Things Macintosh

Apple Will Rule the Computer World

Rodney O. Lain - 1999.11.17

Quality is job one.
  - Ford Auto Company's motto

Innovation comes from people who take joy in their work.
  - W. Edwards Deming (1900-1993)

It was a great deal.

American auto maker Chrysler reached an agreement with Japanese car manufacturer Mitsubishi. They were to co-create a new sports car that each company would market under separate names. Mitsubishi named their model of the sports car the "Eclipse;" Chrysler called theirs the "Laser."

Then an odd thing happened.

Statistics showed that Chrysler sold only 14 Lasers at each dealership, while Mitsubishi sold over 140 at each dealership.

Remember that there is no difference between the two cars other than the name. Why the drastic difference in sales figures?

When polled, many consumers said they bought the Eclipse because they believed that Japanese products are superior.

Again: both cars are exactly the same!

On behalf of all American auto makers, I'd like to say, in the immortal words of Dr. Evil, "throw them a frickin' bone."

Xenophobia in Reverse

There was a time when Americans would not buy anything "foreign-made." But now it seems the opposite is true: we think the Japanese product will last much longer and work much better than the American-made one.

Where did this belief come from, and where does this fit into our ongoing discussion of things Macintosh?

I believe that Apple is dipping from the well of Japanese business practices in a way that could one day make Apple Computer the Sony or Honda of the computer industry.

How Japan Did It

Monopoly is business at the end of its journey.
  - Henry Demarest Lloyd

Did you know that everything that we admire Japanese businesses and businessmen for - work ethic, product quality, etc. - we owe it all to an American?

Dig, if you will, the picture: the year was 1950. Japan was a ravaged mess after being on the losing side of the second "war to end all wars." Nothing worked with any semblance of efficiency. Japan was synonymous with poor quality.

Then Dr. Deming came along.

Dr. W. Edwards Deming, a native of Wyoming, had developed what was known as the System of Profound Knowledge, a management philosophy that taught its adherents how to increase and bring quality to every aspect of their lives. Dr. Deming taught these principles to Japanese businessmen, and these principles became the foundation of the "Japanese Industrial Miracle."

So, when you are sitting there admiring Japanese businesses, you are actually admiring the principles they learned from someone born and reared in the good ole U. S. of A.

But look how far Demings principles have been internalized into Japanese business consciousness:

American businesses set an arbitrary standard, say, "we must increase revenue by 30% every year," and then work for that. Once we meet that goal, then we set another goal, and so on. In Japan however, they commit their businesses to one and only one principle: always work at increasing the quality of their product.

In a nutshell, the two philosphies can be described thusly: The American approach is to produce products that generate more customers. The Japanese approach is to produce products that create loyal customers.

The Japanese business ethic began from one simple premise: if you start a business and base it on the goal of continuously striving for quality, you will slowly but surely become the #1 business over time. Dr. Deming taught the Japanese that quality is cheaper to produce than revenue, but quality will produce revenue.

These are two, diametrically opposite business strategies. And they make night-and-day differences in corporate success.

Japan values this philosophy so that each year there is a Deming Award given to the company that best epitomizes the Deming principles. Companies compete vigorously for this award to this day.

How Apple Does It

A thing is worth whatever the buyer will pay for it.
  - Publilius Syrus

To which philosophy do you think Microsoft subscribes? I think that Microsoft applies good ole American "greed is good" approaches to their Windows operating systems; surely they don't work towards quality. If they did, there wouldn't be so many security holes and outright bugs in their software.

Now, I must be fair and say that Microsoft Internet Explorer is a good piece of programming. Ditto for Outlook Express 5.

Or is it because Netscape is such a lousy browser (on my Mac, anyway) and it merely makes Internet Explorer look good? Ditto for Eudora Pro.

I think that Apple, on the other hand, is creating quality.

(Keep in mind that, back in 1997, when Steve Jobs took over, a reporter asked him if he was going to save Apple, and he replied that he wasn't going to save Apple, but would, instead, concentrate on making the best computers in the world.)

Macs have always bespoken quality in their industrial design and ease of use. I'd like to think that this tradition is carried over to the current line of Mac computers. I'd like to also think that this is why Macs sell so well.

Apple: The Next Sony? The Next Honda?

Customer: "Gee, if these models are sold way under cost like you say they are, how do you make a living?"

Salesman: "Simple. We make our money fixing them."

This is why I think Apple is on the rise and will continue rising. Good marketing helps, but I think the reason the Mac is successful is because quality sells. Why else would Macs continue to sell well when it is common knowledge that Apple enjoys the highest profit margins in the industry, while PC makers cannabilize themselves by trying to sell a cheaper Yugo computer than their competitors?

The PC manufacturers think that if they slap colored plastic onto their computers that they will mimic the iMac's success.

I'd like to think that new Mac owners aren't fooled by such superficial trappings. I think that they see in their new Mac a Honda automobile or a Sony product.

They see quality. And I believe that quality will keep them coming back for more for years to come.

If Apple keeps concentrating on innovation and on quality, Apple will one day sell more computers than any of the PC makers.

For further reading

Rodney O. Lain (1968-2002) called himself a fashion victim: He liked wearing socks with his sandals. When he wasn't dispensing fashion advice, Rodney wrote for Low End Mac, The Mac Observer, Applelinks, and many other websites. Rodney lived in Minnesota. His own website was iBrotha.com, and we have collected as much of his writing that has since disappeared from the Web as possible in The Rodney O. Lain Archive.

The most widely read Things Macintosh columns:

  1. Apple is a company, 10/4/1999
  2. The main difference between Steve Jobs and Bill Gates, 1/17/2000
  3. The $600 iMac, 12/24/1999
  4. Apple will rule the computer world, 11/17/1999
  5. I'm not paying $20 for my OS X upgrade, 2001.07.25.
  6. A Mac is like Prozac, 10/13/1999
  7. I'm a drop the funk bomb on ya: Milking the Macintosh for all it's worth, 2001.03.20.
  8. More links and links to memorial articles in the Things Macintosh index.

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