The Quiet Mac Revolution

October 27th, 2011

Just the other day, I heard an interview with former “PC” character John Hodgman, the actor/writer who played the fall guy in those now-discomtinued Mac Versus PC ads. Turns out that Hodgman is a Mac user in real life, and, I suppose, most people thought of him as the more sympathetic person on those ads, which also featured actor Justin Long.

Certainly these were the kinds of ads people might have occasionally stopped to watch, rather than fast forward through on their DVRs. Compare that to those pathetic spots for Windows computers, which are noisy, foolish, and, by and large, fail to demonstrate why anyone would stick with the PC.

In the real world, it seems they’re not.

Apple has continued to report that Mac sales are growing faster than the overall PC market, and that 50% of the people who buy a Mac at an Apple Store are new to the platform. Sure, some might be buying their first personal computer, but you can be assured a large portion of those purchases are to Windows switchers. Indeed, beginning with OS X Lion, Apple has made the switcher path much simpler by offering direct support through the Migration Assistant.

Now the Mac’s ongoing growth has come without a recent major advertising push. I can recall occasional TV spots for the MacBook Air awhile back, but most these days are about the iPhone or the iPad. With the iPhone 4s spreading across the landscape, you can be assured Apple has put loads of marketing muscle behind the task of getting tens of millions of them into the hands of eager buyers; that assumes they can find the one they want. You still have to wait one to two weeks for an online order, though you might be lucky and find that a store near you has just the one you want.

When it comes to Macs, Apple seldom stages a media event to introduce a new model. Quite often it happens with a major product upgrade, or the launch of a new version of Mac OS X. But this week, there was a MacBook Pro refresh. No surprise, since it had been rumored for a while, after Intel released faster versions of their i5 and i7 processors. That, larger hard drives, and newer and faster graphics processors, forms the sum total of this upgrade.

Now in the past, those changes would be sufficient to merit a press release. Not this time. Indeed, there isn’t even a “NEW” badge on the product listings at Apple’s online storefront. Unless you remember the old specs, and now compare the revisions, you’d never know there was a model refresh. It just happened, although savvy Mac journalists, who probably check these listings every hour of every day, realized there were changes afoot and wrote stories about them.

At the same time, Apple isn’t having any problems moving those machines. Mac note-books comprise 74% of the product lineup, although the Mac mini and iMac appear to be doing well. Less obvious is the Mac Pro workstation, which hasn’t been upgraded since last year, and probably won’t be until early 2012, when a delayed Intel Xeon processor upgrade becomes available.

As far as the Mac itself is concerned, it does appear the legendary halo effect remains in full force. People buy a new iPhone, iPad, or both, and want to spread the joy. When it comes to buying a new personal computer, perhaps they recall all the problems they’ve had with a Windows computer, and they’re looking for something better.

Certainly those radio and TV ads for Windows fixer apps can’t help Microsoft. You hear about products and services that promise to speed up your dreadfully slow PC, rid it of viruses and malware and other ills. One of those products comes with the claim that your PC’s speed will be doubled, and while I do not personally know of anyone who actually benefitted from such products, the implications are obvious. PCs are troublesome. Yes, Macs can be troublesome too, and there are some fixer-upper utilities around, but most of you don’t really need the extra help. You watch out for the occasional online Trojan Horse malware that occasionally is directed at the Mac platform, stay away from installing too many system enhancements, and you’ll do fine.

Meantime, it appears Macs are gaining in the enterprise, witness this story from CNN Money, about Forrester Research urging IT personnel to support Macs. It’s about time.

I can also see why Apple made Lion superficially resemble the iOS in some ways, not because it was necessarily the better way to go, but to ease the process of moving from iOS gear to a Mac. But it does seem that long-time Mac users prefer to switch off such things as reverse scrolling and vanishing scrollbars.

This doesn’t mean that Apple will never, ever, stage a major promotional event for new Macs, aside from the OS where it’s also necessary to educate developers about what they need to do. If there’s a major change in a Mac design, I expect Apple will make a big deal over it. Some suggest the next generation of MacBook Pros might inherit the slimmer form factor of the MacBook Air, including the lack of an internal optical drive. But that will be next year’s story.

The story this year is that Macs just work, and they just keep selling and selling.

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