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  • Some Good and Not-So-Good Updates For Apple

    February 2nd, 2009

    Whenever you hear people tell you that the Mac has a teeny tiny market share, you should alert them to the latest news, because they seem to be somewhat out of touch. You see, according to Net Applications, which surveys a huge chunk of Web sites to gather such details, the Mac OS gathered 9.93 percent of the total in January. Small yes, tiny no.

    Even better, media analysts who have said that Microsoft owns 90% of the world’s personal computer desktops need to begin to revise their estimates. The latest number is 88.26%. Now that may be close enough, but don’t forget how Firefox fared not so many years ago when it surpassed 10% of the browser market and the skeptics still suggested that Internet Explorer 7, combined with the impending arrival of Windows Vista, would halt that upstart’s progress.

    These days, Mozilla’s worldwide share is 21.5%, Safari (both Mac and PC) lies at 8.3% and Internet Explorer is holding on to 67.6%. With nearly a third of the market using a non-Microsoft browser, webmasters have fewer excuses than ever to tailor their content strictly to the eccentricities of Internet Explorer. Of course, they’ll be forced to often develop workarounds that allow IE to render the content, but maybe Internet Explorer 8 will remedy at least some of that disparity.

    This isn’t to say that everything is coming up roses for Apple. It’s quite true that they confounded the street when they delivered stellar sales figures and earnings for the past quarter. But within those numbers were troubling signs. Mac sales were high, and 71% were note-books, on the upside. Desktops, which include the iMac, Mac mini and Mac Pro, declined.

    For competitive reasons, Apple doesn’t really break out the specifics, except to say that the iMac did well, even though it’s clearly overdue for a refresh, which may come this month. The Mac mini is also overdue, but Apple isn’t answering questions about its future, so we don’t know if it’ll just get a cheap refresh, with speedier internals, or there will be a major revision involving the case and other details.

    Then there’s the Mac Pro, Apple’s powerful workstation, whose sales also faltered. Some are suggesting it’s because there hasn’t been an update to the product since early 2008, and tight money has made this model’s prime audience, content creators, more hesitant to spend the extra dollars right now.

    If you can believe the published reports, Intel will have more powerful Xeon processors available by late March, which would perhaps make for a spring upgrade. No doubt graphic cards will be brought up to date as well, but it’s questionable whether the aging case or its internals will be subject to further alteration. It’s not as if the looks that resemble an oversized aluminum cheese grater are going to be changed, or even that there’s any reason for Apple revise its looks. Most people who own a Mac Pro stick them below their desks, and spend their work days staring at the display.

    What won’t happen, no doubt, is an end to production of desktop Macs. I realize where the market is heading, and that even PCs are going portable in larger numbers. But for me and others, there will be a need for a powerful desktop computer for a number of years, and so long as Apple can continue to sell a decent number of them, they won’t disappear.

    In fact, there are now rumors, unconfirmed as usual, that at least the high-end iMacs will get one of those new low-power quad-core processors from Intel. Of course, everything has a downside, and such a model is apt to cannibalize sales from the Mac Pro, but to what degree nobody can estimate, except possibly for Apple’s own product planners who work with data that nobody outside of the company can access.

    I do think, however, that lower desktop sales probably put the kibosh on the prospects for a midrange expandable desktop Mac. In theory, it’s a neat idea, but even with a growing Mac market share, it is questionable how much they want to fragment their desktop product lineup. Just because the media and some Mac users clamor for such a beast doesn’t mean the interest is sufficient to guarantee success.

    The other high question mark is whether Apple intends to play in the netbook space. Yes, I realize that Apple’s leadership continues to pour cold water on the concept, or claim that the iPhone and iPod touch are their answer to such needs.

    But that’s not the entire picture. Despite being quite small, a netbook has a workable keyboard, and much greater screen real estate. While they are otherwise little different from regular note-books, Apple has lots of possibilities to make a play in this arena. Again, consider the implications of a Pro version of the iPhone, with both physical keyboard and touch capability. Or maybe just a USB input for a standard keyboard if you feel you need one.

    One thing is certain: Even though Apple refuses to recognize the 25th anniversary of the Mac, they still have the mojo to amaze us. Despite the continued absence of Steve Jobs from the company, you should expect some genuine surprises in the next few months.

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