Is Apple Really Back?

1998: In his article, Apple Offers Sizzle in Forbes Digital, Michael Noer asks, “Is Apple really back?”

Despite claims by Steve Jobs and the fact that Apple Computer is the sweetheart stock of 1998, Noer maintains that Apple is not back. Instead, he claims it is dying.

It’s All About the Clones

Noer notes that Apple’s sales peaked at $11 billion in 1995, the year after it began licensing clones and Power Computing started selling them. Since then, in no small part due to the clone market (sometimes estimated at up to 30% of all Mac OS sales), Apple’s sales dropped.

Realizing that it had shot itself in the foot, Apple under Steve Jobs bought out Power Computing’s Mac OS license. Motorola pulled out of the Mac OS market. Only Umax remained, and its license expires this summer.

In addition to the cost of buying out Power Computing, Apple had to contend with fire sales on Power Computing and Motorola clones, plus the low-priced line of Umax computers. No wonder Apple’s market share fell – but can anyone tell me what the Mac OS market share was for 4th quarter 1997?

Apple’s Growing Market Share

Noer grudgingly concedes that Apple’s market share grew from 3.6% to 4.0%, calling a 10% improvement, “a tiny bump.” With only one competitor and most of the Power Computing and Motorola clones out of the distribution chain, Apple is finally able to increase its own market share.

But what Noer and most nay-sayers ignore is the longevity of Macintosh computers. Even if Apple isn’t selling as many as they’d like, a lot of us are still using our three, five, and even ten-year-old Macs, still buying software and still hoping to someday buy a G3. Even if current sales are only 4% of the market, the installed base puts Mac software somewhere in the range of 20%.

On top of that, the #1 software product last summer (and possibly for all of 1997) was Mac OS 8, a fact conveniently ignored in Noer’s article.

Noer then goes on to compare Apple’s profits for the past two quarters with those of Dell (which sells directly to users, not through retail stores) and Microsoft (which really isn’t in the hardware business, except for mice). What of beleaguered hardware companies like Compaq and Intel?

Does Ultima Oline Matter?

Next Noer goes off on an obscure tangent: the ability to play Ultima Online. Sorry, but I don’t see the connection. Besides, people who really need or want to run Windows and DOS (and even OS/2 and Intel-specific versions of Unix) software on the Mac have the options of Virtual PC, SoftWindows, and full-blown PC-on-a-card DOS cards.

Then he notes that Dragon NaturallySpeaking won’t run on a Mac, nor will IBM’s speech recognition software. Excuse me, Mr. Noer, but Apple pioneered speech recognition with the Centris 660av and Quadra 840av back in 1993. Granted, Apple didn’t market it well, nor did it catch on as a very practical feature.

“Fact is, if you want to use your computer for much of anything beyond word processing, number crunching or surfing the web, having an Apple computer is an enormous liability. And getting worse.”

Odd, most people don’t perceive the Mac as a great number crunching machine (although it is – just look at those BYTEmark scores). However, they all note that the Mac is #1 in the graphics world, the publishing industry, and for internet development. And it still dominates in schools.

So what if Adobe is making more money selling Windows product than Mac product. Considering that over 80% of the computers out there run Windows, we’d expect that. What’s amazing is that such a huge chunk of Adobe profits come from the less popular computing platform.

It Just Works

And the Mac OS is easier to develop for and more user-friendly – as Mac lovers noted after watching Bill Gates grimace at the Windows 98 Plug-N-Play demo a few weeks ago.

At the core, Michael Noer simply misunderstands the nature of the Macintosh. There is real value in controlling both the hardware and the operating system, as Microsoft’s hordes of programmers have realized for years. There is something special about a computer that sees and mounts a floppy disk or CD-ROM all by itself, that gives disks names instead of letters, that allows you to do something as simple as customize the icon for a folder, that doesn’t make you go to a Start menu when you want to shut down the computer.

The Mac has always been the computer of choice for those who want the easiest, most friendly, best finessed operating system on a personal computer. Without the clever integration of software and hardware, the Mac would be just another box and the Mac OS just another operating system.

Instead, they remain a goal Microsoft can only dream of matching with the next version of Windows – maybe.

And, by the way, Apple isn’t back – it never left.