Apple’s Two Choices

Apple Computer Corp.Ever since Apple Computer Corporation [[AAPL]] decided to switch to the Intel platform, the online world’s been abuzz. Besides the hackers that put OS X on the normal PC, and those that put Windows on the iMac (which NeoSmart Technologies was proudly a leading factor in), it caused quite a stir in the business world. It meant that Apple was once again radically changing its business model to appeal to a bigger number of people.

Not even six months later, Apple had written and released their dual-booting platform to allow users to put Windows on their iMacs and/or MacBooks with much excitement and to general applause. And along the way it raised a very important question: Does Apple primarily sell the hardware or the software?

It’s an important question, and though it can go both ways, one of them is going to win over the other. Most people will tell you that Apple is in it for the hardware market, providing superior style, quality, and performance and that they throw in an OS along. While that may have been true before the Intel switch, it certainly isn’t the most logical explanation now.

Ever since Apple switched to Intel, their machines have no longer been exclusively produced or too-specially priced. The hardware can all be had by any other wholesaler or producer on the market, and for a bit less too. Quality assurance is one thing, but superior technology is quite another. But then again, Apple certainly isn’t in it just for the software either.

No matter how you look at it, something’s going to give. Apple’s software is user-friendly and its hardware is well constructed and very stylish but the principles business management dictate one thing: to maximize your profits.

What it boils down to is this: Apple will, in the end, either start to ship Windows on its stock MacBooks and iMacs (at least alongside with Mac OS, but maybe alone even) or it will give in and ship unlocked versions of Mac OS that’ll install on any x86 platform. It’s the only solution, and once you think about it, it doesn’t have a downside.

The more factors that a company ties down the harder it’ll have to work to sell its product. It has to offer both superior software and hardware, or else convince its customers that one of the two is worth paying for both of them. Either way, it’s not too pretty of a deal for Apple.

But once the two products are no longer tied to one another, it becomes a much easier sell. Anyone that admires the hardware but isn’t overly-impressed with the OS can simply get it pre-loaded with Windows or even Linux without the extra pricetag and effort; and those that like the OS but aren’t too fussy about the hardware can have it their way too. It’s a win-win situation, and it’s inevitable – just a matter of time now.

13 thoughts on “Apple’s Two Choices

  1. But Apple does have superior hardware. Just because they use Intel CPUs doesn’t mean everything else is the same quality as Dell now. Apple is still much better quality.

    Macs work because they have a very close marrige of hardware and software. It’s a unified computer expirience. That’s what they sell, that’s what they’ve always sold, and that’s what they will keep selling.

    “but the principles business management dictate one thing: to maximize your profits.”

    Well, yes, but you don’t want to abandon your market. Apple has a very specific market (one that is growing) and they don’t want to lose that. Their market is the one that just wants things to work. Just simply. And to keep that market, they must make simple computers that work well. And that can’t truely be done without OS or Hardware.

    At the most Apple might include Windows as a BTO option.

  2. While what you are saying is true, i.e. that the reason OS X is as good as it is today is simply that it is made ot work on one platform – but perfectly.

    However, even that no longer holds true. Soon enough Macintel desktops are coming out, and then Apple is going to have a problem. Desktops are made to be hacked (not security, pieces). With a desktop machine, someone is going to change the graphics card, add a PCI card that does _______, and in the end, upgrade the CPU or motherboard. That’s life.

    With hardware that’s theoretically fully compliant with the Apple platform, Apple doesn’t have that edge any more. At that point, it’s just another OS and just another mobo in a very stylish box. And that’s when Apple is going to have to choose.

  3. “But Apple does have superior hardware.”

    How? It’s all commodity parts these days (same HD, same video cards, same RAM manufacturers, etc.), and they’re built by the same companies (Asustek, Quanta, Foxconn, etc.) that build PCs for the rest of the industry. They have a notorious problem with under-engineering the heat dissipation on their laptops, and they were subject to the same battery recalls of the rest of the industry. For build quality/durability (in a non-ruggedized laptop), I’d take a ThinkPad over a MacBook/MB Pro any day.

    I used to work for a half-Mac, half-Windows shop, and I saw first-hand the failure rate of our many incoming machines. Macs had a marginally *higher* failure rate–not unusually high by any means, but the numbers of failures didn’t lie. Slick hardware design does not equal superior quality. However, when the numbers of failures are reported for consumer surveys, the numbers are skewed for Apple because they have some owners that are fanatics, and they under-report problems. You don’t really find Dell/Gateway/IBM/Sony/etc. fanatics, and the failures are reported objectively. The results of those surveys never reflected our experiences with a large sample of hardware, at least with respect to Macs.

  4. I think Apple is commited to providing the best computer experience for demanding users. There’s no need for them to choose between your two choices; in fact, they might choose both or they might choose neither. They’ll still make the best computer and the best software for my money. Put them both together and they’re greater than the sum of the parts.

    Bluvg, Apple users under-report their problems? That’s a good one…. And the proof Republicans haven’t tampered with elections lately (run primarily on M$ platforms) is because the Democrats were so eager to give exit polls, it skewed the exit poll results. Sure…

  5. Ken–if you prefer Apple’s machines, by all means, use them. They aren’t all things to all people, though, and there is a lot more flexibility in the general PC market than in Apple’s lineup.

