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Article:
  Apple's High-Water Mark?
Subject:   This is a tech analysis about a company that isn't tech-focused
Date:   2006-03-23 23:41:29
From:   jmproffitt
Sorry, but this whole analysis misses the Steve Jobsian point of product development. It's not about the technology itself -- it's about the end user experience.


Yap all ya like about Linux and PS3 and the Cell and all that jazz. But so long as Steve Jobs or someone born of his mold is sitting at the top and maintaining a vise-like grip on product development -- and fanatically focusing that development on the end user experience -- then all the rest of the elements should fall into place and Apple will remain a leader either in design and thought (Mac OS X) or in actual market share (iPod, iTunes).


The problem with Windows and Linux is that no one controls the end user experience with enough vigor and attention to detail. Windows is doing better and better with each revision, but there are still too many cooks in that kitchen. Linux has no central leadership on the end user experience because it cannot, by definition, be uniformly led or controlled by any one person or group. All that said, Apple still has some cleaning up to do in its Mac OS X camp -- the Finder and lots of their bundled applications do not yet behave uniformly or maintain a consistent look/feel. So even with Jobs cracking heads, Mac OS X still has issues, but it's way out in front of platforms with no one leading from a position of end-user focus and authority.


As for the shifting-processor threat, Apple is now successfully moving its Mac OS X platform into a processor-agnostic model. Follow their mantra -- use Xcode, use Xcode, use Xcode. They know they might have to jump processors again, and probably expect to jump. Stick with their development approach (Xcode) and you'll be able to follow them wherever they go. If they have to go to Cell, so be it. If the go to the Sun 8-way package, so be it. They've gotten it right at this point -- the presentation layer is the best in the business (though it could be better still), and the development layer has been largely abstracted from the hardware layer.


And puhleeze stop with the Linux predictions of growth or dominance or whatever. Linux is a great OS, but it's impossible for end users to use -- no applications, nothing is easy, and there are a billion variations. Way, way, WAY too hard for end users to handle. And that will not change because no one's in charge of it. Again, great OS, but only when it's handed to end users in a closed package (like the proposed PS3 setup).


Apple license OS X? Not likely. The only way that works is if they have a massive hardware certification program or license only specific manufacturers that stick to their straight and narrow hardware path. It's easier to make your own to your own specs than to hammer out contracts with third parties (like a Dell) to make things that meet your exacting standards. Keep in mind that Apple doesn't really make any of their own hardware anymore. So why contract with Dell when you can dictate terms to a Taiwanese manufacturer and get your preferred solution, then sell it yourself and get the best margins? End user simplicity and stability is the point, and that's impossible to maintain when Dell switches hard drive, processor, memory and DVD-RW models and suppliers every week.


Sure, Apple has challenges, as do the rest of the companies noted in the analysis. I just don't buy the overall concept that 2006 is Apple's high water mark and 2007 begins the decline. I can look back in history and see a lot tougher business environments in which Apple has done just fine, thank you. After all, the biggest story about the Intel transition is that it's not much of a transition at all. For the end users. And that's the point.

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  • This is a tech analysis about a company that isn't tech-focused
    2006-03-30 21:50:35  ohfoo [View]

    Couldn't agree more with this comment. First person that explicitly realizes the "agnostic" position implied in Apple's efforts, that the Xcode tools hover over the two main cpu-line choices. Offloading video processing from the 970 version x to the rest of Cell isn't such a big deal.
  • This is a tech analysis about a company that isn't tech-focused
    2006-03-24 17:38:29  AdrienLamothe [View]

    It is best to respond to this point-by-point:

    "Sorry, but this whole analysis misses the Steve Jobsian point of product development. It's not about the technology itself -- it's about the end user experience."

    --- I agree with the end-user experience part. However, Steve Jobs has ALWAYS hyped the concept of technological excellence in his products. His public statement about switching to Intel was that (sic) "Intel has the best processor roadmap from here on out." He always talks about the technology in the products, using it as a selling point. There are other people better suited to discuss the actual end user experiences of Macintosh owners; perhaps some of them will post to this talkback. ---

    "Yap all ya like about Linux and PS3 and the Cell and all that jazz. But so long as Steve Jobs or someone born of his mold is sitting at the top and maintaining a vise-like grip on product development -- and fanatically focusing that development on the end user experience -- then all the rest of the elements should fall into place and Apple will remain a leader either in design and thought (Mac OS X) or in actual market share (iPod, iTunes)."

