We all love Apple. Well, most of us do. The last few years, especially since the Vista launch, modern media has pushed on us the virtues of owning a Mac. Most of the top names in the tech blogosphere use Macs, and support almost all of Apple’s products. Leo Laporte, Ryan Block, and Peter Rojas are all self-admitted Macs (though they all come clean to using PCs). The “in” thing to do in the industry is to be a Mac. While this may put Apple in a position to become the leader in the PC industry, there are several reasons as to why Apple doesn’t want to and cannot do so.
Apple has long been the underdog of the PC industry. Right before Steve Jobs’ return as iCEO, we can see that this was for a good reason. Apple’s product line-up was a mess and the company was suffering through its worst years ever. Apple started out as a company that was all about the ability to “Think Different.” With Jobs’ return to Apple, this concept was embraced again, and the company started producing computers for the people. The original iMac and iBook are perfect examples: a colored and translucent computer was all about style and appealed to a younger audience. On the other hand, Windows PCs of the day were still considered the computers of choice amongst the tech elite and the business world.
Cut to today
Apple’s lineup of computers is amazing, to say the least. An Apple computer represents the latest and greatest in hardware: processors, graphics cards, RAM, connectivity technology, and enclosure engineering are all top-notch. The Mac lineup caters to both personal and business users and does so with extreme precision. Yet Apple is still the underdog of the personal computer market, having approximately 10% of U.S. market share. And this is exactly where the company needs to and wants to be, give or take a few percentage points.
One of Apple’s greatest strengths is its ability to manufacture both the software and the hardware that combine to make an amazing piece of machinery which outperforms all competition. But this level of performance comes at a price: the company’s second-greatest strength is the margin it enjoys. The last bevy of financial reports have pegged profit margin in the area of 30% or higher. Compared to rival companies such as Dell and HP, that’s an astounding number! It has turned Apple into a company that’s not only debt-free, but one that also enjoys tens of billion of dollars in the bank (and other short-term investments). But why can Apple charge so much more for its computers while other companies try so hard to earn even a 5 percent margin? Read more »
Posted in Apple
, Operating Systems
, Windows 7
, Windows Vista
Windows Vista is dead, long live Windows 7!
That was the sentiment back at CES 2009, when Microsoft pulled the wraps off of a new and improved Windows (in beta form). And while Windows 7 looks to fix most, if not all, of the shortcomings of Windows Vista, one important topic of discussion persists, and that is whether to split up the Windows OS UI based on target markets.
“What the hell does that mean,” you may ask? “Enough with the business speak, already.” What that means is that there are proponents of the idea that Microsoft differentiate Windows not by a certain feature set but rather by the user interface. This has been a long-standing topic, with roots going all the way back to July 2008 when Paul Thurrott brought up his support of the idea on Windows Weekly episode 67.
But I haven’t even told you what the hell I’m talking about:
Specifically, the proponents of this idea suggest that Microsoft should ship two major versions of Windows: one for home use and one for business use. Doesn’t that already exist today? Yes – with Vista Home Premium and Vista Business. But the supporters of this idea go even further: they suggest that Windows should be differentiated not by its feature set, but the two major versions of Windows should be distinguished by completely different user interfaces.
The idea is that businesses would be able to hang on to an old and trusted OS + interface (think XP). This will give Microsoft the freedom to innovate on the consumer side of the OS and make radical improvements (and changes) to the UI – something businesses don’t welcome with open arms (think Office 2007 vs. 2003). Makes good sense, right?
Wrong. I think it’s a horrible idea. Here are four reasons why: Read more »
Posted in Apple
, Operating Systems
Ask any Mac user why he uses (and swears by) his Mac and you will most likely get many responses. One of such replies might be the fact that applications on the Mac all have a uniform “look and feel”, making the user feel right at home with any application, new or old. But there is an evil spirit flying in from the south, one that can put an end to this beautiful uniformity. This spirit goes by the name of Adobe AIR. Read on to find out what it brings. Read more »
Posted in Adobe AIR
, Operating Systems
Yes, yes, hurray! The faster, better, do-it-all iPhone has been announced. But there are still a few burning questions about the release, answers to which are very important to power users like myself. So, does iPhone firmware version 2.0 and/or iPhone 3G have the following much-needed features?
- Cut&paste (or Copy&Paste).
From what we have seen thus far, the answer is “no.” And it’s a big let down. Stick with me here: on stage, Steve Jobs talked about 3G as if it is a major innovasion of sorts, yet what it really is is just an inclusion of a different data chip and some software drivers to support that chip. The concept of 3G speeds is not new or revolutionary not was it that difficult for Apple to implement. Nevertheless, about 5 minutes of the almost 2-hour presentation was spent by Mr. Jobs explaining the benefits of 3G. Why spend so much time of the presentation on 3G speeds when so many have been asking for it since iPhone’s launch? Yet many an iPhone power user has been clamoring for cut&paste since the launch as well. And while cut&paste might not be as important or as useful as 3G wireless transfer speeds, it certainly is a feature Apple decided to ignore completely this time around. Even still, some might say that the development of cut&paste in the iPhone would require less effort and time from Apple, being only a software feature. So, where is it? Here? Nope. There? Don’t look like it either…
Another question about cut&paste is about its implementation code-wise. If it would have been included in the update, how would Apple justify running what is in all instances a background service, without giving such permission to third-party developers in the SDK? I’m sure there is a way to implement it if Apple did it, but don’t expect to see it as a third-party application any time soon.