    My premise that the problems are under-reported is based on two things: 1) many Apple enthusiasts discuss the problems with their system only in private among other Apple enthusiasts, never in public, and 2) the somewhat greater number of hardware and software problems encountered with Apple machines on a large fleet of both Windows and Apple machines on varying replacement cycles. They aren’t bad machines by any means, but they have their own issues. You can expect a certain percentage of DOA or imperfect machines as a matter of course; on a large sample set, we saw somewhat higher percentages for Apple machines.

    As for attempting to slip by a bit of personal political agenda, I’m not sure what relevance or purpose that has in this discussion.

  6. I administer a lot of Mac and Windows machines myself and have never noticed Macs to have more problems than Windows machines. Quite the opposite. Total cost of ownership for Macs is much lower since the security on Windows software is so horrible.

  7. As a matter fact, Apple uses the same hardware as everyone else, nothing special. But what does matter is their quality control/quality assurance.

    That’s always what matters, and Apple has very high QA requirements, meaning better hardware in the end.
    And so long as the OS supports *only* the hardware it was made for – then Apple customers get an overall better computer experience (if they can stand the too-cuddly interface and the dummy-proof system design) and so long as they don’t decide to “upgrade” their hardware (motherboard, processor, graphics card, etc.) for a faster PC.

  8. [quote comment=”6523″]Total cost of ownership for Macs is much lower since the security on Windows software is so horrible.[/quote]

    The problem is one of best practices, rather than inherent weaknesses. Switch your Windows users to standard user (or even power user) accounts rather than giving them local administrator privileges, and you’ll see security issues go away. Just as you wouldn’t run your Mac users as root, Windows users have no business running as admin. App compat isn’t an issue as you can address any specific needed permissions at the time the system image is built (or after with a few scripts). Most comsumer-oriented apps are ok without tweaking once installed, although there are some that still haven’t got their acts together.

    We’ve never seen the TCO argument for Macs bear out, and several “switch to Mac” projects (driven by the promise of lower TCO) for various departments failed and were switched back on the next hardware refresh. It’s an old example now, but the lesson still holds–the image of the unbent paper-clip sitting nearby every iMac in our office years ago provided a visual reminder for many that the oft-repeated notion of “lower TCO” for Macs is much more hype than reality. Apple has some configurations now that fare better for hardware cost (partly because general PC manufacturers have raised their margins… thanks a lot, Dell!), but the initial cost is a small piece of the total, as it always has been.

    Even if it weren’t for the vertical-market niche apps that only exist for Windows and have no OS X counterpart, there still remains little incentive to switch to Mac–the cost savings just isn’t there. And it isn’t because we didn’t look for it–we had a lot of hard-core Mac enthusiasts on our staff. The greater number of hardware failures didn’t really matter in the calculations, because usually they were still under warranty (user downtime was occasionally an issue, but that’s hard to quantify as we’d usually have a workaround of some sort). But in terms of support calls/time spent weighted according to the platform (the breakdown was not quite 50-50 OS X/Mac vs. Windows, and varied over time), they were about equal. That doesn’t take into consideration other issues, such as significantly fewer software options (Boot Camp–might as well just run Windows; Parallels–might as well just run Windows; CrossOver/WINE–you’d never get an ISV to support that configuration, not to mention it’s just plain buggy at best); shoddy ISV cross-platform support, hardware-vendor lock-in and single-source supplier issues, significantly less 3rd party hardware support, etc. etc. Those are also issues that are hard to put a price tag on, but they are very important considerations.

    Switching to a Mac is just not a panacea, and in fact, there are some serious downsides to it. It’s definitely not for everyone.

  9. [quote comment=”6549″]As a matter fact, Apple uses the same hardware as everyone else, nothing special. But what does matter is their quality control/quality assurance.

    That’s always what matters, and Apple has very high QA requirements, meaning better hardware in the end.[/quote]

    I think that is true to a degree–they definitely use higher-quality parts than the bargain PC models (eMachines, etc.), but I don’t think they are significantly above or below the ThinkPads or OptiPlexes, for example. The build quality of the ThinkPads in particular is unmatched, in my experience–a true road-warrior’s laptop. They are built like tanks… it’s a wonder they don’t weigh as much as one!

    On the other hand, Apple has had some notable, ongoing problems with excessive heat–issues that never should have got past QA. Personally, I think it may be an issue again of form over function. They may have to add a little bulk to dissipate the heat properly, but apparently they aren’t concerned about scorched legs or dying machines… reminds me of how Frank Lloyd Wright responded to his clients’ complaints of their flat-roofed homes leaking: “They’re supposed to leak.”

    And though we never purchased any G5 iMacs, the heat issues that caused the widely-reported stunning return rates for that line is more than just anecdotal evidence that the hardware failure rates for Macs can very well be higher than for the rest of the PC industry.

  10. Good point!
    I think Apple’s have high QA but aren’t as well designed as people think they are.

    Heat issues mean that Apple didn’t design the power consumption/dissapation right.
    It means that they weren’t looking for it in the QA lineup, and as such, they missed it.

    My personal fav is Toshiba, then Dell.. Customizing their laptops online and getting shipped is the best thing in the world.

  11. bluvg
    > I used to work for a half-Mac, half-Windows shop,
    > and I saw first-hand the failure rate of our many
    > incoming machines. Macs had a marginally higher
    > failure rate–not unusually high by any means,
    > but the numbers of failures didn’t lie.

    You could not have had enough information to determine the failure rate, as you would have had to have known the distribution of Macs and PCs of (a) everyone in the area, (b) everyone who had a failure.

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