Opinion: Apple Pie

Recent news tells us Apple is still struggling to gain market share in the personal computer market. That’s too bad. While I have some beefy grieves with Apple (being that I am an IT “expert” and all that), their systems nonetheless beat the proverbial tars out of the typical Windows PC crowd.

You may beg to differ, but how about a case proof: Just a few months ago my parents’ old PC went up and they were in the market for a new one. Knowing they were not especially techno-savvy, I refrained from a strong Linux push and recommended a shiny new Mac-mini instead. Not that they listened, of course. Rather they cited the usual “don’t want to learn something different” line and went out and bought a “super deal” on a big darkly-colored brand name PC. Well, within a week they were fed up. Among other things, they couldn’t get their printer to work and after a long battle they had had enough. They returned the PC to the store and finally took my advice. (After all, at this point they figured they could always just take the Mac back too). Guess what? You might be surprised to learn that they couldn’t get the printer to work with the Mac either! Turns out the problem was the printer, not the computer. Yet, *waving finger*, they fell in love with the Mac so quickly that they kept it and have had almost nothing but high praise for it ever since. They now regularly recommend Macs to others, and ironically find it frustrating that no one listens. A fairly telling and not a wholly uncommon story, I imagine. But it certainly leads one to ponder. If the Apple’s Mac systems are so good, why in the world isn’t Apple’s market share going gang-go bang-go busters?

Well, let’s consider an interesting comparison. Let’s ask why a completely free operating system like Linux, which is just about as good in every way, and in some ways better, than Windows XP, doesn’t itself go gang-go bang-go busters? It’s an interesting question. Normally anything FREE will be snatched up so fast you have to be cautious of the whiplash. Now, many of course will cite the greater difficulty of installing Linux — though most people don’t ever install Windows in the first place. It’s simply there when they turn on their computer. Yet, that creates an adoption barrier. But I have found that even when an expert like myself offers to set the whole she-bang up at no cost, they still won’t go for it. Why? The answer is simple really. It’s the same old “citing the usual” I mentioned above. People fear significant change. It’s very uncomfortable to feel “lost” and have to learn something new. And FREE doesn’t lower that fear. In fact it heightens it, because people are naturally suspect of anything free –the old “it’s to good to be true” adage. Unfortunately consoling them with, “it’s not that different”, just convinces them further that either it really is, or then, it’s not worth the bother.

Well, there’s not a whole lot Mac lovers can do about that situation. I mean, people are people, silliness and all. And even Apple doesn’t have a whole lot of influence in that regard despite the Dollars to throw at the problem. They can advertise, and it helps, but advertising still faces the same barriers of perception. Fortunately, there is one thing that can almost always change a person’s mind, as any sales person knows: perceived value. Otherwise known as a “steal”. People love to think they got a really great buy for their money. Where free doesn’t cut it, to actually “snooker the system” and get VALUE for your money, saves the day. Software has an impossible time with this because it is so ephemeral, but hardware… Hardware’s got substance. Unfortunately, one look at Apple’s prices and one knows there isn’t much in the way of perceived value. Yet, despite their focus on high quality and slick design, I do not think this potential is out of the Apple’s reach. In fact, there’s this “great deal” on a “Mac-double-mini” that I would just love to buy…

If only Apple made it. What am I talking about? Let me explain… Essentially I’m suggesting that Apple take a page out of Nintendo’s recent Wii book and stop trying to always hit the market at the top-of-the-line. Most people will be perfectly happy with non-cutting edge specs as long as the system works well for them. This is exactly how Nintendo plans to clobber Sony in the new console wars. Another good comparison is the C64, the most successful single computer model of all time. What did it have going for it? 64K Bytes of Ram, a 1MHz processor, a TV for a monitor, 16 colors and 8 bit sound. It didn’t even come with a disk drive! Such lackluster specs and yet I watched so many people run productive applications on their C64s including a windowing system called GEOS with a capable word processor and spreadsheet. Not to mention the endless games. People ate those C64s up like apple pie. Let me rephrase that, “like it was Apple’s pie”, because it was. While Apple was doing a good bit better with market share back in those days with its Apple IIe, the company still suffered in much the same way it does today. The C64 had it all over Apple for market share because it had the value –the proverbial greater bang for the buck. Of course, back then Apple had no significant recourse. Apple could only continue to push forward because there really wasn’t any “back” to speak-of. It worked out for Apple in the end, but just barely. Apple hung in after IBM swept the field, while Commodore sunk ship because they went beyond value and undersold themselves. But today value doesn’t have to come just from selling things below what their worth; no, today we have a that valuable “back”.

Imagine this. An itty-bitty Mac with a 1GHz single core, 256MB, NO HARD DRIVE and NO DISC DRIVE –instead 4 front accessible USB slots via which the user can add flash memory. Add 2 USB ports to the back, a GB ethernet port, an eSATA port for external hard drives, maybe a firewire port, and an HDMI and you have a super slim, sexy and inexpensive system. Now you have an Apple computer in the $300 price range. Almost inexpensive enough to give away, but substantial enough for people to know they’re getting a good deal for that Dollar. Just the kind of thing that can move open wallets, move machines into customers’ hands and hence move Apple’s share of pie back into the sky.

Some might scoff at such a computer. But stop and think a moment. What kind of computer is more fitting in the Internet age? Speaking of which, try sticking a Google endorsement on the front of that box too and see what happens. Can you imagine? I get whiplash just thinking about it. Even so, I hope Apple’s not behaving like the customers they’re failing to reach — I hope they’re listening.

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