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  • Making the Wrong Criticisms About Apple

    December 22nd, 2015

    The typical criticisms about Apple over the years have fallen into a narrow range. It depends on the era, but back in the 1990s it was about being a niche PC maker. Indeed, Michael Dell, founder of Dell, was once famously quoted as saying that Apple should return the money to the investors and close up shop. That was years before Dell, saddled with slowing sales and profits, went private. Ostensibly it was to prevent Dell and the company from being answerable to anyone. At least it was a clever way to keep his job.

    A main criticism, then and now, was that Macs were too expensive compared to the Windows competition. One sure solution was to build cheaper gear and depend on volume rather than profits, not to mention license the Mac OS or switch to Windows. Over the years, Apple has earned much higher profit margins on Macs than PC makers did on their Windows boxes.

    True there is one “cheap” Mac, the Mac mini, but there are still PC boxes that are cheaper. Still, the profit margins are no doubt much higher on the mini. But the market has largely moved to note-books even though Apple is evidently selling a fair number of iMacs.

    The “make them cheaper and sell them cheaper” argument has been made about the iPhone too. The only way to compete with Android is on price, they say, and most Android smartphones are far cheaper than iPhones. But with Apple’s share of smartphone profits now reported to be 92%, it’s clear that selling lots of cheap stuff isn’t the way to be flush with cash. After you add Samsung’s modest profits on mobile handsets, most of the other companies are making next to nothing or losing money. That’s hardly an argument for staying in business. Well, except for Amazon, which hasn’t made much of a profit — ever.

    So-called industry analysts may also fret over Apple’s apparent reliance on a single product for most of its revenue and profits. Aside from the iPhone’s enviable position in the market, Apple is clearly earning plenty of money from the sale of Macs and iPads. This is bad?

    All right, it would be nice if iPad sales went up rather than down. Perhaps the iPad Pro will stabilize sales, bit it’s too early in the game to know how well it’s doing. It’s not as if there are official figures, which won’t arrive until late January of next year. Besides, the possible success of the iPad Pro will only be inferred from total sales. Apple is not into breaking down those numbers among different models, though it’s possible things will be announced that will convey the message.

    When it comes to Macs, growth is ahead of most PC makers, and the Apple Watch is said to be exceeding Apple’s expectations. But wouldn’t it be nice to know what those expectations might be?

    Without the iPhone, Apple would still be a pretty successful company. Just how many companies manage what the rest of Apple does?

    Again, the criticisms focus on the wrong things. I’m still reading occasional silliness about licensing OS X, or that Apple might switch to its home-built ARM processors rather than Intel. But the reasons, aside from saving some money, don’t consider the tradeoffs, such as forcing developers to endure another processor switch, the need to emulate Intel apps, and the loss of seamless compatibility with Windows via virtual machines and Boot Camp. An ARM-based virtual machine is no doubt possible, but with how much of a loss in performance?

    So what are the real problems?

    Well, it’s pretty clear that recent Apple software releases haven’t been exactly stable. Despite a public beta program, where anyone with a beating heart can sign up and get regular seeds of the latest and greatest system versions, it doesn’t appear that Apple has been able to take advantage of the user feedback.

    While online reviews of operating systems tend to be weighted towards negative experiences, I’m still troubled to read messages from loads of people explaining why OS X El Capitan only deserves one star. This is the release that is supposed to focus on stability and performance. One review referred to it as “an absolute train wreck.”

    While you can’t take just one review and cite it as proof of a problem, there are too many that aren’t terribly favorable towards Apple. With two maintenance updates so far, and a third reportedly under development, you’d think that the most serious issues would have been resolved by now.

    Sure, OS X and Mac OS updates have been flawed in the past, but many of those public beta testers must be sending feedback to Apple about various problems. Is anyone listening at Apple’s end? I sure hope so.

    I could add the issues with the Mac App Store that have caused some developers to go elsewhere. Maybe things will get better now that Philip Schiller is taking over that department. We’ll see.

    It would also be nice to see iTunes overhauled. It seems to just get worse and worse.

    Meantime, I’m sure many of you can come up with all sorts of things that Apple could do better. But products that are extremely profitable don’t fit into such categories.



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