Apple's High-Water Mark?
Subject:   This is a tech analysis about a company that isn't tech-focused
Date:   2006-03-24 19:42:31
From:   jmproffitt
Response to: This is a tech analysis about a company that isn't tech-focused

1. Of course Jobs touts technology in his new product introductions. Consider the audience. The mass market computer users don't pay attention to those announcements (I do, but my wife doesn't, for example). The mass market sees iPod advertisements, not iPod introductions. Ditto for Mac OS X stuff, which is almost never advertised anymore. Jobs talks tech to techies, but he ensures the products don't. Look at any manual that comes with a new Mac. Or read the online help. It's a stark contrast from the product introductions and focus on technology you're proposing.

2. Linux's only hope as a mass market operating system is through the help of a major manufacturer that develops a custom distribution and controls it tightly. That's entirely possible, but it's unlikely at best. Any custom distro of Linux will not be "true Linux" and will still not have sufficient applications for the mass market. I can go to Wal-Mart and buy software for a Windows box -- games, silly little address books, word processors, electronic encyclopedias and more. I can't buy Linux software (or at least not much) at Wal-Mart. I can't even buy Mac OS X software at Wal-Mart.

Now, assuming even a big player like HP built a custom Linux distro, they'd also have to have a custom hardware platform and a custom set of core applications. They would have to replicate Apple's work with Mac OS X, essentially. I don't believe that there's anyone at HP (or a similar player) will have the guts to do this -- it would take too much faith and it would by definition cannibalize Windows sales and sour the relationship with Microsoft. It just won't happen at a big shop. And a little shop won't have the visibility or leadership position to pull it off. That's why you've built a nice distro of Linux for your computer illiterate friend, but despite your hard work, you're still not in charge of a multi-million or multi-billion dollar company making Linux distributions.

3. I'm totally with you on the "openness is messy" concept. That's Linux's strength and weakness. It can be custom-built into a bulletproof appliance-like setup and it's slick. But that kind of setup lacks Windows' advantages of universal "compatibility" and availability. They're just at opposite ends of the spectrum there, and neither one is the "right" way to do computers.

4. You mentioned the problem with Xcode being a nonstandard development environment. I agree -- it's not a universal standard. However, neither is Visual Studio. Nor is Eclipse. Indeed, nothing is a universal standard, as each methodology addresses a target platform and they all have their pros and cons. I think developers working for a living (rather than doing it for academic research or bragging rights) will develop in whatever way is profitable for them in the end. If that means adopting Apple's methods with Xcode, then that's that -- you'd better follow Apple's lead. If that means going with Visual Studio, then so be it. Sure, there are some development environments that can target multiple platforms, but nothing's universal and nothing's without its tradeoffs. Don't like drinking the Xcode Kool Aid? Great. Just don't develop for the Mac then, or do it all yourself the hard way and start all over again when they change processor platforms.

5. Nope, not been living in a jungle. But I also don't sit around building my own operating systems in my spare time or for my job. I have a job and a business to operate at work, and I have a life at home that doesn't involve using compilers or using the word "distro" a lot. And I'm the geek at home. My wife is the mass market user and keeps me grounded in reality, as do the hopelessly computer-phobic people at the office. To sell Linux in a big way, it'll have to be sold to those people one by one. So far, Windows dominates by force of marketing and inertia and Mac OS X has a few converts that have been burned by Windows in the past and don't want to be geeks. Linux? That would scare the crap out of the non-techie people I know. To you, they live in the jungle, unaware of the salvation Linux offers. To me, they're just normal folks with better things to do with their time. This is the fundamental understanding Steve Jobs maintains at Apple. If he dies, that understanding will die with him.

6. As for the Intel transition, the mass market users Apple targets (one part of their market, but not all of it), the lack of Adobe apps is not an issue. Pro users are pissed (and I'm a little miffed myself), but the mass market isn't going to run out and buy (or stay home and not buy) based on Adobe apps performance or Universal Binary availability.

In the end, I think Apple's future is very much bound up with Steve Jobs. Without him, Apple would make the same decisions that all the other tech companies make when it comes to products and strategies. Then Sony, IBM and all the others could just crush Apple with sheer market pressure. I totally agree with you that if they don't control headcount and other expenditures, and if they can't really break into the consumer electronics market (aside from the iPod), then the future will be not-so-bright. Just as I cannot fathom a Linux-dominant world, I also cannot fathom a Mac OS X-dominant world.

Thanks for the comments back. I bet you make fascinating lunchtime conversation! And I appreciate the analysis. I'm not actually that "down" on your analysis -- I just don't feel that Apple is so easily compared to other companies in the market, nor are they as impacted by the trends out there. They also don't shift the market around as much as people say they do.

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