The Practical Mac

5 Things Apple Is Doing Right in 2008 - and 5 It Could Do Better

- 2008.03.24 - Tip Jar

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Five years ago, I wrote a column on this same topic. We thought perhaps that a revisit would be in order 5 years on. But before the update, let's revisit the 2003 article's "5 It Could Do Better" section to see if Steve & Co. took my advice:

  1. Virtual PC: I wrote that Apple should create its own Windows emulator in response to Microsoft's purchase of Connectix and its Virtual PC product. Apple's switch to Intel chips in the intervening period caused this market to flourish with products from Parallels, CodeWeaver, VMWare, as well as Apple's own Boot Camp. It's comforting to know that the folks in Cupertino cherish my advice so much as to go all-out the way they obviously have to act on it. You're welcome.
  2. Bring back the G3 CRT iMac: I lamented the death of what was then Apple's lowest-priced Mac. Two years later, Apple did heed the call to bring back a low-cost Mac, the Mac mini, just not an all-in-one.
  3. Build a Tablet PC: My advice may have fallen on deaf ears at 1 Infinite Loop, but Axiotron picked up the ball and ran with it. The Modbook is an amazing feat of engineering.
  4. Apple should aggressively pursue regaining its dominance in the education market, which it had recently lost to Dell: Mission accomplished.
  5. Buy Palm in order to own the handheld market: They decided to own the handheld market by developing the iPhone and iPod touch instead. Same result, so I feel vindicated.

Is it a coincidence that Apple is successful far beyond what we could have imagined five years ago, and they (or others) have (more or less) implemented all five of my open-letter suggestions from that time? In my humble opinion, it is not. (If Apple wanted to reward me with some profit-sharing, I would not fail to cash the check.)

Now, 5 Things Apple Is Doing Right in 2008 - and 5 They Could Do Better

5 Things Apple Is Doing Right

  1. Evolution of the iPod. Apple hit a home run with this one. Back in 2003, we were on the second-generation iPod. Since then, we have seen not only the introduction of the iPod mini, nano, and shuffle, but multiple generations of each. I'm sure I'll get email on this one, but I would argue that the most important product in the line is the shuffle. Why? In a rarity for Apple, the iPod shuffle was and is pretty much the lowest-priced "real" portable music player available. This exposed an Apple product to a market that had previously been ignored by the company, that being the lower-end. And the product was fully compatible with iTunes. Market penetration (saturation?) can only be a good thing.
  2. The iPhone. If the continued march of the iPod was a home run, the iPhone is a grand slam, expanding Apple's market segments even more. Like all Apple products, its genius is its simplicity: It just works the way you think it should. The iPod touch is a nice complement for those who want the PDA functionality without the phone and/or can't get (or don't want) AT&T cellular service. And did I mention that they're also fully functional iPods. The recent release of the iPhone Software Development Kit will undoubtedly result in a multitude of third-party applications that will make an even more compelling case for the iPhone.
  3. MacBook Air. The world's thinnest notebook is an engineering marvel. As soon as I got my hands on one, I went out and bought my own - something I never do. This truly lightweight and portable Mac will lighten the road warrior's load significantly.
  4. iTunes everywhere. I am using "iTunes" as a generic catchall for all of Apple's media offerings. The iTunes Store now offers movies, TV shows, podcasts, and even movie rentals. Apple TV is the long-awaited appliance that brings the Mac into the living room. Plus it can all be directed to most iPods (see #1 above).
  5. Momentum. In a word, Apple has it - and they are capitalizing on it with aplomb. Rather than resting on their laurels, Apple follows up each success with a new push. The sales figures, and, yes, the (drum roll, please) market share, reflect it. As the Mac installed base expands, so does the software available. The larger the market, the greater the potential for sales, and the more likely developers are to write for the platform. In February, Macs accounted for 14% of all personal computers shipped in the US, up from 9% in February 2007. The latest figures I could find for installed base, through the 3rd calendar quarter of 2007, puts Apple at 8.1%. In all ways, Apple is moving up.

5 Things Apple Could Do Better

Make no mistake, Apple is riding higher than they have in decades. However, there is still room for improvement, to wit:

  1. Get an Enterprise Strategy. In a word, Apple doesn't have one and admits it. The Xserve and Mac OS X Server can hang with any hardware-software combo in the enterprise. Perhaps Apple should, maybe, tell a few people about this and see if word of mouth will take hold. That is better than anything else they seem to be doing. The Xserve RAID, a fine product pretty much neglected since its introduction, was discontinued on 19 February 2008 and replaced with Promise VTrak E-Class RAID Subsystem. I'm not saying Apple has to mortgage the farm to make a pitch to the enterprise, just put together a small, highly skilled team and target some key corporations to get a foot in the door. Once you do this, momentum will kick in (see #5 above).
  2. Diversify Their Subnotebook Offering. The MacBook Air is great, but for their next move, Apple could shrink a notebook the other way: around the periphery instead of flattening it. I believe each model would find its own niche. Flat and lightweight is great, but some travelers are not so much interested in the thickness as they are in having a full-featured Mac just slightly larger than a PDA.
  3. Security. Apple does not seem to be doing much in the way of fighting viruses and malware. Fortunately, there is little of either targeting Macs right now. The Mac is an inherently more stable and secure system than Windows, so it's not likely to ever have the rampant problems of that platform, but you can be certain that as the installed base of Macs increases, they will become a more tempting target for the hacker and criminal communities.
  4. Release a Midrange Modular Mac. A gaping hole in Apple's product line is the lack of a midrange modular, expandable Mac. Give home users a tower that is reasonable priced. Few of us want or need (or want to pay for) a Mac Pro. Something with the computing power of the iMac, but without a built-in monitor and with room to add expansion cards, change display adapters, change/add hard drives and optical drives, etc.
  5. Get a Succession Plan for Steve. What would happen to Apple if something happened to Steve Jobs? I don't know and don't want to find out. Jobs is a bigger and more integral part of Apple than, say, Bill Gates is to Microsoft. If Gates left Microsoft, who could run a company that cranks out bloated, buggy, overpriced software three years behind schedule? Heck, I could do that, along with half of America. Running Apple is a bit more complicated. It requires finesse, vision, and creativity. I know I couldn't do it, and I can't think of anyone right off who could. You see the problem. I'm sure Apple has a succession plan in place, and I wish I knew what it was. They are not likely to make such a plan public (nor should they), but just thinking about the prospect of a Steve-less Apple makes me a bit uneasy. LEM

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Steve Watkins is the Vice President for Information Technology for a mid-sized bank, an attorney, and an Army Reserve JAG on extended active duty. He has been a Mac user for about 12 years. He has owned some PCs along the way - but always came back to the Mac. If you find his articles helpful, please consider making a donation to his tip jar.

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