod side of things!

    An obvious reason would be for Photo Slide shows and YouTube.

    But, also being able to use the iPhone in a car environment… with the GUI showing up on the cars display, this would allow the GPS duties to flourish!

    Apple use this in their iPhone demo’s (I understand that this would be a different sort of connection more than likely just sending the screen commands to a presentation) But it should be possible… shouldn’t it?

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