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The Products Apple Shouldn’t Make!

You know a lot of the media and financial analysts out there write a troubling amount of copy suggesting that Apple is truly missing the boat if they don’t try a particular marketing strategy, or produce a certain product.

While I am not above making a few suggestions myself from time to time, I don’t pretend to really have a thorough background in product development or sales, and thus I would probably be the last person to devise a workable strategy. I can certainly tell you what products I’d like to see, and hope that Apple or another company might find a way to fill that need, but that’s all I can do.

Certainly, the folks who publish their suggestions to Apple are, for the most part, well-meaning and all, but sometimes they come up with suggestions that just don’t make sense, or were tried in the past by Apple and others and failed miserably.

At the top of the list is the oft-repeated demand that Apple unlock Mac OS X and release it for all PCs, so that they can compete head to head with Microsoft on the very same hardware.

They seem to forget that Apple tried a cloning strategy in the mid-1990s. The licensed the Mac OS and reference hardware designs and a few manufacturers signed up and began to sell Macs dressed in low-end PC clothing.

Unfortunately, that particular deal was ill-advised. Rather than expand the market for Macs in the wake of the success of Windows 95, these Mac OS licensees went after Apple’s core markets with a vengeance. Power Computing was perhaps the worst offender. Indeed, not having to sell products in the same quantities as Apple, and spending minimal time designing their rebadged PC cases, they actually beat Apple to the punch in getting out new models with speedier processors.

Well, that was long ago and far away. Steve Jobs returned to Apple and did his best to ditch the cloning program. What the critics don’t realize about Apple is that its structure is not like Microsoft or Dell for that matter. They sell hardware with integrated software, a complete solution. That situation is quite unlike the other PC makers, who have to go to Microsoft for most of their operating system needs; that is, except for the ones who are bundling Linux with their products.

The Mac OS is what makes Apple’s hardware distinctive, in addition to the elegant looks of course. Letting other PC makers bundle Mac OS X might expand Apple’s share, but it would also help gut sales of the hardware, which is where the lion’s share of the profits originate from.

Of course, if the pundits who seem to have forgotten such fine details would just break out their calculators before writing their purple prose, they might sing a different tune. Then again, maybe they just don’t care.

Add to the list of products Apple doesn’t need is a cheap iPhone. Apple doesn’t want to become another Nokia, LG or any of the other mainstream cell phone makers. They only enter product segments where they think they can make a difference, and make great profits of course. Far too many companies believe that they have to fill every conceivable niche, and they might even add a few more for safe keeping. As a result, customers often have to choose from among overlapping products that seem to lack fine distinctions.

Consider the cheap PC box you buy at, say, a Wal-Mart, for $499. It comes with the display, mouse and keyboard, and a basic software selection. I suppose it even works decently enough, but compared to even the Mac mini, it’s probably a load of junk, and Apple has protested time and time again that they cannot compete with such offerings without also delivering mediocrity.

This isn’t to say that the Mac mini is going to disappear or just remain in the lineup without any change. Once you add the display and input devices, even the $599 mini sets you back $700 or $800, although you can use the ones you have, of course. That doesn’t make it overpriced, as some are apt to suggest, but I won’t get into the issue of genuine cost comparisons right now

Apple is also highly likely to avoid requests to turn the Apple TV into just another DVR, one little different from a TiVO or the box your get from your cable or satellite TV provider. Other than TiVO, those products are usually rented or sold at low cost by those providers strictly to get you to order their services, from which they make the real profits. Where’s the value in that? Besides, when was the last time TiVO earned a profit — or the first for that matter?

I’m sure you readers can come up with lots of other products that Apple doesn’t need to build. I suppose you can include a large screen flat panel TV and a host of other gadgets that serve already-saturated markets. As for me, I’ve only just begun.