Verdict: cut/copy&paste is not in the cards for this release of the iPhone. Let’s hope (with a big “H”) that it is coming as a free software update down the road.
- Multiple-calendar support.
From what we have seen, it’s not clear. During Phil Schiller’s demonstration at WWDC, there was a minor color difference between appointments in the “Day View” of his iPhone. Something important to remember is that iCal and consequently the new MobileMe service (as well as Outlook, which works with MobileMe), all have multiple calendar support. So it would only make sense if the feature made it this (second) time around to the iPhone.
Verdict: maybe multi-calendar support made it through this release. It looks like it.
Update: the calendar section of the iPhone website now makes it clear that multiple calendars are supported. Just like in iCal, calendars have their own colors. Hurray Apple!
- Calendar sharing. (More of a feature for the MobileMe service).
Speaking of calendars, how about sharing them? I have made the switch a long time ago from my Mac’s iCal to Google Calendar. The only reason for my switch was the ability to share my calendars with friends, my girlfriend, colleagues, and clients -all in real time and on the web. No RSS feeds to manually manage, no problems if my calendar is offline. It’s always online with Google Calendar, since the web is its home.
Since switching to Google Calendar, I have purchased BusySync – an OS X plug-in that allows me to perform 2-way synchronization between Google Calendar and my local iCal. This solution works for Google Calendars I am the owner of as well as for calendars that have been shared with me on Google. The main reason for using BusySync is that, in the all-to-common situation of not having internet access, I am able to make changes to the calendars offline – in iCal. As soon as my internet connection is reestablished, everything synchronizes automatically: iCal changes I have made offline are synced up to Google Calendar; changes others have made to either their calendars or my calendars (that I have shared with them) in the time I was offline are synced back down to my local iCal.
It would be very nice, clean, and efficient if Apple provided this service through MobileMe, especially in the “push” way of the new .Mac replacement. How would they do this? That’s a question that would require some collaboration between all web calendaring companies (Google Calendar, Plaxo, Yahoo Calendar, Microsoft Live calendars, MobileMe, and many others). These companies would need to create and implement open calendar-sharing technologies – since current calendar-sharing technologies are proprietary. Much in the same way that Google is leading the open social networking movement with OpenSocial, an open calendar-sharing movement (by Google?) would need to take place to develop open-standard calendar sharing technologies. The issue here is not in creating online calendars that look and work the same; it’s how to make all these web-based calendars from different providers work together in the “sharing department.”
Verdict: As of this point, calendar-sharing goodness hasn’t shone through to MobileMe/iPhone.
- To-Do Lists.
Verdict: looks like that’s not made its way into the new software release or the new iPhone. That’s fine. I’m using 37 Signals‘ online Ta-da List and loving it. The only drawback is that my to-dos don’t have a to-do date and aren’t displayed on my calendar.
- MMS (Multimedia Messaging Service).
Right about now, it is getting ridiculous with this feature, or namely – lack thereof. Why is a free Nokia phone able to send and receive MMS messages, and the super-duper-ultra-useful iPhone isn’t. Apple fanboys – bring the mail, please do – but I refuse to apologize for Apple when one of the most standard mobile phone features is not supported in the industry’s smartest smartphone. And the lack of information and Apple’s standard level of secrecy about why the feature is missing are getting plain annoying.
Verdict: no MMS for you, sonny. Send your picture of the uber-cool car that just drove by via email (video after jump).
It looks like Apple has some work to do still with standard features on the iPhone (MMS) and collaborate on bigger issue (calendar sharing) with other companies to improve MobileMe. We will be keeping our eyes peeled, noses sniffing, and ears listening to every move Apple makes on these issues. But for now – enjoy what features you have on the iPhone and enjoy their excellent implementation – whether you are getting the 3G version or sticking to your 2G oldie-but-goodie model.
Posted in Apple
, Operating Systems
For years, Apple has been known as the true innovator in the technology space. Their innovation spans far and wide and has conquered the hearts and minds of many. Just ask any Mac user or anyone with an iPhone why they love their Apple product, and you will hear words such as “simplicity, elegance, style, usefulness, reliability, and the “hip factor,” among others. Users of Apple products love their products. Period. They live and swear by them. And even though the Macintosh market share has been steadily increasing over the last few years, Apple Mac computers will never be leaders by this metric; not if the company sticks to the same business model as it utilizes today.
