The Myths About Apple Keep on Coming

January 21st, 2010

Just the other day, I read yet another commentary from an alleged tech pundit claiming that the reason Apple didn’t conquer the world with the Macintosh in the 1980s was because they opted to keep the platform closed. Thus, there is no chance that Apple can overcome the Google onslaught and not fall behind in iPhone sales in the near future. Whether this year or the next, or the year after that, it’s inevitable and you can take that to the bank.

Of course, what these so-called pundits forget is that 2010 is not like 1984, and Apple has learned from all or most of its serious mistakes. And not licensing the platform wasn’t one of them. They tried that in the 1990s and it nearly killed the company, or perhaps these tech writers need to learn how to do a little research, as that information is also on Google, Bing or any search engine they choose.

There are loads of reasons why Apple didn’t conquer the PC world with a superior product way back when, and they can be blamed on the bad decisions company CEOs made over the years. I won’t cover all the details over here, except to remind you that, for a long time, Macs were, as still claimed, overpriced compared to comparably equipped PCs. Apple was quite shortsighted in those days, seeking to maximize profits from every single sale, rather than balancing margins against volume and moving towards the best combination of both. Those of you who paid upwards of $10,000 for a fully-outfitted Mac know what I’m talking about.

What’s more, Apple had a poor product strategy in those days, seeking to enter as many markets as possible rather than concentrate on the ones where they could make a difference. Yes, the LaserWriter and the LaserWriter II were legendary and, along with PageMaker and QuarkXPress, created the desktop publishing industry that survives to this very day. However, you could buy pretty much the same printers, using identical Canon parts, from HP. The key was Adobe’s PostScript, which was licensed to any manufacturer who was willing to sign a contract and pay the fee.

I won’t get into such products as the QuickTake digital camera, which was actually built by Kodak. You can’t say that Apple actually made a difference in that market, as similar if not identical products were sold under other brand names. When Steve Jobs took control of the company, he put a stop to the product explosion and decided to concentrate on Apple’s core strengths, the major part of which was the Macintosh.

Yes, Microsoft had long since taken control of the PC marketplace, but by focusing primarily on consumers, school systems and content creators, Apple was able to carve out a sizable and profitable market for themselves. Yes, maybe Apple still has a market share in the single digits, but when it comes to premium-quality personal computers, they are positively huge. More to the point, with some three million of them being sold every quarter, you can’t exactly call Macs insignificant.

When it came to digital music players, Apple wasn’t the first by any means, but they focused sharply on the limitations of existing models, and built the iPod. It was then integrated to the rest of the company’s lineup using iTunes as the focus for syncing content and offering music and videos. Lest you forget, iTunes is now the largest music retailer, ahead of Amazon and any brick and mortar store, including Wal-Mart. So Apple’s closed, tightly integrated ecosystem, made them number one and kept them there.

Yes, Apple may not achieve the same level of dominance among smartphones, but virtually every recent competitor has been influenced by the iPhone. After years of failed attempts to sell apps on mobile devices, Apple got it right with the App Store. Sure, they have had problems with delayed approvals, arbitrary rejections and so on and so forth, but with 125,000 offerings and over three billion downloads in a little over a year and a half, they are surely doing most things right. The closest competitor is Google’s Android platform, with roughly 20,000 apps, few of which are quite as compelling. Have you, for example, ever seriously considered an Android smartphone as a gaming platform, even for a single second?

This doesn’t mean that Google isn’t making serious inroads with Android. More and more companies are coming onboard to build products using Google’s OS, but a lot of those sales are coming at the expense of Microsoft’s Windows Mobile platform, which is fading fast. After all, why pay money to license an OS from Microsoft when a handset maker can get a perfectly serviceable, and certainly more up to date alternative, free and clear? Indeed, a fast look at history demonstrates that Google acquired the fledgling Android platform in 2005 largely to compete against Microsoft. That iPhone didn’t exist at that time, except under deep secrecy in Apple’s test labs.

In the end, the smartphone market is too large nowadays to be dominated by any one company. There’s plenty of opportunity for Apple, Google, RIM, Nokia and the rest of the major players in the industry to carve out decent segments. There’s even opportunity for Microsoft if they can get their development act together. However, it is foolish to suggest that Apple is repeating the mistakes of the past by continuing to offer gear with full vertical integration. In recent years, they have shown that’s actually the best strategy for the products they build, and don’t forget that other companies, even Microsoft, have tried to imitate them, but so far without much success. But some pundits out there still haven’t a sufficient grip on reality to recognize these simple facts, or maybe they have a different agenda.

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9 Responses to “The Myths About Apple Keep on Coming”

  1. dfs says:

    Apple pushes its own myth, going as far back as that original ad back in 1984. A large part of the Apple myth is that it is the computer “for the rest of us“, i. e. for people who aren’t slaving away in the cubicles of large corporations. Let Big Government and Big Corporations have their PC’s, the Mac is for rugged individuals. It blurs the line between work and play, it allows us to to be creative and express ourselves. This is a very powerful myth, because it taps into traditional American populist distrust of Big Government and Big Business, and also into the mentality of the first generation of Mac users, many of whom came out of the Counterculture of the 1960’s and 1970’s. Here I’m not interested in the truth (or lack thereof) behind them myth, just in the fact that it exists and has done so much to shape the culture surrounding the Mac and to attract its hard-core followers. For the purposes of this myth, it’s almost necessary that the Mac remains an underdog in the computer marketplace and that the Mac shouldn’t make too much headway in the corporate world. Now, you may respond that there comes a time when this myth might actually hobble the Mac’s growth so that Apple needs to discard it in order to claim a larger market share (it may be a major turnoff for corporate purchasers and IT guys). Maybe this is true, but Apple is still pushing if for all it’s worth. If you look at the Get A Mac ads, which feature a cool, laid-back, unbuttoned Mac dealing with an uptight PC wearing a tie and jacket, you’ll see how Apple is still ringing changes on this traditional image.

