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  • Assuming Facts Not in Evidence

    April 21st, 2009

    Depending on which survey you’ve read, Apple’s market share has either gone up or down slightly so far this year. If you assume the more pessimistic results, you might be inclined to want to tell Apple what they need to do next in order to survive, although you just know they won’t listen.

    Take a column I recently read, one that doesn’t deserve a link, claiming Apple needs to deliver a netbook post haste in order to save the Mac business. Regardless of the sales figures that will be reported this week, that conclusion is sheer nonsense.

    Unlike other PC makers, Apple has not been known to make knee-jerk decisions about what products to sell. That’s not how they grew from the ashes of the 1990s and became as prosperous as they are today. I should also remind the critics that Apple has billions of dollars in the bank — a solvent financial institution we presume — and they are thus able to withstand short-term falloffs in sales without having to change long-term strategy.

    While nobody in their right mind would suggest for a moment that the world’s economic crisis hasn’t hurt Apple, so long as they remain profitable, it probably won’t impact the company’s long-term survival. Indeed, the person who maybe put off switching to a Mac or buying a new one this quarter may be quite willing to do so when finances improve. Even the Windows fanboys aren’t suggesting that Mac users are suddenly fed up paying the alleged “Apple Tax” and are rushing off to buy a PC in the hope of saving a few dollars.

    Yes, it’s true that netbooks seem to be popular these days. But I don’t think their long-term success is proven. Sure, a fair number of people might find that a $299 Asus is all the computer they need and that anything more expensive is a waste of money. Whether or not that’s a sale lost to to Apple is another matter entirely. It may be that the sale simply represents the loss of demand for more expensive Windows PCs, but that also remains to be seen.

    Another possibility is that the people who buy the netbook would prefer something more powerful, more feature-laden, but they simply don’t have the money to make that purchase right now. So they make do, expecting to buy something better a few months or years down the pike when the bank account or credit limits allow. That, however, may not be readily apparent until the economy demonstrates more than scattered pockets of improvement.

    Knowing, then, that Apple isn’t apt to rush into a product segment unless it can sustain itself over a period of years and not months, does it truly make sense for them to release a netbook right now?

    Understand I’m not saying they won’t do it. But don’t forget that Apple didn’t get where it is being first to market a new type of device, but on doing it better. Lest we forget, there were portable digital music players available before the iPod, although none were memorable. Apple looked at the category and found a way to build a product that did most everything better, and it took a long time for other companies to sense what happened. By then, the iPod had became a verb and the Zune became an afterthought.

    Do you recall how often Apple was urged to build a cheap Mac? Well, it’s true that, just months after saying they’d never do such a thing, the Mac mini debuted. All right, it’s not the least expensive personal computer on the market, and it was sadly neglected for an awfully long time when it came to promotional opportunities, but enough customers evidently bought them regularly to finally convince Apple to deliver an upgrade.

    I know that Apple Tax advocates will tell me that the $599 Mac mini, the base model, is terribly overpriced. That is until they try to deliver a close match on the PC side with roughly equivalent hardware and software. Suddenly, the price difference goes down considerably. And despite that wretched study from hack industry analyst Roger Kay, the long-term viability of a Mac mini is far greater than most any sub-$1,000 PC desktop.

    The iPhone may have amazed or confounded the competition, but you just know it’s typical of Apple. Had they not found an innovative way to address the shortcomings of existing smart phones, I doubt that Apple would have bothered. But when you look at how many “regular people” owned a smartphone before the iPhone arrived and after, you’ll see where Apple made its impact.

    Suddenly the latecomer to the party became the product everyone else tried to imitate. If the iPhone was destined to fail, why would they bother? Why indeed?

    Why, with billions of dollars of resources allocated to the task, does Microsoft’s successor for the failed Windows Vista replace the existing taskbar with a pale imitation of the Mac OS X Dock? Is that their concept of innovation? But I’ve ragged on Microsoft enough, at least for today.

    And, in any case, regardless of what quarterly results Apple provides this week, it will probably be better than the analysts expect, but not as good as some of you might have hoped. On the long term, however, it probably won’t hurt them.



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