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  • Are You Ready to Survive Without a Mac?

    February 2nd, 2011

    Almost since the first Mac, an all-in-one personal computer, appeared in 1984, the critics and competitors were fervently wishing Apple would just go away. It’s fair to say that bad marketing decisions, and a procession of mediocre CEOs that were clueless about advancing the platform, almost made those wishes come true.

    By the time 1996 arrived, the acquisition of NeXT, the company Steve Jobs formed after he was bounced from Apple, seemed a move of desperation. Apple’s in-house efforts to build an industrial-strength operating system to replace the aging, bug-prone Mac OS, had failed.

    Only later was it revealed how close Apple had come to shutting down, and perhaps vindicating the morbid wish to that effect once expressed by Dell founder and CEO Michael Dell. Fortunately, Steve Jobs learned a trick or two during his absence from Apple, and approached his return to the CEO job (it was iCEO then) as a ruthless manager. Underperforming products were axed, and he worked hard to shore up the bottom line.

    In the end, Apple prospered and has, of late, boosted revenues above those of Microsoft, whose fortunes, other than yesterday’s operating system and office suite technologies, have flagged.

    But the biggest surprise of all was the incredible success of the iPad. From the day it was introduced last year, the critics said Apple was due for a huge fall. The iPad was nothing more than an overgrown iPod touch. What was the point? After all, the PC industry had been touting the arrival of tablets for years, and, other than adoption in a few vertical markets, few cared.

    What Apple offered, however, was a warm and friendly computing appliance, a full package that was ready to run out of the box, even if you never installed a single app, without the need to connect extra peripherals (other than docking with iTunes during the initial setup process). Compare that to Windows 7, where even the email app is an optional installation. Does that make sense, or does Microsoft prefer to be the hard task master who forces customers to exert extra effort to make your PC  capable of managing email?

    The sales results of the iPad not only confounded most critics, but rapidly surpassed those of the Mac. This year, the industry analysts are pegging iPad sales in a wide range, from maybe 30 million or so to over 50 million. Nobody knows for sure, and it may be that even Apple was surprised by this gadget’s rapid adoption not just by consumers, but by businesses as well.

    Just the other day, for example, I saw a TV ad touting the Hyundai’s luxury vehicle, the Equus, which, like other high ticket cars, comes with the user manual preloaded on an iPad. It may not be long before lower cost vehicles offer a similar configuration, although absorbing a $499 product as part of the purchase price may be difficult for entry-level models.

    Of course, that also assumes that Apple isn’t going to offer the original iPad as a lower cost “Classic” model, when version two appears later this year.

    At the same time, some members of the tech media are still trying to spin the iPad as less of a success than it really is. Factoring the claim that the Samsung Galaxy Tab sold over two million copies, they sharply reduced the iPad’s market share for the last quarter of 2010. Unfortunately, this misguided effort at wishful thinking failed big time when Samsung revealed, during a financial conference call, that these figures were based on the number of units shipped to dealers. The actual sell-through was described as “quite small,” and Samsung must be embarrassed by those numbers, since they didn’t reveal the specifics.

    This isn’t to say that Samsung isn’t trying to push the Galaxy Tab. I’ve seen TV ads for it, and Consumer Reports rated it a close second to the iPad in a recent survey. Unfortunately, CR didn’t notice the poor quality image and animation rendering, nor did they seem aware of the fact that the version of the Google Android OS installed on the Galaxy Tab was never certified for use in a device with a screen larger than that of a standard smartphone.

    That’s only more evidence that CR still doesn’t get it.

    The other key issue that most of the analysts who build sales surveys choose to ignore is that the iPad is, in its key functions, a personal computer. If you add iPad sales to those of Macs, Apple’s total computer sales soar. But there are far too many vested interests in the tech industry to allow for such comparisons, since the figures would make the largest players in the business, particularly HP and Dell, appear far less successful.

    The key to the iPad’s end game is what Steve Jobs said a few months back, that today’s PC is the big truck, whereas the iPad is the car, the PC of the future. It’s already clear that the iPad has gutted sales of netbooks, and it may be only a matter of time before other PC product sales are cannibalized. So far the Mac hasn’t been harmed. But I will repeat my prediction that, when the iPad is five years old, the Mac will another iPod, an older technology whose best days lie in the past.

    That doesn’t mean you will all adopt iPads in place of a Mac or a PC, but I expect many of you will. Meantime, if Apple’s competition really hopes to make waves, they need to realize that shipping products that don’t sell isn’t going to accomplish anything but make them seem foolish.

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