no denying that Steve Jobs is one of the big names in the computer
industry, a man who somehow manages to get investors to chime in and
support him. He endorses the Mac as the be-all and end-all of
home computing, continues to
"innovate" the design (we'll cover this later), pushes it as
the greatest computer system of all time, and as a side note was blown
away by the Segway/It/Ginger, a product that depending on your side
of the issue is either the greatest thing since the flush toilet or
else a psychotic razor scooter on crack.
the same token, we can look at the evolving Mac design in a similar
fashion; critically, we can analyze its features and what users will
go for. And, in the final analysis, it boils down rather
simply. Kind of like the Segway. You see, that little
"beauty" of a device has one fundamental flaw. It looks
pretty. It rides pretty. It has a sexy space-age appearance. It also gets you all of 10 to 15 miles, in
approximately 1 hour, after which it has to sit plugged into a wall
for 4-5 hours to recharge. You can't take it to the movies, or
to go grocery shopping, unless you're already within walking distance.
Mac sits as a testament to how NOT to get into the larger computer
this wasn't always the case. Originally, Apple did quite well getting
into the computer market. They brought computing to the masses,
invested heavily in education and edutainment software (Oregon Trail
anyone?) and had managed to convince a large segment of children that
Apple computers were great. A small percentage of these children
retain that idea today, making Apple's following one of the most loyal
around. Unfortunately, Apple made a few fatal mistakes.
#1: Cloning is good, not bad.
unlike the other computer makers in the world, has NOT traditionally
made their computers with a modular design. Want to add in new
parts? It's tricky. Adding in new RAM and PCI cards isn't
a big deal; replacing the CD-Rom or the Hard Drive, on the other hand,
is messy. They just weren't designed to be user serviced.
also messed up its strategy when it allowed companies like Motorola to
make Mac clones, after resisting it for years. One of the reasons that Windows took over, like
it or not, is that it wasn't just restricted to one platform.
Compaq, Dell, Gateway, and even the ill-fated Packard Bell all offered
it on different machines, and any user could assemble an Intel/AMD box
and install Windows themselves. When Apple turned around and let
companies like Umax, Motorola, and Power Computing make Mac machines,
they ran into problems.
worst problem? The performance of the machines. They ran, but
often not well, and the licensing restrictions on the companies to use
the Mac OS were extremely restrictive. Most of the machines were set to use just
one OS (the one provided with them) and everything above was "at
your own risk." Unfortunately, the idea of affordably priced Mac
clones coming to the market these days is just so much vaporware:
after seeing what happens when Steve Jobs changes his mind, even just
going back to the debacle when ATi spouted off too quickly about
providing hardware for a Mac line, I don't think anybody is going to
take the risk of having him pull the plug on an entire line of
#2: Tying the Mac OS too tightly to hardware.
OS is irrevocably tied into the Mac hardware, and as mentioned above
is tied very closely. Upgraded Mac OS editions have traditionally
excluded older Macintosh processors, obsoleting previous machines as
much as possible. In the Wintel market, this is partially true,
but not to nearly the same extent. Want to install Win98?
You can go back a long way, all the way to a 486 at 66Mhz with 16 MB of
RAM. It might be slow, but it will still run and it's still
supported. And you can get the hardware from anywhere, install the
system yourself, pay a shop to do it, or have a local guru or friend do it. The newest
Windows, WinXP, still only requires a machine with 233MHz and 64MB of
Ram. Try to install Mac OS X on older hardware and Apple won't
give you much help at all.
makes a PowerPC version of Windows, at least in the NT family, but Mac OS
provides no similar option for x86 machines. This makes it quite
obvious as to what may happen, since machine makers like IBM are then
free to build something with PowerPC parts and load it with Windows.
Niche market? Certainly. However, it still takes a bite out of Mac OS's
other downside of tying the Mac OS in so tightly to hardware is that
it makes companies unlikely to build hardware into the Macs.
While having a straight system is nice for programmers, the amount of time it took for
3D accelerators to reach the Mac is one of the reasons that Mac gamers
have had to do without so many of the hits that make the PC so
#3: Cute and cuddly does not a computer make.
of Apple's biggest mistakes is the underlying assumption that a sexy
computer design equates to sales. In some industries, like the
automobile industry, the look of the product is what's important.
Other products are different.
the computer industry, there seems to be a fascination with the
ugly. Then again, most computers don't get seen very often.
They're located under desks, or sit under monitors. They're the
domain of the geek in the family, who may constantly open them up to
tweak things, or they are busy being used for writing and homework and
games. In any case, nobody sits and adores the case; they're
more concerned with what's on the screen.