  2. rwahrens says:

    Actually, I don’t see it as a myth so much as a market position. A myth is a legendary story, not necessarily based upon fact. Market positions are too, but in this case, its more fact than not.

    Macs ARE the PC for the rest of us, as they are designed to be simple to use, user friendly, and certainly geared towards content creation and the ease of spreading it around. It is made to make communication easy and effortless, even fun.

    Apple has a long and storied history of NOT being especially Enterprise friendly. It has never had a large well backed Enterprise sales force, and its storied secrecy is the antithesis of the way large companies like to hear about future products from suppliers. so that particular market has never been an Apple target. Any inroads it makes there are almost in spite of its efforts and a testament to the loyalty of its customers that they are willing to go to bat for them in that environment.

  3. Peter says:

    Just a few comments…

    The argument that Macs were more expensive than PCs was true, but Apple POV was that they were worth it. When you compared, say, a Mac Plus from 1986 with a PC from 1986, the difference was night-and-day. Even if that computer was running Windows 1.0. Apple’s problem was that they, arguably, allowed Microsoft to catch up and pass them.

    I don’t really get this whole “Macintosh was closed in the 1980s” argument. There were/are plenty of applications for Macintosh. About the only part of the Mac that was “closed” was the hardware–there were no slots for add-in cards or anything like that. Most of the hardware stuff for Macintosh was pretty hacky and barely worked (anybody remember the color displays or HyperDrive?). But Apple even solved most of those problems (SCSI interfaces for high-speed data transfer, NuBus slots in the high-end Macintoshes).

  4. DaveD says:

    alleged tech pundit claiming that the reason Apple didn’t conquer the world with the Macintosh in the 1980s was because they opted to keep the platform closed.

    I like the inclusion of “alleged.”

    Somehow IBM never gets a mention in this context. Apple saw IBM as their main competitor. The IBM hardware was open and got cloned. IBM allowed Microsoft to keep the rights to DOS. So, IBM entered the PC market as a major player and left as one of the boys. IBM sold their PC division to China years ago.

    You can’t conquer the world as an “open” platform, too.

  5. Jocca says:

    Apple computer for the rest of us is not a myth, it is real and it explains why most Mac users will always go back to Apple for more of its products. In my career as a researcher in a large university, I have had exposure to both the Microsoft and Apple platforms and I can assure you that Macs are indeed the easiest and most pleasurable productive tools I have ever used. Windows were many times a pain and gave me more headache than I cared to have. We are now seeing more people try out the Macs and discover what they are all about.

  6. Andrew says:

    Macs are a delight, but unfortunately there remain many areas where they just aren’t useful. Heavy gaming is best done on a PC (or an adequate Mac using Boot Camp). The problem with the Boot Camp solution for games isn’t anything to do with Windows on a Mac, which is better than on most comparable PCs, but that there are no Macs except for the Mac Pro and very high-end iMacs with the graphics card (or ability to install the GPU) required to run the newest games at the highest settings. Even with the Mac Pro, the cost for the Mac version of a suitable GPU is considerably more than for the same card without the Mac firmware or whatever it is that differentiates a Mac card and a PC card.

    I’m not a super-serious gamer and thus I make do with medium settings on a MacBook Pro, but if I was more serious, a tower PC with a hot gaming card would make far more sense than anything Apple has on the market today.

    • Sean says:

      @Andrew, PC gaming is dying. The numbers have been in steady decline for some time now. When you go to EB do you see walls of PC games like you did in the 90’s? I think I saw 10 PC games in EB the other day, yet every wall in the place was covered with Game System games. Not many people want to play games on a small screen when most have 50″ HD Screens now.

      • Andrew says:

        @Sean, What is EB?

        When I go to Best Buy or the like I see massive shelves of PC games. Yes, consoles have more, but that has been the case since the 90s. Consoles and PCs excel at different types of games, with consoles better for fast motion, but inadequate for the heavy story-oriented roleplaying games. Also, consoles aren’t updated as quickly and aren’t as powerful.

        Crysis 2 is best on a VERY fast PC. Fallout 3 is best on a fast PC. My copy of Mass Effect 2 shipped on Friday, again, better on PC than on console.

        Of course, I play on a laptop, not a desktop, so I don’t get the glorious high detail settings that you do on a real desktop gaming PC.

        PC gaming is still a multi-billion dollar industry that isn’t going anywhere any time soon. I just hope that someday Apple gets better representation as I’d love to play high-end games without booting into Windows. Doom 3 is the last Mac game I bought, and it took about two years for Mac laptops to exceed the game’s ideal spec requirements and run smooth and fast.

  7. Vesa Salmi » Blog Archive » Hieman Mac-historiaa osx-faneille says:

    […] The Myths About Apple Keep on Coming […]

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