    --- Yes, maintaining tight control on product insures a good user experience. Several Linux vendors (HP, IBM, Penguin Computing and others) already do this in the server space. Companies will start to do so in the mass market, when the time is right. Some companies are already starting to do this in select markets, South Africa is an example (see "Related Links" at end of article) ---

    "The problem with Windows and Linux is that no one controls the end user experience with enough vigor and attention to detail. Windows is doing better and better with each revision, but there are still too many cooks in that kitchen. Linux has no central leadership on the end user experience because it cannot, by definition, be uniformly led or controlled by any one person or group. All that said, Apple still has some cleaning up to do in its Mac OS X camp -- the Finder and lots of their bundled applications do not yet behave uniformly or maintain a consistent look/feel. So even with Jobs cracking heads, Mac OS X still has issues, but it's way out in front of platforms with no one leading from a position of end-user focus and authority."

    --- True openness, like true democracy, is a messy affair, but much more desirable than the alternatives. Regarding a lack of central authority, this has recently changed. The Open Source Development Lab and Linus Torvalds have devoted themselves to insuring a good end-user experience. As far as Mac OS X being "way out in front", I'm not sure what you mean by that, and I disagree with the statement. SuSE Linux has been the leader in providing an easy to install and use Linux distro, with a very nice fit and finish. I do agree that Mac OS X is the leader for offering a polished desktop, but it also has occasional glitches that require expert attention. Computers are extremely complex machines, it is doubtful they will ever be maintenance free. The closest thing I've seen to maintenance-free computers are the Linux boxes I've built for people. I have a friend who is almost computer illiterate, who was experiencing massive problems with his Windows computers. He has been using a Linux box for over two years now, and it has never crashed or experienced any problems, it just works for him every time. ---

    "As for the shifting-processor threat, Apple is now successfully moving its Mac OS X platform into a processor-agnostic model. Follow their mantra -- use Xcode, use Xcode, use Xcode. They know they might have to jump processors again, and probably expect to jump. Stick with their development approach (Xcode) and you'll be able to follow them wherever they go. If they have to go to Cell, so be it. If the go to the Sun 8-way package, so be it. They've gotten it right at this point -- the presentation layer is the best in the business (though it could be better still), and the development layer has been largely abstracted from the hardware layer."

    --- If you feel comfortable entrusting your programming effort to Xcode, then by all means use it. I prefer established standards, such as Unix. Binding your code to a non-standard abstraction layer also binds you to the organizations that control the layer. ---

    "And puhleeze stop with the Linux predictions of growth or dominance or whatever. Linux is a great OS, but it's impossible for end users to use -- no applications, nothing is easy, and there are a billion variations. Way, way, WAY too hard for end users to handle. And that will not change because no one's in charge of it. Again, great OS, but only when it's handed to end users in a closed package (like the proposed PS3 setup)."

    --- Wow, have you been living in the jungle the past few years? Impossible to use? No applications? Nothing is easy? A billion variations? No one in charge of it? Get serious. Do you work for Microsoft? I do agree that most Linux distros can be hard for the average user to install and configure. This is where, at some point, an enterprising computer vendor will decide to build a solid consumer market Linux box and offer support (this is starting to happen.) ---

    "Apple license OS X? Not likely. The only way that works is if they have a massive hardware certification program or license only specific manufacturers that stick to their straight and narrow hardware path. It's easier to make your own to your own specs than to hammer out contracts with third parties (like a Dell) to make things that meet your exacting standards. Keep in mind that Apple doesn't really make any of their own hardware anymore. So why contract with Dell when you can dictate terms to a Taiwanese manufacturer and get your preferred solution, then sell it yourself and get the best margins? End user simplicity and stability is the point, and that's impossible to maintain when Dell switches hard drive, processor, memory and DVD-RW models and suppliers every week."

    --- Ah, we agree on something. Although the PC industry does a pretty amazing job of producing stable computers; that's because the various manufacturers agree to and for the most part adhere to industry standards. ---

    "...I can look back in history and see a lot tougher business environments in which Apple has done just fine, thank you."

    --- Apple will continue to do well, by maintaining a low head count, tight control, and high prices. We'll see if they can reach out to the mass market. ---

    "... After all, the biggest story about the Intel transition is that it's not much of a transition at all. For the end users. And that's the point."

    --- Tell that to the people I meet who would like to buy a Mac Core Duo system, but don't want to buy new copies of Photoshop. ---

    Cheers, it's been fun.