On one hand is Microsoft: a technology company whose product is difficult to escape in everyday life. Whether you’re on the web , at home , at the bank , or in the car , chances are Microsoft had a hand in designing the software which powers those items. However, it is widely opined by tech analysts and experts that users of Microsoft products aren’t as enthusiastic about their products as users of Apple gear are. Most of them “just use it,” as I had a friend explain to me why he uses Windows (or rather, a Dell PC with Windows pre-installed). And as far as I can see, Microsoft will not be letting go of their software dominance. Quite to the contrary, actually: they will grow the market share of their current market-leading products, and expand into new territory – and be dominant there as well. Just to be on the same page, however, allow me to review some general marketing and business concepts before we delve into the good stuff. Here we go.
Rule : A company’s market position influences its focus. For tech companies, this is especially true. Market share leaders focus on attracting new potential users, whereas smaller firms focus on attracting current users away from the market leader.
Interpretation : From that sentence, we can substitute some words with actual company names and come out with: “Microsoft, a market share leader in desktop, server, mobile, automobile, and embedded operating systems, focuses on attracting new potential users, whereas Apple, a smaller yet “more-loved by its users” technology firm, focuses on attracting current users away from the market leader (Microsoft).
Such market forces can be observed most prominently in Microsoft expanding into new, yet untapped geographical markets, and consequently attaining new customers/users there. For example, efforts by Microsoft such as the availability of Windows XP on the OLPC XO and the availability of Windows on low-cost miniature (yet useful) notebooks such as HP’s Mini-Note and Asus’ EeePC give the company a chance to be the first official supplier of computers to technologically undeveloped nations. That was a mouthful so let me break it down a bit.
Unrealized profits in the developing nations
Until now, Microsoft has not been achieving to the fullest potential the sales of the company’s cash cows – Windows and Office – to third-world nations. That is, most commercial software that is being used and sold in such nations is pirated. Microsoft is using a combination of forces to change this. Windows Genuine Advantage is first to come to mind. With the infusion of the aforementioned low-cost PCs and a new, low-cost, version of Windows (Starter Edition), Microsoft is making their software more financially appealing to residents of these countries. Having access to low-cost and genuine software will allow tech users of these regions to choose such products and benefit Microsoft financially instead of the software pirates. (As an aside, this has worked very well with music conglomerates and artists in the U.S. The “overly-complicated” strategy is to make content easily accessible , affordable , and to treat your customers with respect - not with the automatic assumption that they are thieves and will do anything to steal your content. Only then piracy will be eliminated. Video companies still have not caught on to this ingenious marketing and sales technique).
Out of the low-cost PCs mentioned above, one deserves some more discussion. The OLPC (One Laptop Per Child) initiative is a non-profit organization that designs, manufactures, and sells the $100 XO laptop (pictured above). The goal is to bring computing (in the form of the OLPC) to children in third-world countries. Governments of such nations can purchase these sturdy, usable, and fun laptops for children and students. Donations are also accepted on the OLPC site. (My explanation is simply underwhelming compared to what the OLPC initiative’s goals and practices are. Check out the OLPC project, located at laptop.org, to find out more about the OLPC initiative.) Back on track: children in third-world nations will be able to use these low-cost, functional computers to better their education. The huge detail that has to be noted here is the following: these children will be brought up using the OLPC. Microsoft just partnered with the OLPC initiative to provide Windows on these laptops. The end result is that an entire generation of children will be brought up using Windows. If the light bulb hasn’t turned on yet, think about how much attachment and/or dependency these children will have on the Windows OS as they grow up. Moreover, in five to eight years, Windows desktop OS market share worldwide will be growing exponentially from these two complimentary forces:
- Windows OLPC sales today and in the future
- Students using the Windows OLPC today will be buying and/or using another computing product with Windows in their future (after completing schooling and entering the workforce)
Meanwhile, Apple’s Mac will still be hard at work trying to chip away at its measly single-digit marketshare in the U.S., but doing absolutely nothing about third-world countries and those children’s computing education needs.
Say what you will about Apple:
- that it is a smaller, more concentrated company serving a differentiated and/or more concentraed market;
- that it would rather compete in the space of higher margins rather than the market share game;
- or that, by Steve Jobs, there are certain price points Apple will never compete in (the lowest ones, obviously)
Thus, the fact still remains that the desktop OS market will be, just as it is today, dominated by Windows. Apple’s Mac may conquer the hearts and minds of its users, but when only a small fraction of the world is using the Mac, there is something to be said for the “numbers”. (Hint: numbers tell most of the story). All this will occur unless Apple makes a paradigm shift in their Mac business model. But this topic is for another day.
Additional notes – please read this before leaving your comments and sending me any kind of mail
I wrote this post putting other third-world country topics aside. I realize very well that basic needs such as food, shelter, and water (in no particular order and among others) must be met before questions about computing even begin to be discussed. I, however, firmly believe that if computing is brought to a nation that has never been exposed to it, the nation will be on a more even playing field than it has been before. Surely, computers and technology alone won’t make it fair: technology education is a requirement.
Posted in Apple
, Operating Systems
, PC vendors