"innovation" is a loosely defined term. In the loosest
sense, it's merely a change. It's supposed to be a change that makes
something better, easier to use, or more likely to sell. Then
again, Apple's hockey puck mouse design is supposed to be an
innovation. It's not. The addition of a second button to the
mouse, and the utility that it enabled (the right-click) is a true
innovation because it actually makes the computer easier to use.
what has Apple goofed on in this sense? Let's see. So far there's the
refusal to add another button to the mouse (how hard could it be
guys?). There's the G4 "Cube", that little thing that
could easily be mistaken for a wastebasket. Dare I say it,
there's the iPod, which picks up at the testing phase of Creative
Labs' Nomad player. Then again, the iPod is a double mistake for
anyone foolish enough to buy it, considering that a jog-proof MP3 CD
player can be had for as little as $130 as compared to the iPod's $400
price tag. The storage size doesn't make that much difference either,
since an MP3 CD can handle up to 10 hours of music, and nobody
drives/sits/jogs/runs/whatever else for that long without a break.
also can take a look at the new iMac design. It has a 15"
flatscreen, but looks very ungainly to upgrade to 17 or 19 inches and
beyond: I wouldn't trust that base to keep a 19" flatscreen, and
neither should you. GeForce2 MX video is nice, but it's hardly
cutting edge. The upgrade path? Once again, the only
"easy" thing to do is add memory or an AirPort card.
Meanwhile, there's this alien-looking design where the main computer
looks like half of a white basketball. All this, 256MB of RAM, and an
800 Mhz processor (yeah, I know Mhz isn't everything, but when you're
outnumbered two and a half to one it's hard to ignore) for a MERE $1800.
Wow. I think somebody missed something. I can build a 2 GHz
system with a full Gigabyte of memory for that kind of money.
#4: You forgot to think Tim Allen.
The one thing that drives the computer market these days sounds
like a direct quote from Home Improvement: people want MORE
POWER. The market is saturated by the need for more powerful
hardware, driven in part by the Windows OS and more to the point by
the ever-larger, ever-more-impressive games out each day. When
someone is buying a computer, they want to get as much as they can
for their money.
Enter the Mac theory: I can offer you three year
old hardware on Pricewatch for the same price you'd pay for a brand
new, state of the art (or at least mid-market) system from Dell. Anybody notice the
problem yet? That's right, the Mac prices itself out of the market
for the majority of the market, and doubly so when it tries to
compete on the same shelf as might happen at Best Buy or Circuit
City. Simple economics leaves the Mac only to the wealthy or the
#5: "Total User Experience" means something different to
of Steve Jobs' big ideas recently was the thought that he could tout
the Mac as a "do-it-all" platform, one platform that
delivers everything the user could want.
Unfortunately, there's a fundamental flaw in this logic too: he
doesn't recognize that people buy computers for COMPLETELY DIFFERENT
that guy over there? He wants a computer that can run the hottest new
games. He'll probably build it himself just to make sure it's all
state of the art, and it'll stay with the same hardware for all of two
months before he adds more memory, swaps out the processor, gets a new
video card, more HD space, a new keyboard, bigger monitor, or something
else. See that old lady? She'd be happy with a 300MHz
computer that lets her send emails to her grandkids in Ohio. The
guy on the street corner? He wants video editing. The one
walking into the office building? He's a graphic designer who wants to
run Photoshop all day long.
not a single one of them cares about what the other's needs are.
The video editor couldn't care less how well his computer took a
scanner, but for the graphic designer it's essential. Grandma
doesn't need a color printer. Half of them don't need a sound
card, but video game guy wants a Dolby 6.1 system so he can hear every
little noise in Return to Castle Wolfenstein. Video editing guy
might like the Mac's DVD authoring capabilities, but he might as well
pay the extra money for the PC's $700 DVD-authoring drive. The others
won't notice it. Grandma might like receiving videos from her kids,
but let's face it here: the 30-45 minutes of video they send might as
well have been put onto a CD.
means that every one of them will buy a different computer, Steve. Not
that all of them want to fork over the extra thousands of dollars for
hardware they'll never use.
Mr. Jobs, take a look outside in the real world.
the points I bring up aren't hard to see. In fact, they're
evident all over the place. The easiest way to see it would be
to walk into the neighborhood Best Buy, and see what they're
selling. Chances are, people are comparing prices on the
hardware. And unfortunately, the Apple computers won't be in the
running for these people.
you don't believe me, just take a look at other companies that tried
to go it alone in their own industries. The best example would
be 3dfx, if you remember them. They built a successful business
on a model of selling their 3D chips off to board makers, then tried
to go it alone when they took over STB and cut off the other
manufacturers, who quickly saturated the market in NVidia chips.
3dfx didn't survive the change, just as Apple has been relegated to
the back corner of the market after trying to go it alone when the
Wintel platform expanded and expanded to cover the needs of users on a
it goes on much longer, I fear Apple might just go the way of 3dfx.
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